Embarking on your career after college: Two paths

Posted October 30, 2015 by
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Deborah Anderson

After graduating from college, many things come to mind. One of the questions that may come to mind is where you will go with your career or even a basic job to pay off college loans.

Hopefully this is something you are thinking about before graduation, but it is easy to put that aside while finishing up your final papers, exams, and graduation parties.

If you are fortunate enough to have a company that has agreed to hire you after graduation, you are ahead of the game. That was common practice years (decades) ago, but statistics and research do not support the idea that this is still common practice.

Two paths (and a discussion of “job” versus “career”)

There are several options, and they can be condensed into two paths. One is the “traditional” path. The traditional path would be the strategy of going out and “getting a job.”

Before we continue with the discussion of the traditional job, let’s discuss the difference between a “job” and a “career.” A career path may (and does) include a job, but it is much more than just that one job. Instead, it is a path and overall plan that is meant to move you from “point A” (i.e. your degree) to “point B” (where you eventually want to be in life. On the other hand, a job that is “just a job” (and may not fit into the overall life plan) is usually acquired for the purpose of making ends meet and not necessarily any other long-term purpose.

Let’s use the job of an entry-level position at the local grocery store as an example. First, if that is your passion and what excites you more than anything, then it is not “just a job.” However, if it is a position to make ends meet, then it may be “just a job.” An example of a case where the job at the local grocery store is not “just a job” is if you are going into retail management or something similar. At that point, it has become a part of your career path.

Any job (even if classified as “just a job”) is meaningful and a part of your path in life. It can be used as a step in the right direction, even on your career path. It looks good on your resume, CV, and LinkedIn Profile, demonstrating that you have experience and can commit to a job and perform well.

Either way, the key thing here is finding a job, whether it is “just a job” (not to minimize it) or a career. It is a stepping-stone on the overall path of life. It is important that you pay bills, even if you are looking for something that is more ideal. That is okay.

The other path is that of the freelancer, assuming you have a skill you can perform for other companies or individual clients. Similar to finding an entry-level job that fills a need while you are looking for something else, there is also an option to go down the freelance path. When a company contracts you to perform a task or project, and they pay you directly (as opposed to getting a paycheck from a company), you are a freelancer.

The traditional career path

I have been in my career for a while now and have gained quite a bit of experience. There are places and times for sage advice from those of us who have been there and done that. However, for this exercise, I wanted to find someone with less experience but who could relate and share her success tips, as they relate to the traditional career path.

I found such a person in the lovely and talented Alicia Lawrence. She has gone through the steps of a traditional career path and has found the job of her dreams. I asked Ms. Lawrence to join us and share some insights specifically for the College Recruiter audience. She has several talents and some advice (especially advice for content marketers like herself). She has agreed to join us to share those insights with the College Recruiter audience. You can watch the video here:

Alicia Lawrence’s advice to college students is also briefly discussed below for those who would like to read the text version.

Gain experience and/or education during college

Gain as much experience as possible. If there is a way to be involved in activities or internships while in school, go for it. Some advice Alicia mentioned includes the caution not to specialize so much that it limits your options when you graduate. The best way to understand what she is saying is to hear her story, above, as she describes it and puts it into context with her real-life example.

If you are still in school, look for ways to diversify. In Alicia’s case, she added classes (by way of her elective courses) so she could obtain three different degrees. By doing this, she opened up the options available to her. This allowed some flexibility when presenting her skill set to future employers.

Gain experience after college

If you have already graduated and cannot implement the suggestions above, that is okay. You can still gain experience after college as well. If you can afford it, look for an internship, a position related to your career choice. Some internships may pay a small salary, but don’t count on the internship paying you a large salary. This may be a good time to stay with Mom and Dad or other friends or family members to cut down on your expenses while you gain experience. The internship looks good on your resume and also offers invaluable networking opportunities (as Alicia shares).

Blogging and networking online

Even if your final destination is corporate America, blogging and getting connected is important. While we all hope your first job is very successful and leads to the right path for you, you never know when there is a kink in the path. Whether you are looking for that first ideal position, or you have a job, and you are keeping your options open, consider blogging and social media marketing.

