Congratulations to all the young women in the Class of 2018. You’ve worn your cap and gown, received your diploma, breathed a sigh of relief and pondered with some anxiety, “what now?” Before you set off impetuously toward any professional job you can find, here are a few words of advice.
Choose wisely. Though your first job will not be a life sentence, it can be tricky to switch your career focus after you have a few years on your resume. Employers tend to be very narrow-minded about hiring anyone who appears to be outside their fold. Choose a first job that intersects with more than one area of interest so you can move more freely in the years ahead. If you’re interested in accounting, for example, you don’t have to box yourself in to an accounting firm. You could apply your skills to an industry that interests you—like fashion—giving you the chance to develop accounting expertise AND learn the financial nuts and bolts of a more creative field.
Focus on skills rather than job titles. A junior account executive at Company A could have an entirely different job description at Company B. Think about the skills you would most like to develop—like writing, budgeting or sales—and make sure the jobs you interview for really will hone these skills. As the business world becomes more and more flexible and gig oriented, cultivating key “specialist” skills that can advance specific projects and initiatives will be more important than the ability to take on a wide-ranging generalist job.
Lay a strategic foundation. Maybe you’re willing to work long law firm hours now, continually hop on and off planes to visit advertising clients or burn the midnight oil writing social media posts for major magazines. That’s fine but think 10 career steps ahead and make sure you can parlay this early career activity into more flexible work structures later. Years from now, when you’re caring for children or aging parents, you could open your own small law practice, be an independent advertising consultant or be a freelance writer for endless companies that need crisp and clear copy. It’s harder to work flexibly as a lab scientist or investment banker.
Think beyond the traditional full-time job. When you’re young and free from family responsibility, a full-time job in an employer’s office with hours that often extend beyond “9 to 5” won’t necessarily upend your life. But the traditional corporate grind is not your only option. Today there are six different kinds of flexwork that could give you more breathing room now—and later when family pressures mount and you really need it: a full-time job with flexible hours, a part-time job, freelance and independent contractor work, a compressed work week and job shares. Add in entrepreneurial ventures and you will always have endless ways to blend work and life.
Create your own definition of ambition and success. When you graduate from college it can feel like the sky is the limit—and it is. With hard work and strategic thinking, you could indeed reach any career pinnacle you want. But don’t feel that you’ll let down the sisterhood if you don’t aim for the C-Suite or launch an entrepreneurial venture that can be exponentially scaled and sold. You set your own bar and you’ll never be weak or lacking ambition if you choose to B-Sane with lucrative, professional work you can more easily blend with life.
Keep your eye on the ultimate goal—long-term financial security. You’ve just crossed the bridge to greater independence and your goal should be to always have the ability to support yourself and your family. Don’t ever delegate your own financial responsibility to a partner. Life is expensive and there are many unforeseen twists and turns. Two incomes will always be better than one when it comes to buying houses and paying for college tuitions—and many years from now you’ll be in a very expensive retirement phase that could last 30 years or more. Plan to always stay in the workforce (whether you someday have one child or 10), always find work that fits your life and educate yourself about the enormous benefits of lifetime earning, saving and investing.
Be your own confident woman. Tune out the endless negative discussion about the plight of women in the workforce. Yes, there are big and troubling issues that have not yet been solved (like the wage gap, the lack of widespread affordable childcare and the fact that too few women are at the top of government or corporations). But these issues do not represent a foregone conclusion that you will not reach your personal goals. Be aware that challenges exist but believe that you can always meet them head on and succeed.