Career Lessons You Didn’t Learn In School

JoanHeadAttention College Graduates: It’s time to rethink your future.

I know this statement is pretty abstract since it seems like your future hasn’t really started, and any real thoughts of tomorrow only go as far as your first job out of school. You’ve been conditioned to believe that validation comes through a number – traditionally you’ve been graded to this point – but you won’t be evaluated in the same way out in the working world.

Small business is moving America today, and these organizations require “hit-the-ground-running” skills that very few entry level job seekers are prepared for. It’s woefully reflected in how these candidates interview. Most commencement speeches I’ve sat through provide a similar theme – in this economy you need to take a position, any position, to get yourself into the workforce. There are good intentions behind this advice, but I’m afraid your professors have not lived directly through our current post-recession job market. Building a sustainable career today that will last for the long haul won’t follow the traditional route. It requires a true strategy and the realization that the very first job sets the foundation for long-term happiness.

So before you go around and around in circles, start your job search with a fresh approach:

  1. If you have specialized degree, do whatever you can to make your first job relate to it and gain one or two years of experience, even if it requires you to relocate. Consider it like a boot camp. Live with a relative or get a roommate – whatever you need to do to get related experience. Once you get those magic two years under your belt and you have applicable, hands-on background you can showcase, choose your next step from there. I can’t emphasize enough how important that first job is.
  2. If you have a general degree and you’re not quite sure what that exact entry-level job looks like, put in the time. Research what growth industries can best utilize your skills. For example, if you have an English degree, go to and conduct a keyword search and see what type of jobs populate. If you’re able to connect with a larger company as a result you will accomplish a two-fold mission – you can get experience and get acquainted with other roles within that company. The more hands-on experience you get, the easier it is to connect with work that you actually enjoy.

An employer is closely watching the decisions you make, and unfortunately they don’t understand the idea of taking a job just to take a job. They are looking for that savvy person who complements their education with practical work experience. It’s not easy, and if you think school was about paying your dues, you’re mistaken – the first job is.

Even if you might be able to make good money in an unskilled role, don’t be tempted. The sooner you get a baseline of experience, the sooner you’ll move forward toward your dreams.

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