It's that time of year - back to school time. It's strange post-graduation when you feel the fall coming on but don't have the anticipation of new classes, won't receive a syllabus that serves as your roadmap for the next few months. But just because you're not in college, doesn't mean there aren't plenty of things to learn or engage your brain with. Here are my favorite resources for ah-ha moments!
In my former, gluten-eating life, I loved to bake. The feeling of putting ingredients together, knowing just how they'd behave, and eagerly anticipating the end result as it rose in the oven is an unforgettable and addictive feeling. (I should note: it can still be enjoyable when I do it now, when I get it right, but it's honestly more chemistry than cooking...but I digress.)
Even with the ample practice I got baking for friends and family, there would be moments where I'd miss an ingredient. A loaf would be in the oven for a few minutes before I'd realize "I forgot the salt!" or "Did I add baking powder?" or, once, "Wait, I don't remember using sugar..." The end result never felt quite right, no matter how gracious those who tasted the failed product tried to be.
At the request of a great many friends, and a vehement recommendation from my sister, I have finally completed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's incredible novel Americanah. In the past several years (read: once the Harry Potter series concluded) I haven't found much use for fiction, and have instead filled my mind and bookshelf with biographies and advice for my real life. And yet, as I read Americanah, there was so much that I found familiar, I found myself wishing for many, many more books like it
Millennials are commonly labeled as the generation of overeducated and underemployed young professionals. A recent post in NPR's new boom series reads, "Millennials are often marked as Starbucks baristas with Ivy League educations,". Members of Gen-Y are the best-educated generation to date, yet too many millennials continue facing obstacles of underemployment nationwide in the United States.
Underemployment refers to an individual employed at a job that does not fully utilize his/her skills, educational achievements, and/or applicable qualifications. Being underemployed means a young professional has a job, but it's part-time and/or below the skill set s/he possesses. Basic entry level jobs with wages of $10-$12 per hour with no benefits and scattered hours are common among recent college grads. As of July 2015, this trend among millennials has resulted in 14.2% of young professionals claiming to be underemployed nationwide. Whether the cause of this employment unhappiness is reflected in the job responsibilities, hourly wage, scheduled hours per week, or a combination of other reasons, the result is the same: too many young professionals are underemployed and lack employment satisfaction.
Young professionals are in search of their career niche. They want a career, not an interim job to pay the bills. While many millennials are fortunate to be underemployed as opposed to being unemployed, the lack of employment satisfaction still has its woes. Navigating early career woes can prove to be challenging, yet there are ways for millennials to beat the underemployment blues.
Refer to these occupational tips to make the most of underemployment:
- Take your current job seriously. While you may very well and rightfully so feel underemployed in your current job situation, be sure to take this experience just as seriously as you would your dream job. Each employment experience offers an opportunity to build meaningful and lasting connections with colleagues. Similarly, you're bound to acquire new skills you lacked before. Show up to work everyday early, enthusiastic, and engaged. This positive, eager attitude will make your day more pleasant, and if you're lucky, will even land you a solid reference for your next interview.
- Stop waiting for the opportunity to come to you. Even though you are employed and it's effortless to fall into the routine of settling for what you already have, don't allow yourself to become stagnant. This isn't your dream career, remember? This is a temporary gig for you to afford your livelihood while you search for the perfect career niche. Don't wait for your dream career to fall into your lap, because chances are it won't happen. Be aggressive in your job hunt and force yourself to continue sending out your resume. You never know what doors will open by being assertive in your search.
- Appreciate what you have going for you. Young professionals in the early twenties and thirties blindly rush into careers. Appreciate that while you haven't yet found your dream job, you still have a job that pays the bills and adds experience to your resume. You're lucky to have something, even if it means being underemployed for a bit. Take a moment to be thankful for small favors in our highly competitive economy.
- Don't limit yourself to your day job. If you're underemployed and lacking ambition it could be the perfect time for you to startup a side hustle. In your free time begin pursuing part-time gigs. There are plenty of blogs, YouTube channels, and websites to join that welcome writers, artists, musicians and the like. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there by kick-starting your own business. Entrepreneurship is big these days and you never know if your side hustle could become a full-fledged job down the road.
- Remember, you're not "just" anything. You're not just a secretary, cashier, bank teller, or pizza chef. Every single job serves a purpose, and while your current gig might not be your calling, it's still a contributing key player to society. Give yourself some credit! You're actively aiming for your goals and doing yourself a favor by working in the interim. Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in job titles. We've all had some entry level work at one point or another. We have to start somewhere!
- Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in the drama. Workplaces often present the ideal setting for drama to fester. With a bunch of different people in the same office forty hours per week it's a bit testing to refrain from getting catty. Try your best to avoid office drama. This is your opportunity to shine bright and excel at the job at hand. Don't worry about cliques. This isn't high school, it's work. If your personality doesn't mesh with others, do your best to be a team player and move on. After all, this job is temporary, right?
- Use your part-time gig to your advantage. If you're underemployed with ample amounts of time to refocus your efforts on other things, consider taking classes or going back to school. Keep your mind sharp with studies, online modules, and reading to stay on top of current topics and abreast with trending news. Since you're not sucked into a demanding, all-consuming career right now, chances are you can spare some time to engage your mind while you're stuck in the office surfing the web.
- Don't let your job define your life. There comes a point when you may have to accept your dream career just isn't realistic. We can't all be award-winning pop stars like Taylor Swift or bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling; and that's okay! If you get too obsessed with becoming a New York Times bestselling author you might find yourself heading toward insanity if it never happens. Remember, your job doesn't define you or your life. Work is part of the life balance. It does consume one-third of our day, but it does not define who we are or what we're capable of. Life will go on, even if we don't win a Pulitzer prize or Academy Award.
- Avoid limiting your opportunities. You may think it's silly to apply for an internship after college or consider doing volunteer work because there's no financial reward. Think again. The value of internships and volunteer work are priceless. Opportunities such as these won't offer you income, but they certainly will give you experience, help you establish new connections, and network in incredible ways. Consider volunteering or interning at a company you strive to work for. Sure, you'll work your underemployed job in the meantime, but making new relationships with XYZ company that calls to you could get you one foot in the door.
- Believe in the future. Sure, working as a cashier after four years of college and 60K in student loans can feel very discouraging. You worked hard in school and earned that 4.0 GPA to the decimal. Sometimes things take time. One or two years post-grad might not be enough time for you to figure out what you want to do for work. It may not happen right away, but you must believe that it will. Life has a funny way of working out when you least expect it to. Keep pushing through that entry level job. Before you know it, the time you spent working as an underemployed young professional will payoff. Your future is just around the corner!
Underemployment happens to the best of us; 14.2% nationwide, to be exact. While that percentage may not seem like a lot, to those who work entry level jobs with overqualified backgrounds it can feel stifling. A big factor to consider is that you're working. You may not have employment happiness, but you are employed, and that's a huge step in the right direction. Even the most mundane, simple, and basic jobs can offer valuable experience, networks, and future references. Keep chugging along, millennials. Your career niche will come. Trust the timing of your life.
Establishing a career as a young professional is no easy feat. Rather, this goal is actually a lengthy journey filled with self-discovery, experimentation, and lots of trial and error. Coming out of college, graduate school, and/or the military is a milestone in itself. Yet, most of us take little time to bask in the glory of achievement of everything we just conquered. Instead, we move straight ahead onto the next milestone, which for many of us is establishing a lifelong dream career.
What most of us fail to realize early on is that it is very rare to discover what you want to do for the rest of your life at age twenty-two, twenty-five, or even thirty. We may spend the majority of our twenties job hopping and job shopping, determined to find the perfect match; and that's okay! Cut yourself a little slack. Accepting that your twenties is a chance to truly unravel your passions, discover yourself, and experiment along the way is bound to make you enjoy the job hunt a little more. Establishing your dream career will come in due time, but it does take time.
Here are ten practical, logical career tips for the young professional attempting to establish a career:
- There is no clearly defined pathway to success. Sorry, it's not quite that simple. Even if you went to college and successfully earned a bachelor's degree in marine biology, for example, there's no guarantee you're going to land a job as a professional research coordinator or go on to earn your PhD. Of course, there's a chance, but there is no clearly defined pathway before you that will lead you straight to this success. You have to make it yourself. Your degree is a stepping stone. It demonstrates you are academically qualified to apply for a position, but it by no means bridges you directly to an established career. You're going to have to work for the job you want to earn your royalties and rewards.
- Begin making connections early on. Many of us find ourselves qualified for little better than entry level work right out of college. Even when your first job or two seems like a complete waste of time and isn't even remotely connected to what you majored in, learn to network. Networking is a powerful tool that makes lasting connections. You may encounter new faces during company-wide meetings and discover someone from a different department that shares your employment values and goals. Introduce yourself! Invite him or her out to grab coffee during your lunch break to start a conversation and see if this new connection will open doors for you. Sometimes it really is about who you know and it could make all the difference.
