Job Search Advice for Students (and Other People)

Firefighter

When I discuss post-grad plans with my students, one of the issues that always comes up is balance. No, not work-life balance. The balance of the short-term and long-term perspectives.

Often the conversation happens in what should be an ecstatic moment: a graduating senior has a job offer (!). Why is the mood less than ecstatic? The offer is “good but not great.” I don’t just mean the salary level, but everything about the opportunity. The student may have doubts about whether working there is going to be fun, or concerns about whether what the company does feels okay to them (e.g., selling ad space), or disappointment over the terms of the offer.

First, we have the conversation about what matters most: are you going to be learning? Are there people that you will enjoy being around?

Then, we talk about the short-term and long-term perspectives. OK, maybe the pay is not great. But are there prospects for advancement? Or will you be acquiring skills that will make you more valuable in your next job? If so, it may be willing to make the short-term compromise on pay. Or maybe the pay is excellent, but there are doubts about working conditions. Expectations about excessive hours, boring or “old” (heaven forbid!) co-workers, etc. In that situation, the compromise is different. The short-term compromise is on conditions.

One of my favorite examples of this conversation was with a student who was graduating with his business degree and was considering an offer…to fight fires in Utah. This is not one of the target careers for our students. But this student had a clear view of the short-term and long-term trade-offs. In the short term, he was getting adventure and high pay. That pay was going to fund some international travel he wanted to do while he was young and unattached. Then later, he would come back and seek professional opportunities. And he has. I was impressed with the decision at the time because he went into it with a clear sense of what was important to him. (And I was also impressed with his fearlessness, although I suspect his own mother had a different take on the matter.)

I like working with students in their junior year or early in senior year, before they are feeling the intense pressure of “what are you going to do after graduation?” My best advice to them is to devote a lot of energy to career exploration, and to treat their exploration and search like a sales pipeline or an innovation funnel. Every college senior should be reciting this phrase every day:

Pursue multiple opportunities simultaneously.

Pursue multiple opportunities simultaneously. That is the key to not just finding a job, but finding one that you LOVE. And in an opportunity to work at a job you love, you hardly feel the pinch of short-term vs. long-term trade-offs.

Photo credit: Wikimedia.

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