For the past couple of years, I’ve been serving as a mentor to various Loyola University Chicago undergraduate students, and this year I also started speaking on panels during Loyola’s Business Preparedness classes. I’ve also managed a few summer interns at my company. It’s always interesting to talk about my own experiences, the path to how I got to where I am, and what I’ve learned in the first 14 years of my career. It’s also very exciting to get to know these youngsters early in their careers. (Also, even before the events as of late, I was already impressed with Gen Z. They are extremely bright, very curious, and willing to work hard.) Below is some of the most common career advice for new grads that I’ve shared, although it doesn’t always apply only to them.
Loyola University Chicago C/O 2004
Every job is temporary
Sometimes you might find yourself working in a job that’s not the best for you. Maybe the job itself isn’t a good fit, maybe it’s the company, maybe it’s your boss. But remember that nothing is permanent, jobs often change over time, or new opportunities open up on your team (or are created), or you can leave for a better opportunity. It might take time for that better opportunity to come along, which brings me to my next point …
You can learn something from every job
Maybe you learn what you don’t want to be doing. That’s valuable. When I started my career, I thought I wanted to work in public relations. After a few years in that field, I realized it wasn’t for me. However, it taught me a lot about communication, including how to communicate any message or idea to any audience, which is a handy skill for any job you’ll hold, but not necessarily a skill that everyone posses.
Be authentic and focus on what is important to you
Unless you are a freelancer/independent contractor, I personally don’t think you need to put much effort into building a “personal brand.” However, be authentic and honest in everything you do. From your resume to your interviews to how you do your job and interact with others. I’ve interviewed what I thought were amazing candidates only for them to show up to work and fall flat. As long as you’re true to yourself and honest, you will shine through. And as long as you build your career by following what is important to you and aligns with what you value, you will naturally cultivate your brand. (But sometimes you just need a paycheck, so don’t beat yourself up if you end up working somewhere that doesn’t totally align with what you believe in.)
It might take awhile to figure out what you want to do
Each job I’ve held has gotten closer and closer to figuring out what I really want to do. 14 years in, I feel like I’m just now truly figuring out how to combine my personal talents, skills, and experience to do work that I genuinely enjoy in a way that makes a social impact. And just because I figured out how to do that, doesn’t mean I’m actually doing that … yet. You’re not going to get it on your first shot. And maybe not your second or third. But eventually, you’ll get there.
Great bosses are awesome
More often than not, I’ve had great bosses. But I’ve also had bosses that range from bad to not great to meh, which made me appreciate the great bosses even more. Don’t underestimate working for a great boss. It really does make a world of difference. Keep this in mind when you are interviewing.
Awesome bosses will listen when you say “I really like this part of my job, but not that other part, and I’d like to get more experience in this other area.” And they might change your duties or recommend you for a better job on your team under another boss or support your education and training goals. It took me years to develop the confidence to admit to a boss that there were parts of my job that I really didn’t like. But speaking up has led to shifts in my duties or changing jobs within the same team, and lots of opportunities to learn and grow.
Admit you’re not good at everything
I hate being a project manager. I hate writing creative copy. I hate coming up with creative content. But that’s fine because there are plenty of people on my team who are good at those things and enjoy them. So they can focus on that stuff and I can focus on what I am good at (data, analytics, process).
If you’re a new grad or early in your career and don’t have a ton of experience, you can get more of it through volunteering. I’ve been able to develop a lot of great skills and grow my professional network through volunteering, specifically being the Publicity Chair and then Event Chair of an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event and being a Business Volunteer for the Arts through the Arts & Business Council. Voluteering is also really great if you feel like your day job isn’t making the social impact you’d like it ot.
Job Descriptions are Wish Lists
I’ve head that women will only apply to jobs if their qualifications line up with all of almost all of what is listed in a job description. Whereas men will apply if they only have some of the qualifications. This puts women at a huge disadvantage because we will disqualify ourselves from jobs we could do well. After being on the other side of hiring, I’ve seen first hand how much a job description is written like a wish list, and it can be extremely challenging to find someone with every qualification (who is also willing to accept the salary being offered). There are also a lot of things you can learn on the job, so if you have the basic understanding of how to do the job, but not some of the specific technical things, apply anyway. They can teach you some of the technical stuff.
So what is all this advice based on? My career path in a nutshell:
One of my high school history teachers tasked us with turning our term papers into web pages using HTML. I fell in love with coding and would create websites in Angelfire and Geocities in my free time after school. I started college at Loyola as a computer science major but felt like that wasn’t the right fit for me. I switched my major to Communication with my sights set on working in public relations. My first job was promoting accounting conferences (coordinating brochures, emails, and conference packets). My next job was in PR & marketing for a hospital system. I did everything from traditional PR (news releases, crisis communication, writing for the annual report) to internal communication (event planning, employee communication) to digital marketing (social media, website content). Then my company merged with a similar company and I was put in charge of all digital marketing that drove traffic to their websites (social, email, search). I thought that was the perfect job for me, but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t the best fit. I moved on to retail real estate (malls), completely focused on managing websites (MY DREAM). Then I moved into a role on the same team doing strictly marketing analytics. (As a math nerd, this became my new dream.) Now I’m planning to enroll in a masters program in data science so I grow beyond just analyzing website data.
What advice do you have for new grads? What have you learned during your career?