Handle the unknown with courage, an open mind

Written by Caroline Dowd-Higgins. Posted in Featured

Published on June 09, 2021 with No Comments

Career counseling letter to post-pandemic Class of 2021

Dear Class of 2021:

As you head into the post pandemic world, you have an opportunity to design your own career destiny and I encourage you to tap the power you have within you. You earned your credentials with a tremendous amount of time, effort, and more than likely a big financial investment that may also translate into student loan debt. As you begin your career journey, I share this wisdom to help you find your way in the world-of-work. 

Showcase That You Can Deal with Ambiguity. The pandemic has been a proving ground to show your future employers that you caneffectively cope with change. You have demonstrated how you can shift gears comfortably and decide and act without having the total picture. This ability to handle risk and uncertainty will distinguish you as a sought-after employee, so be ready to give examples about how you pivoted during the pandemic and handled the unknown with courage and an open mind.

Your First Job Won’t Be Your Last. Research shows that adults change careers (not just jobs) 5-7 times throughout their working lives. So, test drive jobs and see what is career-worthy and don’t settle for roles that don’t play to your strengths. Your first job out of the gate is a single step on a lifelong career path and you have the right to change your mind as often as you like.

Networking 70/20/10 Rule.  Courtesy of organizational psychologist Marla Gottschalk, this networking rule simplifies the process. 

  • The First 70%: For this initial segment, choose potential contacts that work within your direct core area of interest. Ask about their work – better yet – inquire about the challenges they are currently facing. You’ll undoubtedly gain a new perspective.
  • The Related 20%: These individuals are working in areas related or “adjacent” to your core area of interest. You may find people in roles that are equally appealing – learn from them.
  • The Outrageous Outliers (The final 10%): Go a little crazy here. Reach out to those engaged in work that simply interests you. Don’t be concerned with their core area as compared to yours – just possess a passion to learn about their area of expertise. Convey your interest early on – ask about articles, podcasts, and books that could help you “cross -pollinate” and apply their knowledge set to your work life. You know how important it is to build your professional community and connect with people to tap the hidden job market. 

The Zig Zaggers. Since career changing is expected, understand the power and the liability of Zig Zagging when changing jobs too often. You will be perceived as a flight risk if you don’t stay in a job long enough to earn your worth, but you can also be a wealth of new ideas for an organization that needs your skills and experiences. Consider your movement wisely and understand the career world is small – never burn a bridge and maintain professional connections especially when you move away from a job.

Be a Solution Provider. It’s easy to go into the job search focusing on what you want. While that is important you must also be a solution provider. In our current economy you may land contract or temporary work that leads to full-time permanent work, so be industrious and lead with I Believe I Can Help You…and provide a solution to an issue or concern.

Be Your Own Best PR Agent. You need to become your best self advocate and be ready to discuss how you bring value to an organization at all times. You are responsible to market yourself and in this competitive market, there is no such thing as top of the class entitlement. I don’t care where you minted your degree or how high your GPA is – you must be able to showcase what you do well in an articulate conversation and demonstrate your emotional intelligence and your strengths.

Be a Skills Agent. It’s okay if you still don’t know exactly what you want to do career-wise. This is the time for informational interviews and test driving. But you must have a clear picture of your professional strengths and competencies so recruiters and employers can help you fit into a role in their organization. Don’t focus on job titles but rather focus on concrete skills examples that illustrate what you do well.

Career Readiness Competencies. The National Association of Colleges and Employers published a new list of must-have core competencies in 2021 that illustrate potential for success in the workplace and lifelong career management. Whether you studied chemistry or welding, employers have indicated that candidates that can showcase these career-ready competencies are most likely to land the role and thrive in it.

  • Career & Self Development – Show an awareness of your strengths and areas for development.
  • Communication – Understand the importance of and demonstrate verbal, written, and non-verbal/body language, abilities.
  • Critical Thinking – Make decisions and solve problems using sound, inclusive reasoning and judgment.
  • Equity and Inclusion – Solicit and use feedback from multiple cultural perspectives to make inclusive and equity-minded decisions.
  • Leadership – Inspire, persuade, and motivate yourself and others under a shared vision.
  • Professionalism – Act equitably with integrity and accountability to yourself, others, and the organization.
  • Teamwork – Listen carefully to others, taking time to understand and ask appropriate questions without interrupting.
  • Technology – Navigate change and be open to learning new technologies.

Take a Risk. So perhaps your dream job does not materialize right off the bat, but another opportunity does surface. Take a risk, try something new, and expand your comfort zone. You may just find something you love and an accidental career you would have never considered otherwise. The greatest risk is not taking one at all. 

No experience? Be flexible.  According to an Adecco survey by Braun Research of 500 hiring managers across a range of industries, for job seekers without relevant experience, 47% said to be flexible and start in a different area of the company. These hiring managers said it’s more beneficial to network over going back to school if you don’t have relevant job experience, so be flexible and willing to learn on the job.

Own Your Self Confidence! Walk tall and learn to speak with humble confidence about what you do well. If you approach a networking conversation or an interview with confidence it will enhance your marketability tenfold. You need not be perfect just out of the gate (or ever!) but believe in your abilities and others will as well. The same Adecco survey of 500 hiring managers reported the importance of being engaged and asking questions during the job interview. Showing personality and authenticity were positive factors in the decision-making process of hiring managers for candidates who were extended job offers.

Learn to Bob and Weave. One of the most sought-after competencies by employers is the ability to deal with adversity and change. It’s tough out there in the real world and it doesn’t get any easier once you land a job. Showcase your resilience and be ready to discuss how you have overcome challenges, including how you dealt with the pandemic journey. Proving you are resilient may land you an opportunity.

The Class of 2021 is the succession plan for the future. You have the opportunity to identify your passion, carve out a niche for yourself, and thrive in a career knowing that you can always change direction. The challenge is yours as well as the responsibility. Create relationships with influencers and connectors and be ready to talk about what makes you unique. Someday soon you’ll be tapped to help future graduating classes find their way in the career world and this will be your chance to pay-it-forward.

Celebrate the successes you have earned – I am cheering you on all the way. Now the tougher journey has begun but I have confidence that you will succeed if you assume the responsibility and take the power you have and use it wisely.

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About Caroline Dowd-Higgins

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (now in the 2ndedition) and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community Collegesystem and contributes to Huffington PostThrive GlobalEllevate Network,Mediumand The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana.Her online show:Thrive!about career & life empowerment for women is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the award winning podcast, Your Working Lifeon iTunesand SoundCloud. Follow her on FacebookLinkedIn,Google+,and Twitter.

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