Pippa is a junior in high school so naturally she is thinking about colleges…and majors…and jobs.
She’s a confident girl, but utterly lost about what jobs or career to pursue. That’s not unusual at her age, but I think she thinks it is. The girl in her class who has always known she wants to be a nurse burns much brighter in her head than the ten who silently wonder what their life’s calling should be.
And never mind that I’m still figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, and I’m 40-something.
“I guess I could always get a job at McDonald’s, right?” Pippa loves to joke, but there’s not a hint of a smile on her face.
That’s my cue! I run to my secretary (the furniture, not the person) and pull out a yellowed and stained copy of an old Jack Falvey article from a 1986 issue of the Wall Street Journal that I read when I was a teenager. It’s based on his book After College: The Business of Getting Jobs.
Written in prehistoric times (pre-Internet), it’s still highly relevant because it operates on the basic principle that, regardless of technology, jobs and careers are still underpinned by human relationships.
You have any articles like that? Ones that hit home so squarely that they knock you for a bit of a loop, altering your life’s direction, or at least your worldview? You clipped and filed it, then retrieved and reread it on occasion? Eventually, it became so ingrained, or perhaps not relevant in your life anymore, so you gave it a more permanent filing, with the understanding it would only be unearthed again if your child were to enter the same life stage.
Miraculously, I found the article, and presented it to Pippa. Miraculously, she read it.
After she finished it, I was hoping she’d stand up straighter, apply a confident smile, and go attack the world. That didn’t happen, but remember, she’s a teenager. Hopefully, a seed will take root.
Here’s a loose summary of it, in my own words:
Lesson #1: Get a Liberal Arts Degree
Yes, college isn’t for everyone. If you know you want to be a Welder, or a Baller, or a Warfighter, then get specialized training.
But for the millions of Pippas of the world, liberal arts is a solid all-around foundation that allows for a change of mind during studies, and a change of career afterwards. After all, according to a LinkedIn study, the average Millennial has 4 jobs within the first decade after college.
Lesson #2: It’s About Who You Know
I think every adult knows this one, but I didn’t learn it until college. I was a good-ish student, but I didn’t have a lot of academic ambitions. Mainly, I wanted to be a rockstar on the weekly college newspaper, The Bates Student. So I paid my dues, asking for the tough assignments and really going after it as a reporter. When the time came to pick editors for the following year, I applied to be a copy editor, the next logical step up from reporter. I was shocked when two students who had zero combined experience at the paper were chosen as copy editors. What qualifications did they possess? They were both friends of the incoming Editor-in-Chief.
One year later, I had developed a warm rapport with the new incoming Editor-in-Chief, who named me News Editor, the number two position at the paper. What a difference a year – and a new approach – made.
Lesson #3: Look for Information, Not a Job
Do what you have to to get over your inhibitions and set up face-to-face meetings (second best: phone calls) with people of interest and ask good questions:
- How did you arrive here?
- What makes this organization unique?
- Where is this company/industry going?
Start with people you know or share an affinity with: Your school’s alumni, adult acquaintances of your friends, and friends of the family. Then ask for who else you can talk to.
Lesson #4: You Can’t Know What You Want to Be Unless You See What Is Out There
Get experience any way you can. Help out a professor with her research. Get a part-time job. Secure a summer internship.
You’ll receive three important things: Experience, contacts, and money (hopefully).
Lesson #5: Do Not Lead With a Resume
Resumes are for when you are 30-something and have a career to summarize. When you are just getting started, your babysitting and lawn-mowing experience doesn’t do much for you. Mostly you need a phone, Internet for research, and a pen and paper for thank-you notes.
Lesson #6: Avoid Job Interviews
Related to #5. You don’t want to be added to a huge pool of applicants. I wrote previously how I dodged this trap in my own job search. The odds are against you, plus you are competing against people who have an advantage over you – they are an inside candidate or have a relationship they are leveraging. Which is what you should be doing.
Lesson #7: Look for a First Boss, Not a First Job
It’s become a cliche: People leave managers, not companies. Overused, perhaps, but it’s truth.
Don’t necessarily jump at the first opportunity; take the time to find the right boss operating within a good-fit culture. Whom you work for and with is the single most important factor in a new job.
Lesson #8: “Thank You” is Powerful
Saying “Thank You” – especially in a good old-fashioned letter mailed within 24 hours of a meeting – is a really awesome way to stand out. Most people don’t do it, and if they do, they take the easy – and easily-ignored – email route.
Have a 9th Lesson? Let me know in the comments.