Recently a career industry colleague who works with Millenials asked me a question very relevant to our times. She asked, “How do you get college graduates to think not in terms of finding a job, but finding a career?”
This question, and the thought process behind it, forms the basis of all my work helping new and recent grads to think about their strengths, interests and proclivities as clues to what their career life should look like. It is much harder to answer the question “What do you want to do with your life?” than it is to answer “What kind of job are you looking for?”
As I’ve said in these pages before, it used to be about simply getting a job, any job, as a starting point on a career trajectory. A job would pay the bills, expose you to the world of work and, if you liked it and were good at it, help you climb the ladder in that field. If not, hopefully you would meet someone who would give you a shot in an organization that seemed more appealing and you’d be on to something better.
Today, the focus is still on getting a job. The difference is that it’s a lot tougher to land a job unless you can make a convincing argument as to why you’re the right candidate. Employers no longer hire new grads with little or no experience because they have a lot more choice among a population that has done their homework and in all likelihood, worked in the field before. If you want a job, you have to have a well-honed argument, backed by extensive research and exposure to the field, as to why you are the right person for that particular job.
Given that scenario, and the fact that colleges are being pressured to provide more career input to support their students, some colleges are getting savvier at helping students match their skills and interests with career paths at an earlier age. For example, Colby College has a 4-year program with incentives beginning Freshman year, with an eye toward helping students acquire internships, jobs and fellowships both during and after their years at Colby. The more schools embrace giving students a head start in connecting school and career, the better off students will be when they graduate. At Colby, the percentage of seniors employed at graduation has increased each year since the program’s inception. Last year 81% of seniors had plans at graduation, including jobs (over 60 percent), fellowships and graduate school.
Some of my own tips for helping college students think about long-term career planning while still in school? Here’s a list of things to think about as you’re taking classes, doing strategic volunteering or engaging in extracurriculars:
- What about this class/activity keeps me really engaged? When do I find myself losing track of time because I’m completely focused?
- List the components of this activity. For each component, indicate whether you like it, don’t like it or feel neutral about it.
- Are there things I can do to a) make what I do like even better, and b) make the things I don’t like palatable?
- What skills am I using in this activity? Which skills would I like to use again?
- Are there skills or interests that I have that could be incorporated into this activity to make it more interesting or successful for me?
Start observing yourself more closely and become a sleuth of your own behavior. The patterns will begin to emerge. And start thinking long-term career planning, no matter how early you are in your college career. When you’re a senior, you’ll thank your freshman self.