Congratulations to the class of 2013 graduates, whatever it is you’ve studied and whatever it is you plan to do now. Most of you are probably shifting from college senior laziness into frantic job search mode right about now. If you are, file away the four points below into the back of your head. They’re the best advice I have to offer, as someone who (a) didn’t study an “in-demand” field and (b) has been job hunting in the last couple years.
1. There are far more jobs out there than you even know exist.
Most people have some sort of preconceived notion for what jobs come from what majors. Psychology majors become therapists. Biology majors go to medical school. Pre-law means you’ll be a lawyer. Education means you’ll teach. The problem is that this way of thinking doesn’t give you a very good picture of what the professional world is like. There are only so many therapists, doctors, lawyers, and teachers in the world. Far less than the total number of people people studying psychology, biology, law, and education.
The truth is that most people will land in a job peripherally related to the field they studied. Remember that you can’t get a job in a subject, you have to look for jobs in an industry. You can study Biology, but there aren’t jobs in Biology. There are jobs in pharmaceuticals, government, agriculture, food processing, and dozens of other industries. Much of the job search is simply becoming aware of the possibilities.
2. Yes, you can get a job as an English/art/theater/etc. major. It just might not be the one you thought you’d get.
Graduates who studied arts can totally get jobs. Seriously. Yes, math and science jobs tend to pay better right out of the gate. Yes, those jobs might be easier to land. But the idea that arts majors only prepare students to be unemployed, starving artists is simply not true.
However, students do need to understand that the jobs held by arts majors often don’t appear creatively rewarding at a distance. The odds of landing a creative job right after graduation are basically nil. Even if you land in the industry you wanted. Entry level graphic designers will do boring, tedious work color-correcting and saving images in different file formats. They probably won’t be designing anything for the first few years.
Other arts majors may end up in a business or industry that doesn’t seem to be creative whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean their days won’t have plenty of opportunities to make use of what they’ve learned. Writing clearly and presenting information well are invaluable to just about every industry. You might not get hired for your ability to do those things, but done the line that could very well be the reason you get promoted.
3. Interviewing well is more important than writing a good cover letter and resume.
Both are vital, obviously, but… and I’m not saying this to freak you out… interviews are judged more harshly. There’s still a chance you’ll get a job with a so-so cover letter. There’s no chance you’ll get a job with a so-so interview. Why am I saying this? Because typically the person interviewing you is somebody you’ll need to work with on a daily basis. That person is going to be sizing up every little thing you do. Every little thing. Far more than you have any way of knowing or preparing for.
Now that doesn’t mean every interviewer is going to be a jerk. They want you to succeed. They really do. They hope that every person they interview will be the last one they need to interview. Most of them understand that human beings are fallible, so minor mistakes and awkwardness are typically forgiven.
Think of it as a first date. Both of you want this to work out, but if it does, you’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so you both want to make sure you enjoy being with that person. If it doesn’t work out, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job, just that you aren’t right for each other.
4. Not everybody will have a job that makes them happy, but don’t put up with a job that makes you unhappy.
One last thing to never forget: For most people, a job is simply a way to make money so you can keep living and keep doing the stuff you actually enjoy doing. You can find pleasure in your work, you can be passionate about doing it well, but at the end of the day, you’re probably going to do something you enjoy more after you go home.
That being said, there’s a difference between having a job that isn’t your life’s calling and having a job that you actively dread going to. If you find yourself in the latter position, or headed in that direction, don’t put up with it. You don’t have to take the first job you’re offered if it’s going to be miserable. A longer period of unemployment is easier to stomach than daily misery.