I am now, apparently, old enough to dispense career advice. Or at least according to my alma matter which hosted several of us on a summertime panel for undergrads and recent grads this week. After hearing myself repeat a few points between this week’s panel and some other recent career conversations, I thought I’d try to summarize my two main recommendations here.
Caveat! I have great respect and admiration for any dream or career path that calls you, but the points I’m making below are based on my experience with technology, nonprofits, communications, advocacy / politics, professional services, and other knowledge / creative work (is that an area?). I’ll invite the bakers, builders, and biologists tell us if any of this applies to their fields.
1. Seek out chaos.
Entry-level jobs come in two main flavors: (a) highly structured roles designed for recent grads who will be trained up for a specific function until they burn out, usually just in time for next year’s crop to arrive (only a slight exaggeration of how some places establish junior roles); (b) loosely structured roles in more turbulent environments.
Assuming you have some degree of choice (a luxury, i realize), you want the latter. The best place for you to impress others and shine is an environment in which there’s more work than people to do it (think startups, small firms, campaigns). If you’re young and hungry, this is where you thrive. Ideally you’re also high-functioning, resourceful, committed, and like-able.
I was lucky enough to get hired onto an insurgent presidential campaign for my first job where I had multiple simultaneous bosses, minimal oversight, and wild hopes and expectations for what my team could achieve (ie lots of room to fail or succeed). We often joked that anyone with a pulse could — and did — work their way up the ranks of this campaign into serious responsibility simply by finding constructive ways to plug the millions of holes that emerged each day. I’ve seen the same to be true of startups, media organizations, and basically any place with overwhelmed managers who don’t have the time or know-how to deliver. You can save the day!
When the people you’ve been working with (and impressing) inevitably move into new roles and need to build their new team in a hurry, now you’re on a short list of people they recruit or ask to apply.
2. Follow up! Make us useful.
I’ll never understand why job seeking friends, colleagues, or acquaintances don’t send follow up notes a few weeks or months after a chat to say “hey, I’m still looking; has anything popped up on your radar recently? as a reminder, i’d be good for any role that…”
If we bothered to talk to you or email you back in the first place, we’re at least somewhat interested in being helpful. Otherwise we would have said so or simply ignored whatever you sent.
So help us help you. Give us something specific and actionable we can do that helps you. This isn’t just about you; we actually feel better about ourselves when we can be useful.
- Ask if I know anything about an org / place you’re interested in. I’ll tell you what I know.
- Ask if I can make an intro to that person you see I’m connected to on LinkedIn or Facebook. I’ll tell you if I can or can’t.
I think job seekers are too often worried about crossing some kind of line or overstaying a welcome, but that’s never happened in my experience because very few bother to engage in something like the above after we’ve connected.
Oh — one thing not to ask: “So, how does one go about getting a job in your field?” As a more seasoned and therefore snarky member of the panel rightly pointed out, “That’s called a Job Search.”
And yes, all of the rules about ridiculously strong writing, communication, and people skills are still as important as ever but that’s already well documented elsewhere. Good luck out there!