Senior year. The culmination of many years filled with learning, personal growth, friendships, parties, exams, papers, clubs, research and now what? More education? Travel? Service? A job? If your answer is the latter, here are four important items that we believe you should consider as you weigh the options for your “first job after college”.
- Growth: In an economic environment where change is constant, organizations are always expanding and retracting. Budget cuts in the federal government? Your agency may feel the impact. High donor engagement at your nonprofit? Your programs may be expanding. Net revenue in a slide? Your company may be seeking new markets to make up the difference. Regardless of the field, industry or sector that you intend to pursue, it is essential to understand the macro trends that will impact jobs – and therefore, your career trajectory. In addition to tracking the news, follow information from professional associations like those listed on career field pages in Whitman Wayfinder. Reach out to the network of people you know in the field, including alumni on Whitman Connect. During the interview, ask questions about the organization’s plans and obstacles. This kind of research will help you get a sense of how your first position may help you advance to your second, fifth, or tenth
- Challenge: “I don’t have all of the qualifications they are seeking for this position, so I don’t think I’m qualified.” Often a statement that we hear from seniors and recent graduates, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle for you or your potential employer. Hiring managers look for a candidate who can bring a set of experiences, values and skills to a position, but they also want someone who can adapt, grow and develop within the position and within the organization. Look for openings that allow you to flex your knowledge base and abilities while also testing new skills and learning new information. If you don’t see something in the position description that you haven’t done before or if they can’t tell you how others have moved beyond the role, you might find yourself outgrowing the position or the organization too quickly. As a 2014 Whitman graduate stated in a panel discussion, “…even if you only have 35-40% of the skills they are looking for, you should apply.” And then be prepared to share how your background and experiences will allow you to quickly meet expectations for the position now as well as through the organization’s growth.
- Mentoring: Navigating the first few steps of your career (and the duration of its entire trajectory) can sometimes be a terrifying process. Having the ear and the support of trusted colleagues and mentors will be crucial to help you work through challenging times with confidence and a sound plan. But what is a mentor and how to find one? In some organizations, formal mentoring programs are available to help on-board and orient more junior employees. If your organization offers this type of opportunity, it is worth checking out their program to help you adapt to a new environment. However, the best mentors often emerge as you spend time and energy developing relationships and networks inside and outside of your organization while those folks begin to invest in your success. Often attributed to organizational culture, mentoring relationships are worth inquiring about during an interview.
- Meaning: Throughout the course of your career, priorities will shift, values will evolve, new issues will arise and what brings satisfaction and meaning to your professional life will change. In addition to seeking out a position that provides income, growth and intellectual challenge, it’s important to find a role and/or an organization that connects to your values and allows you to do work that you care about. Whether that involves helping people manage their business or financial resources, developing systems and programs to assist those in need, providing physical or virtual security, or caring for the ill or infirmed, find work that allows you to contribute to something you value. And know that what brings joy and meaning to you today may change; your career trajectory will need to shift over time accordingly.
Whether you are in the midst of your senior year or your senior year is behind you, keep these aspects in mind as you discover, apply to and learn about professional opportunities that will move you toward a life beyond Whitman.