- Cooperating with others is a continuous part of career development. It's very common to encounter challenging colleagues, bosses, and even clients we don't quite get along with. Sometimes it's a power struggle, other times it has to do with ego, expectations, and/or baggage. Whichever scenario fits your situation, understand this happens at any job — even your dream career. In the workplace these personality dynamics shape the relationships between everyone. Learn to work with these types of characters because chances are they won't ever disappear. Making peace with your differences will ultimately improve production and polish your career development.
- Do your best to stay at a job for at least one year. Starting off in entry level roles is often degrading and miserable. Most everyone has been there, between the dumping ground of miserable tasks that has become your to-do list to the lack of recognition for your hard work, it comes with the territory of being a young newbie in the office. Even if it's a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, the job you have is better than the alternative: unemployment. Do your best to push through for at least one year. By doing so you'll learn a lot about perseverance and you won't have to worry about explaining any significant unemployment gaps when you begin interviewing for something better and more fulfilling down the road.
- Finding your dream job is a process of elimination. Most of us don't decide at age five we want to become a doctor and actually grow up to pursue it. As a child, any job can seem enchanting and feasible. As a young professional it's important to remember that finding your career niche is a process of elimination. You probably won't wake up one morning with a lightening bolt of inspiration striking you. It could happen, but more often than not you'll learn what you want to do for a living by trial and error. Sample different jobs during your twenties. Try knocking out a year or so at a couple different spots before setting into a career you love. You may think a job reads as the perfect fit on paper but actually going through the daily motions of the job's responsibilities could shock you. This is a great time to look into internships, as well. They require less commitment and formality, and give you a taste of the job before you sign your contract. Remember, it's a process of elimination.
- Remain open minded. If you don't really know what career niche you belong to then there is no harm in being open minded to pretty much anything. Coming out of college with little to no experience is the perfect time for you to experiment with different job opportunities. Even if you have never considered becoming a marketing specialist, research coordinator, admissions counselor, or financial analyst, allow yourself some time to experiment. You may discover skills and talents that you never even knew you had. Be open minded to any possibility that comes your way.
- You will probably fail, but get back up again. There may come a point during the early stages of your career that you find yourself making mistakes. You know what? Brush it off. With any job there comes a list of rules, regulations, and expectations to abide by. If you slip up once or twice all it proves is that you're only human, just like the rest of us. No one is perfect. We all fail at something, but it doesn't mean we are failures. It means we are learning. There's a learning curve with any new job and we have to take risks to become better. Not taking risks is risky. Allow yourself to slip up but get right back up on your feet again.
- You are so much better than you know. At work you are going to be tested. You will be purposefully put in situations that will challenge your instincts and force you to act quickly. Use these opportunities to demonstrate your resilience. When you're new on the job and your colleagues and boss are busy with their own agendas, things will happen that will require you to act off the cuff. If you find yourself bombarded with customers as a receptionist with no back up, politely ask clients to take a seat while you check-in your customers one-by-one. Or, thank everyone for their patience. Courtesy goes a long way and you will come out on the other side so much more resilient and better than you ever knew.
- Adopt a "what can I give" rather than a "what can I get" mindset. We work to earn a living. Our money pays our bills, cares for our families, and if we are lucky allows us to take vacations and buy the things we want in life. Even though we are looking to get the things we want, we must learn to give first. Adopting a "what can I give" mindset improves your attitude. Consider the types of skills, talents, experiences, and unique traits you can offer a company. You have to give before you can receive. Once an organization sees all of the wonderful things you can do for them, they will be more apt to offer you things in return, like the dream title, salary, and benefits you've been waiting for.
- Follow your pursuit of happiness. You will learn in time that work is about finding your craft and polishing it every single day. If your real passion is writing, art, music, travel, and more, follow it. Determine your pursuit of happiness and see where it guides you. There's no greater reward than loving what you do and doing what you love. Truly being passionate about your work shines through and others do notice. Once you bring that attitude to the table, there's no stopping your professional development and subsequent success. Everything will fall into place.
These top ten practical career tips are essential for every young professional searching for their dream career. There is no magical recipe that will establish your career for you. Rather, finding your career niche must come from within. Only you know the type of work that inspires you and makes you happy. There will be ups and downs along the bumpy road it may take to get there, but never give up. Perseverance and passion payoff big time!