The job market looms over senior college students like a black cloud. We ask ourselves, “What next?” as graduation grows closer, filling us with dread. More than once, in a temporary moment of panic, I considered giving up my dream of writing for a more stable job, like teaching. I’ve managed to avoid this rash decision, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to crumble under the pressure, crawl into bed and watch Netflix until I’m forcibly removed by some apocalyptic circumstance. “[The hardest part is] finding a job that’s satisfying in the beginning. There’s a lot of high expectations,” Saint Leo University Associate Chair for Human Services Nancy Wood said. It might seem impossible, but you don’t have to climb Everest to reach your dream job.
Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself)
Finding a job that can support us while still providing personal fulfillment feels a little like walking a tight rope with overwhelming clumsiness. Find your balance by opening your mind to your entire realm of job opportunities, not just the pipe dream you’ve had your sights set on since kindergarten. Chances are you won’t write for the New York Times straight out of school, but you might find a position with a magazine in California that sets you up for success.
Moral of the story: Stay flexible. “So many students are so focused on a preconceived notion about the job they need to be happy. They’re passing up opportunities that might be a good fit,” University of Florida Academic Program Coordinator Gregg Henderschiedt said. “Students will start off with a really narrow search. It’s best to cast the wide net early and then do your homework.”
Prepare for the Buzzer
To make a free-throw from the half-court mark you need a solid jump shot and good aim. If you want to win your dream job, you need the skills to get some points along the way. When it comes down to the buzzer, you need to be able to deliver. “It’s one thing studying it and another thing being in the job market doing it,” Wood said. If you want to be a hot shot CEO one day, gain some managerial and administrative experience first. Learn to walk before you run.
“The best thing to do is look for a job that will build your skillset. If you want to be of use then it’s not going to happen when you’re 23, 24. It’s going to happen when you’re ten years out of college,” said Jennifer Jones, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management and Leadership at UF. If you aspire to be a killer attorney like Elle Woods, you don’t even have to start out in a law firm. Work as a lobbyist for a few years, building up your argumentative and organizational skills. Throw away the antiquated idea that careers follow linear progressions and pave your own way to success.
Serve Two Years—Not 20 to Life
Building your skills and climbing the corporate ladder might seem like a drag, but remember this: you’re not locked in to your first job for life. “A job is the paycheck. A career is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life,” Wood said. A lot of people end up with jobs and say, ‘Well this isn’t what I want to do.’”
Maybe you’ll end up loving the first job that hires you—but maybe you won’t. Want to become a zoologist, living in the jungles of Africa? It’s okay to start out as a veterinary technician. Keep your dream in your sights, but know that it’s okay to start somewhere else.
Play the Long Game
Keep in mind the trajectory in which you want to move. Do not just hop from job to job. Take positions that will help you build the resume you need for the job you want. “Build your skillset, see where you can be of use, play the long game,” Jones said. If you get caught up in the “job cycle” (taking one position after another without a real trajectory), you might hate your job beyond measure.
Some of us love the jobs we find, even if we’ve not hit career-status just yet. “If you’re interested in something, and good at it, that’s a good start, but it needs to be in line with your values,” Henderschiedt said. Embrace the opportunities you’re given and do your homework on those prospects.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Entering the job market terrifies us all. I’m shaking in my boots just considering the prospect of trying to find a job that can balance my economic needs and personal fulfillment. We all crave that balance, but it’s not always realistic straight out of college. Remember to not get too caught up on working for a particular company or having a particular position. Think long and hard about what pathway you should be taking toward your ultimate career. Step away from the pressure of getting your dream job right now.
“It’s not always reasonable to get your everything from your work,” said Henderschiedt. “[You can] supplement it with volunteer work that makes you feel like you are making a difference in the world.” Listen to your instincts and follow your passion. Open yourself up to the possibilities that life throws your way. Now take a deep breath. You’ll be fine.