I’m in the last week of teaching a writing and blogging workshop at sea, and I have a handful of students who are college girls that just graduated last month and are having a bit of a quarter-life crisis on what to do with their lives. Understandable—we’ve all been there.
With the number of emails I receive a week from college students/grads seeking job advice, I thought it timely to give my own commencement of sort—in blog form, natch. Because I remember being young, broke, jobless and scared, and I’m here to tell you: It will work out. But it’s going to take time, and it won’t be easy. So, that said:
–Get a job, doing anything, at a place you’d like to work. Don’t think right out the door, you’re going to land an editor position at Vogue. Or even an editorial assistant gig. (You can dream, though.) But, if that’s your passion, by all means, do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door somewhere, anywhere at Conde Nast. (A tip from a journo who’s been there: If you want to bypass the highly-competitive EA route, consider getting your in via a copy editor or research position instead. Once you’ve gained editors’ trust, I guarantee you, you’ll be allowed to pitch and write for the magazine even if in a different department.) A high-powered business development exec for a major digital media company spoke to my students this week and told about how coming out of undergrad, she really wanted to work in broadcast. So she got a job as a page making around $12 an hour. Six months later? She was promoted and jumped over into the production end of things. Moral of this story: Do good work, make connections, and you will be noticed.
–Live abroad, now. Because life will get in the way later. Want to spend six months in Sweden? Always dreamed about getting a one-year work visa to Australia? There’s no better time than the present. And if you don’t want to relocate somewhere for good, then by God, at least spend a few months traveling, will you? One of the biggest pitfalls of the American education system (in my opinion) is not allowing for the standard gap year that nearly every other Western country requires of its youth.
–Don’t apply for a job for which you’re not qualified. Job postings have criteria for a reason—you shouldn’t apply for a gig that asks for a decade of upper level management experience when your only gig has been doling out Frappuccinos at Starbucks anymore than you’d apply for an attorney job without a law degree. Abort! You’re only wasting your time. My job on the ship is a prime example; it requires five to seven years experience in the media, but you’d be shocked how many people email me and ask how to get hired without so much as a staff job at a publication as a writer or a published body of work as a photographer. For some reason, it seems when it comes to writing, people get this chip on their shoulder that they should be able to jump right in as an editor or manager position (right, because that attitude goes over well with your senior who has been crawling up the ladder for the last 15 years). Start small, work your way up. It’s the same in any field.
–Skip grad school—at least right now. It boggles my mind how many college grads collect their diploma, then jump right back into studying for a graduate degree. With no work experience, how can you even be sure of what to get that degree in? It’s a lot of time and money wasted if it’s not what you’re going to do later on in life. So work first, then do grad school later—if it even makes sense with your career path at all. An example of when it doesn’t: when you want to be a print journalist like me. Having excess degrees in journalism (editorial) does nothing but set you back in finances and time; while you were off studying, your peers were getting a leg-up working. Obviously, if you decide to go into the business side of publishing—advised; there’s more money to be had—an advanced degree could come in handy. But still. No more school until you’re sure of what you want to do with your life (or at least the next 20 years)—capiche?
–Now’s the time to move around, physically and in your career. I’m glad I had those years in New York and the year and a half in Europe and the years in San Francisco under my belt before SVV and I opted to move back to the South and plant roots (in the form of buying a house and starting two businesses). Now is the time to move around, test out a whole lot of different cities, find the right fit before you settle. While I will continue to travel, I no longer have that overwhelming desire to relocate every six months like clockwork; I got that out of my system in my twenties. And on the career side, oftentimes you only move up by moving over, so don’t be afraid to switch companies every year or two if you see a job posting that you like or a competitor company tracks you down on LinkedIn. An MBA friend told me that the average time one stays at a company these days is a year and nine months and that many of her colleagues would switch jobs as often as every nine months (I still suggest sticking with the year-and-a-half to two-year timeline). At one time, this would have made a candidate look fickle; now, it makes you desirable. Sure, you’ll make friends with your co-workers and it will be tough to leave, but you never know when they might wind up in the cube beside you at your next job…
–Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have a family friend or know someone personally who has excelled in the career you’re hoping to go into, offer to buy him/her lunch and get some worldly advice. (Though please avoid asking to “pick your brain;” it only implies to some—myself included—that you want to steal all the insider information I’ve garnered in my career and keep it as your own; many of us run side consulting businesses and don’t give this sort of important material away for free.) Also be mindful that career types are busy, really busy, and might not always have the time. Thus, my philosophy is this: Be ballsy and don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting, but also be respectful when their schedules just don’t allow for mentoring.
–Proofread, spell check, don’t be an idiot. I’m tempted to paste some of the inane emails I receive in this post, but for the sake of the writer, I’ll hold back. If you’re going to reach out and ask someone for help, by God, at least get his or her name right! And don’t eff up the difference between “its” and “it’s;” it only makes you look stupid. It’s one thing to make an easy error in a casual email to a friend; it’s another to commit such a faux pas when the recipient is someone who might be able to help you land that job.
–It’s not going to come easy. I receive so many emails from college students where it’s apparent they want me to send them this magical link to “[insert dream job here]” and when I tell them my back story and that it takes a lot of effin’ hard work and never-ending persistence and hunger and drive and a whole lot of other synonyms…I never hear back. (The curse of the Millennials: wanting everything handed to them without logging the hours.) So know now, nothing in life comes easy. And if it does? It’s probably too good to be true.
–Your passions will change, and maybe your career will, too. But that’s OK. I know plenty of forty- and fifty-somethings still trying to decide what to do with their lives—or at least what to do in the next chapter. Change is OK, change is good, don’t steer clear of change; you never know where it might lead you.
–You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. So chill the eff out, will ya? You’ve got plenty good years of trial and error ahead of you. Embrace it.