Don’t Get Sidetracked and Stuck: For new college grads, now is the time to breathe

Follow your unique value and you won't get lost in your career.

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Piacquadio / Pexels
Piacquadio / Pexels

There is another pandemic that we need to address. Just like Covid, it is affecting people in large numbers and spreading across the globe. What’s different about the pandemic I’m talking about is that among the most vulnerable to its fury, are young people. When the Great Recession upended the world of work in 2007, youth unemployment soared and job trajectories were changed for millions of new college grads. Fast forward to 2020—and the post-graduation unemployment and underemployment pandemic is hitting this same group.

While the catalysts behind the Great Recession and Covid stem from completely different foes, the terrain for new college grads entering the job market is the same—a lot of new professionals risk getting sidetracked right out of the gate. And sidetracked can lead to stuck. 

I want you to breathe.

A scattershot job search in good economic times can take you down a path that isn’t rewarding because you are not leading with your strongest hand—you. Boom or bust, throwing your resume at every employer with a job posting will almost assuredly result in getting sidetracked. It happened to thousands of new college graduates in 2007-2009.  I know.  I was there on the ground with them and many got stuck.

So whether a challenging job market is the result of shady sub-prime mortgage lenders or an invisible virus, begin by focusing on the three most valuable assets you bring to the professional table to elude this post-graduation pandemic.

1) Who you are as a human being, including all of your demographic descriptors, your personality, and your own motivational value system. This asset is your most prized possession. It’s where you should start.

 2) Your unique talents and skills are your jet fuel.  Everyone has talents. Leveraging them will take you to your highest heights.  To recognize them, don’t look at your resume.  Look at your behavioral characteristics.  Creative.  Detail-oriented. Empathetic. Organized. Using your talents to drive job performance equates to having the wind at your back throughout your career.

3) The image of who you want to be in the world is inspiring.  Being proud of what you do and where you do it will flip your own personal motivation switch from off to on and keep it on. Don’t shy away from your ego. This isn’t about being a narcissist or a jerk.  It’s a human need.  Embrace it.  Your job should be about you.  

Use your value in these three silos—your human value, functional value, and image value—as the navigational guide to follow to find a job where you are rewarded for your unique value. Even in these unprecedented days of 2020, who you are is powerful.

Take another breath.

Expand your search.  If you lose your wallet on an evening walk and only look for it directly under the street lamp, you may never find what you’re looking for because your wallet may be right outside the shine of the light.  It’s how I see a lot of college students, new grads, and young professionals conduct a job search in all types of job markets.  In a challenging market, expanding the scope of light in your search is the gateway to success.

Explore fields in Covid growth sectors that go beyond your major or your resume. Look at thriving sectors like biotech, e-commerce, FinTech, healthcare delivery, home fitness, online education, or supply chain management. Do online searches for companies in these sectors that you connect with because you are authentically interested in their specific product or service.  Examine their leadership and mission. What resonates with you in a personal way?  Identify companies where you can see your human, functional, and image value being rewarded by the company character, success factors of the role, and the external identity of that potential employer.

Finding a job you love should always be your first goal no matter what. If you have expanded the light as far as it will go in today’s job market and your first choices simply aren’t available, to avoid getting sidetracked and stuck, here is your second goal. Look for a job that will increase your competitiveness for the jobs you love so you can make a move as soon as they become available. A strategic detour will prevent you from falling into that sidetracked and stuck ditch. Or, who knows—you might discover a new love. 

And finally, if you need to take any job that’s available because you have bills to pay, be proud of yourself. Hold your head high. You can still avoid getting sidetracked and stuck as long as you continue to pursue both your first and second goals as outlined above. For those getting ready to make that daunting transition from college to work—remember that getting to this point took hard work and grit. You have what it takes. 

Take one more deep breath and exhale.

Apply for jobs, network, add relevant new skills, and stay engaged in your job search every day. Put as much healthy energy into your body as possible. Take a walk. Sleep. And make a plan. A good plan based on the tremendous value that you alone bring to the workforce will keep you on track. You are more than the obstacles you face in these challenging times. Follow your value, expand your search light, take care of yourself, and work your plan. You won’t get sidetracked—and you won’t get stuck.  You got this.

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