Advice to New Graduates in Recessionary Times

The job you try to get as you graduate from college is likely to be the hardest one to obtain for the next 20 or so years of your life. It is doubly hard when you are trying to get that job in a time of high unemployment. This is the moment at which you are an unknown.

At college, we attempt to prepare you for real life. Papers and tests are proxies for projects and tasks to be completed. If you can do the one, you can probably do the other, but no one can be sure. At this point in your life, employers are looking at you like a player in a sports draft. Is this student going to be a star or a bust? Will they regret having brought you on board? Are you the person who will figure things out or endlessly look for direction? Many “A” students will despair of finding out how they should use their gifts, while a number of less successful students will plug right into a job, feel immense relief at the end of homework, and start cranking out useful performance immediately.

Once you have taken your first professional job, you will be more of a known quantity and (if you are good) subsequent jobs will be easier to find.

Here’s my advice for getting through this time:

1. Don’t rush into a career and take advantage of EVERY job you hold. Don’t worry that you are determining the rest of your life. I had a job in a local drugstore right out of college that helped me save money and taught me a lot about working. If you keep your mind active, you can benefit from every work experience. Think about how the operation runs. Try to understand things from the manager or owner’s point of view. Work on doing what your boss needs you to do. Take satisfaction in the completed task. I can remember feeling good about a freshly mopped floor or a clean toilet. Today, I have that same feeling when I give a good lecture or write a good article.

2. Be curious about the people above you. In saying this, I absolutely do not mean that you should be a suck-up. People see through that. What I mean is that you can find your way by learning about the experiences and decisions of your bosses and senior employees. View their lives as stories VERY relevant to your own. NOTHING has benefitted me more in my working life than asking questions about the lives and careers of co-workers and superiors. It can backfire, as it did on me once when a female boss (many years ago) began weeping as I probed recent professional events, but the other 97% of experiences have been very positive.

3. Avoid the accumulation of consumer and housing debt when you are young. You need to be able to move. You need to be able to change jobs. You need to be able to return to school if you decide you want a different career. Travel light. You are still figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

4. Learn how to sustain attention away from electronics. In the future, the person who is able to devote their attention to the substance of a meeting and contribute meaningfully is going to look like a superstar.

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