by: Pooja Boinapalli
March 12, 2015
To the roughly 1.6 million soon to be graduates in the United States: congratulations and good luck to you. The real world can be scary; I know the fear all too well. In fact, this June marks my second year of entering the workforce. I graduated with not much of plan – just to get a reputable job and make a living. I took risks, made mistakes, and learned from them; ultimately, I ended up with a job I truly enjoy. However, these last two years also taught me a thing or two about setting the foundations of a career. You probably have heard the basics – make a good impression at work, leverage your network, etc. – but, there are a still a number of things I learned in the last two years that I found to extremely valuable as a newly graduated member of the workforce. Here are some of those insights:
The most important decision I made right out of college is which industry to pursue. I was a Bioinformatics major deciding between pursuing biology or technology. I began to realize that I needed to spend time in one field to gain valuable skills in that field. What that means is the longer you spend in one industry, the more industry-specific skills you gain. This comes at the opportunity cost of spending time gaining skills in another industry. As such, changing industries demands a switching cost, which is directly proportional to how much time you have invested in the industry.
That said, it is true that as a new graduate, you can change industries relatively easily. So feel free to experiment with internships and volunteer activities. However, manage your career changes carefully. Every time you change, you start over in specialized experience and skills. So, choose an industry that engages you, that you can envision a lasting career in and that you are comfortable committing to.
Make a 5-year plan
Having a 5-year plan helps inform your local decisions, and gets you thinking in terms of your career as opposed to your job. I was fortunate enough to have the coveted problem of evaluating multiple job offers. My decision was made easy because I knew what my career goals were and I chose the opportunity that was most in line with those.
Even if you’ve not yet started your job search, do yourself a favor and think through your plan. Be honest with yourself; assess your strengths, weaknesses, passions and qualifications. Think about your life plans and income goals. Given your needs, brainstorm on paths to achieve your goals, leveraging your talents and qualifications. Be as specific as possible- what are your six-month, one-year, two-year, three-year and year milestones? It’s a good idea to have a plan or direction in mind for your career.
Take action on your plan
Ultimately, you can plan all you want, but actions help you discover what you want to do. If your 5-year goal is to become the a researcher at a renowned lab, then intern for a few months at a research lab, make connections and learn as much as you can. Do not pass up opportunities just because they don’t pay as much as you would like. Evaluate opportunities as they come- do they align with the goals you have listed in your plan? Take opportunities that offer a chance to get your foot in the door, learn as much as you can, network as much as possible and increase your value in connections and knowledge.
Take measured risks
You have probably heard the saying, “Big Risks = Big Rewards.” To a certain degree, this saying also applies to career growth. Do not dismiss a career path because of perceived risk. More often than not, the path isn’t as hard as people think it is. It’s up to you to analyze the reward and risk to decide if it is a risk worth taking. Think about what the worst-case scenario would be to pursue the path. If this scenario has temporary consequences such as getting fired, losing a small amount of money or experiencing discomfort it is a risk you should be comfortable with. If the scenario involves long-term consequences such as permanently damaging your reputation, losing of all your money or ruining your career, it is not worth the risk.
Never underestimate people skills. Other people control resources, information and opportunities. You could be an extremely adept junior consultant, but you will get passed over for that coveted promotion if people don’t like working with you. It’s just as important to be friendly, kind and agreeable as it is to be smart and capable. To build a successful career, take it a step further and be helpful. Don’t be afraid to explicitly ask a coworker what you can do for them. They will remember your help, they will genuinely like you and they will be ready to help you when you need it.