I’m reaching the end of my degree. This will be the last semester of my undergraduate, and the first question that everyone but my cat wants the answer to is “where are you working after you graduate?” So on the cusp of graduation I have one honest recommendation for anyone looking for work: stop listening to almost everything people tell you about your future.
I fully recognize the irony in writing an article advising you to stop listening to advice, so instead let me tell you that all advice is not created equal. You need to be wary of who is giving you guidance and how applicable it really is. Traditional places we might look for help — friends, families, teachers — might not be as helpful as you’d hoped. Anyone who hasn’t had to job search in the last ten years is likely unable to tell you how to overcome our chronic job shortage. There is a reason why our parents’ generation often advised us to get an undergraduate degree and find a steady job with benefits and a retirement package. In their time it was not uncommon to secure a career in one industry, often with a single employer. Instead, our generation will be faced with multiple careers and more jobs than we can count, shaped by an ever-changing marketplace.
So if we can’t take advice from past generations, where can we turn? Googling “career tips” returns a huge number of results, but you should also be wary of taking advice from articles online. While tips on how to write a professional email or acquiring a business casual wardrobe may be helpful, don’t mistake that advice for anything that will help you stand out in a crowd — and there will be a crowd, because for every job that is publicly posted there are going to be a flock of applicants. Be wary of advice that is available to everyone, because at best it will help you conform in the market, and at worst make you forgettable.
Another thing to be critical of are buzzwords. I am firmly convinced that anyone who tells you to develop a “personal brand” doesn’t fully know what that means either. Take phrases like “personal elevator pitch”, “networking” and “rapid skill acquisition” with a grain of salt. If you can’t understand advice because it is wrapped in ambiguous or esoteric language, it is probably not going to be very useful to you anyway.
Be especially suspicious of advice that doesn’t take privilege and oppression into account. As study after study confirms what we already knew — that women and people of color are considered to be less qualified and are less likely to be hired — telling someone to “follow their dreams” ignores the fact that pursuing a career in your desired field is much easier for some than others. The best thing you can do instead is seek out advice tailored to your situation. If you can, look for someone you admire in your field with similar life experiences and reach out to them for guidance. You would be surprised how willing people are to mentor the enthusiastic and give you advice you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. If there is no one like you in your chosen field, just be prepared for a potentially longer and more arduous job search.
Be wary of advice that is available to everyone, because at best it will help you conform in the market, and at worst make you forgettable.
So after telling you what advice not to follow, let me give you the advice that has worked best for me: focus on yourself. Often times finding a job is an exercise in ego; we are constantly trying to prove to potential employers that we are worth their time and money. You need to see the value in your own work, otherwise how will anyone else see it too? Not everything you do will be groundbreaking, but take the time to appreciate your own improvement, and strive to get better at what you want to do. As best as you can, demand fair pay for your work, and don’t compare yourself to your friends or coworkers because it isn’t going to be helpful. Don’t let other people dictate what your career is going to look like, because at the end of the day you are the one accountable for your work.
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