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Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Career Advice for College Students Graduating into the Real World

This is what you were told going into college – if you went to school, worked hard, got great grades, participated in extracurricular activities and did the internships, there would be job opportunities when you graduated. And then you started your search to find a job after college and you realized this really wasn’t the case.

The truth is, this is a really difficult time. The wide-eyed vision of what you’ve dreamed of and studied to become breaks into the reality of a competitive marketplace. Maybe you chose a major, but are still unsettled with your direction. Your school had a career center but you really didn’t take advantage of this resource. These are all very real. There you are, sending your resume into the abyss.

The first position out of college is pivotal, especially if you’ve taken on a great deal of debt from student loans. You know the drill: resume, cover letters, LinkedIn, search sites and networking. Yada yada yada. However, there is infinitely more to it. In this article, I offer some career advice for college students and share some insight after talking to a ton transitioning graduates.

Change your mindset

You are no longer a student, you are a professional. Your identity, mindset and language now have to transition. This means that on your resume, you list your education last. The writing in it should be directive and straight-forward, moving from “I am becoming” to “I am.” On your summary in LinkedIn, it’s not that you’re pursuing a particular title – you are that title. A prospective employer is only interested in who you are and how your experience can solve their pain points. So you need to show them your strength in that conviction by “being” a professional.

Your trifecta: resume, LinkedIn profile and cover letters

Resume, cover letters and online profiles are very important, as they are the first point of contact between you and potential employers. They need to be professional in both format and content. And remember that, as a graduate with limited experience, emphasizing your achievements needs to be stressed as much as what you did. Your LinkedIn profile should also be professional and work to get as many endorsements and recommendations as you can. A cover letter should articulate what your resume does not. It should clearly follow what the position is looking for, but is enhanced with narrative that reveals who you are – think of a story that was a defining moment for you. These three combine to tell the fullest story about who you are, highlight your skills and experience and endorse you.

To thine own self be true

Identity is key to finding the right fit for your first post-graduate position. Who are you? What are your talents, passions and interests? Consider if you have a mission. What is your purpose? If you can truly explore the answers to these questions, the clearer it will be what direction you should go and ultimately, what job will be a good fit. And the answers to these will change over time, so really understanding what motivates you is an essential component to figuring out the big and small picture.

Call your Aunt Rose

You have to network at a higher level than any other candidate on the planet, because your net worth is only as good as your network. This means to cast as wide a net as you can – whether it is for job referrals or informational interviews. One way is to take advantage of the alumni association from your school to see if there are professionals that you can contact in your field. Send out a targeted email to contacts to see if they have connections or any advice to aid you in your search for your particular target. And include people that you may not believe would have solid connections but indeed do. I have one client that got a great lead from the person who took care of her cat. And another – his aunt had the connection that got him the job. Don’t count anyone out. 80% of your success depends on networking.

It’s a tack, not an arc

Trust me. You have a long career journey ahead of you. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average baby boomer held 11.7 jobs from age 18 to 48; a number that is expected to increase for future generations as currently only 30% of people stay in any one job for over four years. Considering the average age of retirement in both Canada and the US is now 62 years old, college students who are just entering the workforce have plenty of wiggle room.

A career path is not a smooth arc and trajectory. It’s more like tacking into shore. The wind takes you in one direction and then another but ultimately you are moving towards the beach.  Each position you take on will help you figure out what you want and don’t want to be. In time, you will have opportunities to create several career incarnations. The key is to keep moving. As long as you maintain a forward momentum, you’ll get to the shore eventually.

Forgive yourself

It’s okay that you don’t know what you want to do. I know some people who are quite sure of their long-term career goals, but a lot of young professionals aren’t. There is so much pressure from inside and outside perspectives so you are certain you have to decide. You don’t. Experiment. Do what scares you. Take some risks in doing a job that you may think you would enjoy so you can pay the bills. You might even find yourself in a job that you never expected and it’s a really great fit.

The sunglasses will come off

There will be light out of the dark. Do whatever it takes. Take a temp job. Do some short-term contract work in an industry that would be a dotted line to where you want to go. It’s a process but the more you put together the pieces of the puzzle, the more confident you’ll become and a light bulb will go off.

Ultimately this all has to come from you. When I asked one of the people I interviewed for this article what was her biggest lessons learned, she said “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And fail enough to succeed. “ Very wise words. She said that every day she learns more about herself and how to be a professional. And most importantly, she is now brave enough. And that makes all the difference.

Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you navigate the work world after college? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!

About the Author Deb Goldstein

Centering on career and business coaching - I’m passionate about creating an honest partnership to focus on setting goals, positive outcomes and managing my client’s personal change - being an active listener and caring deeply about their success. This is brought forward through my 25 years as a successful pioneer and award winning leader in the Direct Response and Media industry when I was President of IDG List Services for 21 years. My mission is to focus on my client’s best business decisions, self and life – accomplishing transformation and change. She can be found on her website and Facebook

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