It’s March, so those of you on the cusp of graduation are probably starting to get bombarded with advice on how to land your first “real” job.
“’Starting to’?” a lot of you are saying incredulously. “I’m a liberal arts major. I’ve been getting nagged about that for four years!”
Fair enough. But your final spring is when that nagging gets kicked into overdrive. That’s when your school starts hosting workshops on interview skills and résumé writing. That’s when your parents start politely (or not so politely) gauging how long you’ll be living at home post-graduation. That’s when that question starts appearing in every conversation: “So… what are you doing after you graduate?”
Those conversations suck. Period. There’s no way to make them feel any better. Your only options are to either (a) stumble through a half-answer about various things you’d like to do, even if there are no real plans established, or (b) just throw up your hands and admit that you have no idea, and really, how could you?
You’re going to get a lot of moments like this one, from The Graduate. Whether it’s a family friend, an older sibling, or some overly exuberant host of an interview workshop, people are going to bombard you with ideas and advice: often practical, often absurd, and often unnecessary.
It will be frustrating, incredibly frustrating, because even though the advice comes with the best intentions, it also carries with it a nagging feeling that you’re doing something wrong. Every time you hear someone tell you to not wear those shoes, to leave that off your résumé, or to make sure you shake the interviewer’s hand harder, the whole enterprise of job searching starts to seem more and more disingenuous, and more and more completely disconnected from everything you spent time learning in school. It feels like the only way to impress a future employer is to constantly project a fake version of your self that is completely flawless.
I write this not to offer advice, but to offer empathy. Most soon-to-be graduates will be told to do this and to not do that a thousand times before they land that first job. Each nugget of advice will be presented as if it is the magic ticket to starting your career — just get a haircut, just buy a new tie, just change the font to “Georgia.” In truth, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on in an interviewer’s mind and exactly what factors help or hurt on a given interview. You’ll probably never know his or her reasoning. All you can do is to prepare yourself for the small portion of the interview that you have some control over. The rest is up to chance.
This is not to say that there isn’t a lot of good advice worth listening to. There are plenty of good solid rules about professional attire, a professional demeanor, and a professional email address that may seem overly obvious, but can easily slip by unawares, and can cost you a job.
But it is just as easy to overanalyze and obsess over the little details to your detriment. If you find yourself starting to worry that the way your parted your hair is going to cost you a job, it’s time to step back and remind yourself that everyone else in the building went through the exact same excruciating process to get where they are. And they all know, on some level, exactly how uncomfortable you inevitably will feel during the interview.
So when you start getting anxious, stop and take a deep breath. There will always be another chance to adjust the little details to perfection. But a good chunk will always be left up to chance. Accept the unpredictable, for better or worse.
“’Accept the unpredictable’?” some of you say. “Well, that advice sucks.”
True. But so does the interview process.