By Judit Price
Most college graduates move into some sort of employment when they graduate, but really begin their career after that first job.
A few new grads find their niche early, but most use that first job to get a taste of the world of work, and to test their assumptions regarding career paths.
Statistically, that first job generally lasts no more than two years, but as an entre' into the real world those two years can represent much more.
If those two years are viewed as a “learning experience”, the recent graduate can build a knowledge base of strength from which they can launch a real career, including a significant shift to alternatives not previously considered.
This is especially important for those who find that first job as unfulfilling, and recognize their first idea of a meaningful career is misguided.
That first job can arm them with enough practical knowledge to move towards the right path. They understand, or should understand, how to network, write a resume, research other organizations, look for mentors to provide advice and take a more well-informed and knowledgeable approach to a career search.
However, for those who have graduated and do not pursue that first job successfully because of uncertainty, fear, or lack of sufficient aggressiveness, the situation is more serious.
Some who have a degree may take any kind of work just to keep busy or for economic reasons.
But the inability to consider and aggressively pursue opportunities that take advantage of their education might actually compromise their long-term efforts because the real-world learning from that first job as a career building block is missing.
As a result, the difficulty in moving ahead increases, and when I meet with them, so many seem lost.
One of the most disheartening components of my job is working with people who have basically given up. Some have simply lost self-respect, view themselves as failures, and are suffering from a collapse of motivation. The risk to the individual now begins to get serious.
Rather than take action, there is a feeling of being immobilized, unable to move forward, unable to generate a momentum. Eventually that can spill over into personal life affecting relationships at all levels. For recent graduates, it is a disaster.
So what can be done? For starters, it is essential to actually begin to think more broadly. This means expanding options beyond the narrow discipline of the degree, doing research, seeking out expert advice, and looking for that first job that will provide real world experience that involves creativity, decision making, and thinking.
Most young people do not understand the broad applicability of their formal training as well as their skills and do not consider the wide range of options a college degree can offer.
Since false impressions or uninformed advice may be a limitation, it is essential to seek knowledgeable advice from mentors, teachers, working professionals, and others who have real experience and can give informed advice. False assumptions based on impressions from friends, from the Internet, or other sources may very well be misleading or represent only limited experience.
Reality is the daily grind of following a set routine five days a week, working on projects that require decision making with the expectation of meeting deadlines, budgets and goals. Without that real experience, impressions concerning working conditions, job descriptions, employment prospects, interviewing, and a host of other factors are just too theoretical.
It is unlikely that the perfect job exists.
But it is also likely that there are many jobs and many careers that would provide challenge and satisfaction, as well as the economic benefits.
Statistically, many people have six to eight careers through their lifetime, a sign of growth, maturity, and changing values and not necessarily unhappiness.
Finding the right job or career requires:
It is essential to be candid and honest, look at yourself, your ambitions, skills, interest and values, and try to see yourself two years from now. What you see should be a motivator as the first step to action.
Judit Price CDFI, CCM, IJCTC, CPRW has an M.S. in Counseling and is a certified career guidance counselor in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She counsels college students and adults regarding career and college options. Judit was the biweekly career and employment related column for The Lowell Sun newspaper. She also authored and published Your Career and Life Plan Portfolio, a workbook for adults and college students.