Even if your area of expertise is not writing, blogging, or social media, this option still helps you to build credibility online. There are many success stories where this type of credibility (no matter what your field of expertise) has allowed people to move up in the career, even into a “regular job.” This is an opportunity to rework your college papers into online articles and blog posts.

Expect the struggle

Expect struggle. That is normal. It isn’t the end of the world. It was refreshing to hear Alicia say this in the interview.

If you can anticipate that there may be a level of struggle in finding that ideal position, it will help you to be able to navigate your way through it. There is that possibility that you will have zero struggle, and everything will just fall into place like the “Midas Touch,” but anticipate that struggle just in case. By anticipating it, you are ready for the worst case scenario. If, by chance, you have more struggles than the next person, realize that it is not you, and that it is just how “the cookie crumbles,” as they say. Hang in there!

Find your passion

Don’t look for answers as much as opportunities. This might be tricky. As Alicia states, in college we are taught to look for the answers. However, when it comes to our career path, we are looking for the opportunities. We are not looking for the answers.

Most importantly, ask yourself what your passion is. It is possible that your first job (or subsequent job) is not what would fit into the category of passion. Regardless of the “day job,” keep in mind what it is that you are passionate about doing. Eventually, with due diligence, you will find that path to the passion that you feel.

Keep a swipe file

Another thing Alicia recommends is a “swipe file.” According to Wikipedia, a swipe file is a collection of templates and proven advertising copy. The swipe file advice is essential for anyone going into a similar career as Alicia.

Related to that, for other careers, is an “idea file.” I use Trello to keep notes and ideas for future projects. It can even be used for proposal ideas to present to your boss or track your performance throughout the year so that you can present it during your employee performance review.

The freelancer path

I’ve been a freelancer all of my life, having started when I was 12 years old. I even freelance when I am in working in corporate America (with a “day job”).

If you are considering freelancing, it is best if you do enough research to understand what is involved. If you already have a day job, it would be helpful to start the freelancing on the side, in addition to your day job, to be sure that it is something sustainable for you. Don’t give up the day job prematurely. You may find that you enjoy it so much that you want to create a combination, with a regular day job and some freelancing on the side.

To help you in your research, I suggest a guide that a couple of friends of mine put together. It is “The Ultimate Guide to Freelancing” provided by John Rampton and Murray Newlands. This guide is a part of the new domain that they acquired, Due.com, and the subsequent web-based financial management tool that they set up specifically for freelancers.

I was so curious about what was going on with Due.com that I interviewed John and asked him about it. Here is that interview:

If you are reading sections like “Marketing and Promotion” and you say to yourself, “Yuck, I just can’t do that!” then maybe freelancing is not something that appeals to you even if you could do the work. However, you may read a section like “Branding Yourself” and think, “Not only was I made to do the work, but I love what this is saying about branding myself, and I want to do it right away!” If that is the case, then you may be a freelancer.

If you do move forward, there are some sections that are critical. Of course, “Where to Find Work” is critical to get gigs, but you also need to pay particular attention to “How to Get Paid” and ensure that you set up a framework that is conducive to you getting the money that you have earned. This may be something like ensuring that you charge up front (or at least a portion up front) so that you have some living money while you are working on the project. Of course, the guide goes into more detail on that discussion.

In some cases, people were just made for freelancing and have a better life balance doing freelancing work than they do in a regular day job. Is that you? Don’t worry if you don’t know that answer. There are countless people who entered life after college doing what they felt they were supposed to do only to discover freelancing and find out that they had a successful freelancer personality inside of them all along!

There is no judgment either way, and it is a matter of finding the right path for you. Whether that is a path that Alicia describes above or the path of the freelancer, what is important is finding what it is that pleases you. It is about finding YOUR passion. Of course, keep in mind that sometimes we do have to do things we may not like, to ensure that the bills get paid, but that doesn’t mean that you are not making plans toward that path that answers the question of what it is that creates the passion inside you.

By Deborah Anderson


@techauditcom and @socialwebcafe

About the author:

Deborah Anderson is on her way to finishing her doctorate in I/O Psychology. Along the way, she has served as Chief Technology Officer in the financial industry (in Beverly Hills), Director of Marketing in the health industry, Host of an iHeart Radio marketing talk show, and even a #1 Jazz Singer (Deborah E). From this background, she shares insights to help others overcome their challenges and succeed in their personal and professional lives.

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