“So, what jobs are you thinking about for after college? Finance? Law? Medicine? Any careers that just tickle your pretty pink fancy???”
Anyone over the age of seventeen has probably heard this question (or a less sarcastic variant) more times than they can count. Heck, there are probably some fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen-year-olds who are starting to get just as jaded from and fed up with this question as the rest of us college kids. And who the heck can blame them?
Apart from being a crazy difficult question to answer (unless your parents built you out of one of those made-to-order kits you get at Sears — y’know, a lawyer or doctor model), part of what makes this question so annoying is the assurance that whoever asks you will probably throw in their own two-cents about what you should be doing with your life. Or ten cents. Or even a whole dollar. And no one ever needed a dollar’s worth of someone else’s opinion about a life they weren’t living.
But, thank goodness, in this modern age, there are some handy tactics and tricks you can use to make this question easier to answer — both for the person asking it and for you.
1. Find a good comeback!
At the moment, my favorite response to this question is a little quip or two: “A job that pays!” or, “A job with health insurance!” or even, “Literally anyone who will take me!” ‘Cause I gotta tell ya — graduating with a bachelor’s in Medieval History without the goal of academia? The prospects aren’t bright. Thank goodness for that bartending degree.
In all seriousness, it’s good to have a couple replies practiced and ready, especially if the person asking you is a close family friend or someone really important, like your college advisor or even someone interviewing you. Besides, you never know; maybe they’ll be gal pals or barhopping bros with someone in the career path you fancy the most, which could really help you out down the line.
When coming up with an adequate reply, it might help if you think of a couple different options (bonus points if they’re careers/jobs that actually interest you) so you can offer up three different paths instead of just one. Believe me, flexibility is key in terms of finding a job, so it’s best to start practicing that now. Unless the person you’re stuck with is truly a monster, they’ll also be caught off guard by the sheer number of possibilities, and they can’t grill you on all of them (at least, I hope not).
As an example, here’s one of my (genuine) answers to this question:
“Ideally, publishing. I’d love to be a fiction editor. Or, you know, there are a couple of government jobs I wouldn’t mind having, and I could always end up being a producer or maybe even a novelist in the far-off distant future. The pipe dream is to open my own publishing company that’s 100% sustainable, but that’s way down the line!”
(Hint: Bonus points if you narrow in on a pipe dream and dazzle them with it!)
2. If you really have no idea, that’s okay, but…
… Be careful not to let it sound like you don’t care. Or that you aren’t driven. Instead of just leaving it as, “I have no idea,” try something a little more networking-friendly, like: “At the moment, I don’t have any preferences. I would honestly be happy with any opportunity that came my way. I’m open to and willing to try everything!”
Anyone who’s been through the process of finding a job will tell you how important it is to be really good at selling yourself. So why not start practicing now?
3. Look on high school and everyday life as a networking opportunity
This might sound weird, I know, but bear with me.
While you’re in high school, ask your favorite teachers, librarians, staff members, and coaches about themselves. Hopefully, you already do this, but find out what degrees they have, what jobs they found right out of college, etc. etc. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find. For example, one of the librarians at my high school once worked at Penguin/Random House! And not all teachers become teachers right away. Apart from being a source of advice about life in the “real world,” these people might come in handy when you’re ready for more serious networking.
And you know what? Apply this advice to everyone else you meet, whether they’re your friends’ parents, your college professors, or the receptionist you see every time you go to one of the guidance offices at your school. Immersing yourself with information is one of the key parts of a job search.
4. Use. Your. Resources.
This one’s more for college students, but it applies to anybody who has a career guidance office at their school. That office is there for a reason. Use it! It’s awesome to have help formatting, writing, and building your resumé. And what’s more, listen to their advice about cover letters; you can follow a basic template/outline, but actually taking the time to write a genuine and unique cover letter for every different job could very well be the deciding point between being hired or passed over. So don’t just copy and paste them.
And, don’t be afraid to ask your counselors every question that pops into your head (except maybe about those Game of Thrones theories, unless you have that kind of relationship). Don’t feel like you can only ask them about internships. Ask them about the different parts of networking, what questions are good to ask at an interview, and what to ask someone who’s a potential link into your future career over that cup of coffee. Oh, and please ask them about the finer points of LinkedIn… which brings me to my final point:
5. Say it with me: LinkedIn. Okay, great; now stand up and BELT IT: “LINKEDINNNN!” Maybe your dog will howl along.
I cannot stress this enough. LinkedIn is a godsend, and it’s weirdly addictive.
In my experience, the earlier you get yourself a LinkedIn, the better. A good rule of thumb is to start building yours after you graduate high school or after you get your first job. Fill out all the categories you can, choose a picture of yourself that’s hecking cute, and send out those invites to join people’s networks. And this isn’t Facebook — LinkedIn is a strictly professional network, so don’t be afraid to add your parents and other family members. You never know what opportunities that might lead to!
And, here’s a little hack for you: Most alumni from your college (and high school) will have a LinkedIn page. You can search for people who went to your college and ended up in your desired career. LinkedIn gives you a way to contact them and ask them questions about their job, not to mention a non-creepy starting point — your school!
LinkedIn is also a great lesson in starting small, something that many people forget to do when they begin the job hunt. It’s easier to get an internship at a little hippie-indie startup than at one of those giants that’s been around for 50+ years, mmkay?
So there you have it! Some tips and pointers for those who are just tipping their toe in the pond of career-building, or trying to find their star, so to speak. 😉