Robyn Urback from the National Post recently wrote: “What do you mean I can’t get a job with my medieval feminist studies degree?” as a call to action for college grads to take control of their future careers.
There is clearly a gap between the number of qualified college graduates in America and the number who find interesting, fulfilling jobs.
The problem is not medieval feminism.
The whole point of college is to get an education, not attend a trade school. So, if you’re interested in medieval history, study medieval history, and get good grades. The biggest obstacle standing between a college grad and a fulfilling job is indecision. The problem isn’t the economy, medieval feminism, or the 113th session of Congress. It’s the fear of how you will respond to your Grandmother’s 3rd cousin at Yom Kippur dinner asking “so, son, what are you going to do with your life?”.
There are so many things to consider: how will I pay off my student debt? (or, perhaps more frightening, convince my parents that they didn’t waste their retirement savings?); What do I want to do? What am I good at? What jobs are available? What even is an Investment Banker? A Product Manager? What will people in my home-town think ? What will my ex-girlfriend think? My current girlfriend? My future grand-daughter? My mom?
So, we avoid making a decision. We don’t get a good job. And we blame it on the economy, the government, and the education system.
I was a finance major, but I currently develop Products at Facebook. I studied accounting, but I interned in the mailroom at a talent agency in Beverly Hills. I cleaned pools, scooped gelati and delivered newspapers. I was an Analyst at Goldman Sachs. The point is I never knew what I wanted to do; I still don’t. I find things that interest me and I do them. If I don’t like it, or if I’m not good at it, I move on.
I have laid-out three strategies I have implemented while going through the painful process of 1) deciding on a job and 2) getting that job.
- Pretend you know what you want to be when you grow up
When your blind date on Tinder asks you, “what are you going to do with your life” — have an answer. Say it confidently. Don’t assume it needs to reflect reality — the question is asking you to predict the future, and the future may change tomorrow or next week. The point is, today, you should have an answer.
When you were in kindergarten and your teacher asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you confidently said “a Firefighter”. You didn’t say “well, I’d like to get a professional designation, but accounting is so boring, and if I become a teacher will I ever pay-off my student debt? I see the benefit of a master’s program but my dad wants me to go into Law”. No one cares. Project confidence and make-up an answer.
This is how the word “pre-med” was developed. When you’ve enrolled in a freshmen Biology course, you’re no more of a doctor than my dog Titan. There’s no such thing as “pre-med”. But you have an answer to the question people have been asking you since kindergarten. You’ve made a verbal commitment to do something. It gives you a framework to pick courses, meet people and get inspired when you have late-nights at the library. But don’t confuse this with a contract that can’t be changed. If, in junior year, you decide that your true calling is doing oil and gas M&A in Texas, you can explain to Goldman Sachs the similarities between science and financial valuation. This is a better position to be in than explaining your kill-count on Call of Duty III.
In business school we learnt a concept that 90% of decisions you make don’t matter. The important thing is that you make a decision. Picking a path doesn’t limit your options, it expands them. It gives you an opportunity to prove yourself, learn more about your interests and expand your network. It is not a lie if it changes. So next time someone asks you that question, have an answer.
- Be part of a group
Once you have an answer, join a group of like-minded people. In business school, we had to self-identify with one of three major streams: marketing, finance, and accounting. I chose Finance. Soon after, I worked very hard to get accepted to the Queen’s University Investment Counsel (QUIC), which is a group of 20 of the top finance students. QUIC has a mentorship program and an alumni network that is very strong. QUIC alumni have benefitted from others in the network, and are eager to pay it forward. Importantly, not everyone from QUIC still works in finance. Some are Entrepreneurs, Consultants, Product Managers, Executives etc. — but all are willing to pick up the phone when you call. Nothing could be more important when you’re seeking advice, business or a job.
So, find a group of people that you connect with in your field, join a group, and contribute. Never make the excuse that your family isn’t well connected, or your college is unknown. I am from the prairies of Canada and my school is not well known outside Canada — it’s not an excuse, it’s an opportunity to create your own network and build relationships.
- Do something.
Lastly, do something interesting. Don’t negotiate with yourself. Don’t reject yourself from jobs you haven’t applied for. Don’t assume you can’t afford an unpaid internship — it may be difficult, but you can make it happen. Don’t assume summer camp is your last chance to have fun as a kid. I interned at William Morris Endeavor in LA and went to the Maxim 100 party — it was more fun than summer camp. If you don’t know what Investment Bankers do, the Vault Guide isn’t going to help you. Do an internship and figure it out for yourself. If you want to expand your network, setting-up an ambiguous phone call with a stranger will not help. Lead a conference and invite people to speak. Start a business and create partnerships. Write a blog. Create a YouTube channel. Do something.
At Facebook we have posters that ask, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. As Sheryl Sandberg often says, find an answer to that question and do it.
If you liked this post please click the “recommend” button and share! Also feel free to comment any thoughts / experiences you have on the topic. Thanks for reading.