In part two of our interview with Career Counselor Arlene Hirsch, she discusses the economic challenges new college graduates face, the fantasy of “the perfect career,” and the importance of learning how to search for a job efficiently.
TUL: In our last interview we spoke to several college students who thought this was a worse time to enter the job market compared to past generations. What do you think?
AH: New college graduates (especially liberal arts majors) have always struggled to gain a foothold in the job market. However, many college graduates are carrying way too much college debt. This limits their freedom of movement, and forces them to focus on making money, something which would otherwise not be their first priority.
Another truly unique challenge relates to the incredible pace of change, and the overwhelming array of options. Christine Hassler likens this to having a meal at the Cheesecake Factory. There are just too many choices, and too many things they’d like to try. Research tells us that more isn’t always better. At some point it’s counterproductive, because they are never completely happy with their choice. They’re always wondering whether they made the right choice. I tell them if they enjoy what they’re doing, and find the work meaningful, then they made the right choice.
Unfortunately the whole “follow your passion” myth has created this fantasy that there’s some perfect job or perfect career. As soon as something isn’t perfect they start looking for something else. I don’t know where this statistic comes from, but it’s repeated quite a bit, namely: that only about 20% of people have some innate, pre-existing passion to follow. The other 80% can search their souls ’til kingdom come and not find what they’re looking for, because they’re looking in the wrong place. Not all of the answers reside within; some of the answers are out in the world waiting to be discovered. There can be many right choices. Many college graduates enter the job market without the requisite skills or experience to make good career choices. They may need to actively add new skills into their repertoire.
There is a sad irony. While many of these intelligent and capable young adults struggle to find good jobs, many employers are concerned about talent gaps and shortages that put their organizations at risk. This can happen when college students only study what they want to study without regard for what the job market needs. My personal belief is that college should be a mix of studying things that you really find interesting, and taking some courses strictly because they have labor market value.
Let me give you an example. I was recently asked to evaluate career opportunities in the insurance industry. Not selling insurance, but working within the corporation in marketing or training or underwriting. What I discovered is that the average age of insurance industry professionals is 54, and that the industry will lose 400,000 jobs by 2020, mostly through retirement. They are desperate to attract college graduates. But they’ve been unable to attract this population because their industry doesn’t have a great reputation and/or because young adults assume that the work will be boring. It doesn’t have to be.
“I think my job is to teach people how to make good career decisions. This is a trial-and-error process. You can learn a lot from your mistakes.”
TUL: What do you tell people who compare themselves to peers who they believe are doing better career wise?
AH: I tell them about the Cheesecake Factory analogy.
TUL: There’s a lot of unused creativity and skills that are submerged when well educated people are stuck in bad jobs? What do you think it means for a country when roughly 23 million of it’s best and brightest can’t find meaningful work?
AH: There’s a shortage of good leadership and a real need for good leaders. What the “best and brightest” need to do is study the job market like it’s the most important subject they’ll ever need to learn. They also need to learn how to make good career decisions. Many career counselors and coaches believe that their job is to help people find their true passion or their true calling in life. I see the work differently. I think my job is to teach people how to make good career decisions. This is a trial-and-error process. You can learn a lot from your mistakes.
People also need to learn job search skills. This is a skill set that can be learned. But it requires effort along with a “practice and perfect” mentality. Many of my career counseling clients have found better jobs with their existing skills and experience simply because they wrote a better resume, developed and implemented a networking strategy, and improved their interviewing skills.
I often tell them that “nobody likes job hunting.” At least I’ve never heard anyone say they like it. So the question – how can they make it as painless as possible and still be effective? I don’t ask or expect the introverts to behave like extroverts. It’s not who they are. So the question becomes, how can they implement a job search in a way that is consistent with who they are and how they want to present themselves? A job search is a self marketing campaign, and the product or service is themselves.
TUL: Identity and what we do for work are so interconnected in our country. What advice can you give to our readers who are unhappy because of their job status?
AH: I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to live their lives trying to impress others with their job titles and salaries. That’s usually a recipe for unhappiness. Hearkening back to the Cheesecake Factory idea — if you’re happy with your choice, it shouldn’t matter whether someone else likes that choice. There are professions that don’t get enough respect. Teaching is definitely one of those professions. I would say that, if they find their work fulfilling then the status shouldn’t matter.
It’s all about owning your choices. If someone isn’t happy with their choice, they need to choose something else until they find what they’re looking for. This is where resilience pays off. You’ve probably heard it said before, but I think it bears repeating: It’s not failing that defines you, it’s what you do after you’ve failed that is a true test of character.
TUL: Thanks again for your time.
Psychologist and Career Counselor Arlene Hirsch has written multiple best selling books on how to find career success. For more information or to contact Arlene Hirsch, please visit her website.