Should New Grads Take Any Job or Wait for the Right One?
It can be hard to know whether they should just take any job or wait for the right one, especially when you’re first starting out in your career. If you’re not finding roles that excite you, that’s OK. Instead of lowering your expectations or giving up on your dreams, expand your perspective, take some pressure off the process, and accept that there is value and learning to be had from almost any job. Specifically, look for opportunities that give you one of three things: experience, credibility, or income. First, what skills will you need to eventually land your dream job? Find a role that helps you build those and allows you to get some experience under your belt. Second, you might consider taking. a less-than-perfect job at a company with an A+ reputation that will make your resume stand out next time you’re on the job market. Lastly, never underestimate the power of a paycheck. Do what it takes to duct-tape together an income while you search for the “right” job.
Luisa Kloep is a 26 year-old newly minted graduate with a masters degree in fashion and sales management. Like many of her peers, she is bright, talented, and enthusiastic about her new career. She’s also unemployed and feeling dejected about the job search she started five months ago.
Luisa, who came to me for advice, started her graduate program with her sights set on becoming a buyer for a fashion retailer in Germany. But months into her job search, she reached out to tell me she had exhausted all of her options. She had applied to every entry-level “buyer” job in Germany — and after completing over 25 applications and four interviews, she had come up empty. And now, she conceded, she was out of options.
But was she? Should she give up on her dream of breaking into the fashion industry simply because she couldn’t score the “right” job right now? Hardly.
We give new graduates lots of well-meaning advice. Go follow your dreams! Find your passion! Do what you love! Make a difference in the world! Oh, and by the way, you’ve got to make money doing it.
This advice is misguided. Passion, love, dreams, impact — those are heady terms for people going out on their own for the first time and often staring down piles of debt.
And while no one wants to quash a person’s dreams — there’s plenty of evidence out there that following your passion is often terrible advice, or searching for work you love is elusive for the vast majority of us.
For people like Luisa it can be hard to know whether they should just take any job or wait for the right one. But maybe it’s not either/or. Instead of searching for the dream job, ask yourself: What can I do in the near term that will help me over time find the job I’m going to be excited about, engaged in, and good at?
Because — let’s be real — knowing exactly what you want to do when you’re in your early 20s isn’t always possible. It’s rare that I meet someone who knew what they wanted upon graduating, and are still in that exact same field ten, 20, or 30 years later. I went from the Peace Corps to Goldman Sachs to the EPA to Exxon Mobil, and today, I’m an entrepreneur and communication expert, which would’ve been inconceivable to my 22-year-old self.
It’s time to reframe the discussion for new grads. Instead of lowering your expectations or giving up on your dreams, expand your perspective, take some pressure off the process, and accept that there is value and learning to be had from almost any job.
Evaluate opportunities, not based on whether they are “right” or “perfect” for your long-term goals but based on whether you’ll gain something now that will be useful later. Specifically, think about three criteria: will the job you’re considering offer experience, credibility, or income?
It’s tempting to set your sights on the “best” jobs or companies but sometimes you can learn a lot in a role at any company. Ask yourself: What are you hoping to learn? What skills are you looking to gain? If you want to hone your writing skills, for example, you don’t have to work for a nationally recognized media company or a well-known digital marketing firm. You might consider communication roles within trade associations or with a nonprofit organization, or take an entry level position writing for a lesser known digital magazine.
And don’t narrowly focus on the role you ultimately want. Think instead about the skills you’ll need to eventually fill those jobs. For example, if you dream of making it big in advertising, think about copywriting positions or account manager roles within a creative field —but don’t limit yourself only to top-tier agencies. If experience is what you’re after, the brand name on the door matters less than the work you’ll be doing day to day.
Similarly, if you want to run your own company someday, then consider an apprenticeship role at a start-up. Being a jack-of-all-trades and learning what it takes to get a venture off the ground matters more than the prestige of the founders or whether the company actually makes it to the next funding round.
Of course, there are industries, say luxury fashion, consumer products or investment banking, where prestige matters. For example, P&G has long been the gold standard in the world of consumer products, so getting in the door — in any position — is a huge win for someone looking to stake their claim in the world of marketing or brand management.
Luisa wanted to be a buyer, and only a buyer — until she realized that getting her foot in the door with any well-known retail or consumer brand could be her lucky break. She ultimately expanded her job search to include marketing and brand management roles with the top brands in Germany and throughout Europe. She also broadened her search to include packaged food companies. Soon after doing so, she called me excitedly to tell me that she had found over 50 additional job openings.
If credibility is what you’re after, then seeking a position with a tried-and-true company that other people will recognize, whether it’s Deloitte, Dropbox, or Delta Airlines, can be helpful. I’m sure having Goldman Sachs on my resume early in my career opened other doors for me later on.
Never underestimate the power of a paycheck. Almost everyone I know has spent time waiting tables, working in a coffee shop or retail, or taken low-paid internships. Do what it takes to duct-tape together an income while you search for the “right” job. When I applied to the Environment Protection Agency years ago, I was told that they thought I was a great candidate but there was a hiring freeze and it could take six to 12 months to get me through the hiring system. They assumed that I’d politely decline but instead I packed my bag, moved to Washington D.C., bunked with a friend, and took a temp job at the Inter-American Development Bank. When the EPA job came through, I was thrilled that I had taken the leap.
Chances are that your career is going to be a series of twists and turns and highs and lows, all of which make it interesting, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. Your career success will lie as much in the mistakes you make — a terrible first job or the dream role you landed only to realize it wasn’t for you — as it does in the right choices you make along the way. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Look for opportunities that give you experience, credibility, or income, and have faith that you’ll find the right job (or it will find you) along the way.
Jodi Glickman is a keynote speaker and the CEO of leadership development firm Great on the Job. She is the author of Great on the Job and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Networking. You can connect with her online here.
Should New Grads Take Any Job or Wait for the Right One?
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