Career Contentment: A Guide for Recent Graduates

Steve Herta

Special to the Business Press


I hate to acknowledge this, but I have noticed some steady trend among my friends, colleagues and people who are in the same stage of life as myself. Call us green, call us young, but whatever you deem us, we are those who have recently graduated from college and have made the leap from night life to real life. Some of us are straight out of school, no job, living on mom and dad’s pullout couch (they turned your old room into an office). Others have been working for a year or two now, maybe single, maybe married, a patron of the working world, nonetheless. Whatever current position you find yourself in, I have noticed two traits are relatively constant among the demographic. We are: 1. Dissatisfied with the inability to land a job we really want out of college 2. Dissatisfied with our current job situation Nearly every single one of my friends has experienced one or both of these. Heck, I have experienced both of these. What is the deal? Why are we so miserable when it comes to REAL LIFE? We spend 4-5 years of college growing, meeting new people and probably having a great time only to graduate to start working in a job that we can’t stand. Why? Well, I think it is a matter of our perception rather than our position. Not to point any fingers, but for some reason, our generation has been groomed into a feeling of entitlement. The truth is a lot of us have grown up not knowing anything different. Our parents, who have been very successful, have tried to save us from the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” upbringing they experienced, because well, it was hard. We have grown accustomed to the lifestyle of our parents, but don’t realize that lifestyle comes at a price. Why do you think so many people who have recently graduated have a mountain of debt, and not only in school loans? We are trying to live a life we have not yet earned. So what can be done about it? Give up? Relegate yourself to a life of pseudo happiness hoping one day you will get over the “employment hump?” No. I think you have to start at the source…yourself. Maybe take a step back, change your attitude and realign your expectations. Here are some easy points I have come up with that will help steer you in the right direction.

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1. Looking for a Job? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. One huge factor of success is failure. Yes, you read that correctly. The more chances you take at something, the better chance you will have at succeeding at said something. So how does that pertain to new graduates looking for a job? Apply, apply, apply. The more jobs you apply for, the better chance you have at landing a job. Not only landing a job, but landing a job in the field you want. Don’t get fixated on the ONE job you have to have. Chances are there are a lot of people fighting to get that same job. Your best bet is to diversify. Make a list of 25 companies you want to work for and send your resume to every single one. Then email, call, fax, send a messenger pigeon, whatever it takes to get their attention and let them know you are seriously serious about wanting to work for them. Chances are one of those companies is looking for someone just like you.

2. Don’t be discouraged in your first job; chances are you will not like it. There are no two ways about it. There is a high likelihood you will probably not like the first job you take out of college. It will probably be very boring, very menial and you might be able to do it while you are sleeping. You will probably think to yourself, “I am so much more capable than this.” There is one thing you have to understand about your first job…IT’S YOUR FIRST JOB. If you just finished driver’s ed, someone is probably not going to throw you the keys to an Indy car and say, “Sure, take her for a spin.” Same with a job. Like it or not, when you first graduate from college, you are suddenly bottom of the barrel again. You have undeveloped skills and there are people better suited for the job you really want. Once you graduate college, the real learning starts.

3. How to get over that “I can’t believe I am doing this for a job” hump. So have you accepted the fact that there is a good reason that you are working in a job that a hamster could be trained to do? The truth of the matter is, you don’t have the skills necessary to be successful at the job you really want. Now there are two ways you can look at this. One, you can go to work day in, day out hating your job. It would be easy to; after all, your job is the employment equivalent to counting sand. Two, you can make a choice to stop whining, accept where you are, and actually do something about it. Go from unskilled to skilled. Start honing your craft. Find something in the office that you are able to do, then do it better than anyone else. Become a virtuoso at Excel or the Mozart of the mail room. It doesn’t have to be big, just something of value that people will notice. Once they see you capable of something small, they will assume your genius must extend to other aspects of your life and be happy to pull you from your job of counting sand to something with a bit more meaning. It’s easy to believe you are smart and hardworking, because in truth, you probably are. The trick is making other people believe you are.

The author is a 26-year-old analyst at TXU Energy and is living proof that you can get over the hump and love your job.