How can I feel good about finding a job and starting a career?
March 30, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

How can I feel good about finding a job and starting a career? Caution: personal details inside.

To start, I should say that I have appointments to see both my university’s career counsellor and a psychologist in about three weeks time. I do however desperately need advice and/or kind words to get me through exams, and until those appointments arrive.

I’m an economics major who doesn’t know what the hell he is going to do for a career after graduating, and frankly doesn’t feel qualified to do very much. I went into university thinking that I would try for medical school, but I was one of those kids in high school who got good grades without trying very hard, and my nearly non-existent study habits have left me with a C average, although even that has been slipping lately. Now that I’m nearing the end of my academic career, I’m starting to freak out about my career potential, and the related anxiety has me neglecting school work even further.

I find economics to be interesting, but jobs related directly to economics generally require a masters at minimum and I don’t have the grades to apply for grad school. So basically I lack direction, and the fact that I’m not in medical school like my bright eyed high school self anticipated makes me feel like crap. It seems like ‘Career’ has become a dirty word for me, one that I don’t want to go near. I’ve become despondent, and I’m having a hard time breaking out of it.

Last year in a labour economics class, my prof stated that first jobs after college correlate with lifetime earnings. This has also added to my worrying, and I have been putting off getting a much needed part time job (partly) because of it. I know this isn’t a rational thing to do, but as my tongue-in-cheek user name alludes to, people often don’t act rationally.

Note: I tend to procrastinate by “planning”, so please no whole book recommendations, unless you really believe it will help. I’d be ok with individual chapter recommendations from books. Personal stories of similar situations would be great. Any other thoughts, comments, or recommendations would be welcome as well.

posted by Homo economicus to Work & Money (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I had similar feelings, until I discovered firsthand a magic thing:

When I started my career, instead of me paying money to do work, I was paid money to do work.

It didn't feel like I was working harder than in university, and yet magically, my disposable income was much much higher.

Suddenly a whole new world of options opened up for what I could do in the times when I wasn't at work.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:21 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a couple things that leap out at from your description of where you are now that concern me, and that is why I am posting.

First, why are you already deciding that you are not good enough, before even applying for a job? Here are some of the things that you are some of the things that you said:

“I’m not in medical school like my bright eyed high school self anticipated makes me feel like crap”
• “my prof stated that first jobs after college correlate with lifetime earnings”
• “jobs related directly to economics generally require a masters at minimum””

Let’s look a little closer at some of your beliefs, and some of these things you may never have been aware of before, such as the “not going to med school like your high school self wanted.” Around 5 years ago, I taught intro biology students at uni/college. Believe me, many of them dreamed of becoming a vet because they loved fuzzy animals or a doctor because uncle Bob or parent A told them this. But….then they took bio 101 and found ….(insert 100 things here) – did not like dissecting a mink, let alone taking a human anatomy lab, or really hated biology 101, or actually loved their intro psych class. To be honest, I met more students who left the field than who stayed with it, so you are 1 of many, not a select few who couldn’t go onwards. Also, look closely at the reasons some students didn’t’ finish. It was not necessarily because of a low (whatever adjective you want to put here) – as an example, one of my best students (and also just a nice human being) just couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Your high school self was never exposed to any field in depth, so your high school self did not know what he or she was selecting. So take out the failure part.

The correlation thing you cite. A more important thing there is …correlation does not imply causation. Also, look at what the average faculty member makes in year 1 at a university of college, it is really, really low…after completing far more than the average number of years for an education, and sometimes paying to do so. This is not an insult against faculty but you are not a statistic hurling through space; at any time (5 years from now, 20 years from now), you can get more training, pick a new field that makes X if you so desire. So even if you pick a career and want to go into something else a few years later, you can do so. The career you pick now does not equal from now until retirement.

The most concerning thing that I see there is your last belief. Focus on the word “generally,” which does not mean never and remember you only need one job, not 100 jobs. I’ve also noticed over the years that people tend to believe in a false set of beliefs. You need to have a killer CV and tada! You get a job. You need to put your time in at job X for 20 years earning 10 cents, and then you can apply to be a CEO (or whatever). Get out of that mindset, you can determine where you go. Don't put yourself in a box before you even try.

This is what I would do if I were in your shoes (assuming you want to get a job in economics, because in the end…it doesn’t even have to be in economics – the college degree just shows you have basic skills). Go get a list of former alumni. Identify a few companies that you are excited about working for (okay you have other research too). Now contact a few pple and ask for an info interview. Before you role your eyes, here, the goal is to find a place that is a good fit for you and where should you go next. Be honest and say “I am interested in working at job X. What do I need to do to get there.” Lots of people will or may point to how they got there, without a masters. Or how the person you are talking to got there. Find something interesting in what that person is telling you to make you excited about career X and…go for it. Find something that makes you excited and find what you need to get there, using the tools that you have rightnow. Go meet people. If you are a coward like me and want tips as to approach these people for info intereviews and more reasons as to why, here is what I did.

Also, talk to faculty you have now for ideas. Sometimes academic departments of a uni hire people who may have an undergrad in a related field. The plusses are that you can take more classes (for free), stay in contact with the literature and research in your field (most undergrads don’t do this), and sometimes can put your name on papers and open doors to grad school, but YMMV and this may or may not what you want.

Seize the world homo economicus and decide what you want to do as a next step, don’t let other people decide this for you. It seems like you have a lot of curiosity about the world, use it.
posted by Wolfster at 7:14 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Have you considered getting a professional degree in accounting after your BA? I know a couple of friends who worked an entry-level job at an accounting firm and after a year or two the firm paid for them to get certified.

Both now make decent money (60-80), and one has been kicked upstairs to management.
posted by porpoise at 7:21 PM on March 30, 2011

I am a recent graduate (class of 2010) and believe me at first it is scary. I don't know much about econ and the career paths, but some advice to you from a recent grad to you, another recent grad is this: relax. At first, I was in a bubble. Graduating from my university I felt great, confident, and fresh. Quickly after getting rejecting and denied a bunch of times from jobs I applied to, I now feel like an old rag. Over the past 10 months though I learned a lot. I learned about myself, how I can manage stress, how to communicate better, how to be more productive, etc.. it's been a hard couple months and I know they are not going to be over anytime soon. I like to summarize it as there are good days and bad days and you need to look back and realize you graduated with a college degree which is very important and can get you anywhere you want, regardless if you believe that now or not. It's keeping you out of places like McDonald's, Stop and Shop Supermarkets for the rest of your life. Yes, you might need to start out there to get change in your pocket, but it most likely won't be your end all be all of jobs.

I was somewhat lucky and got a job in my field. It is part-time, but it has helped to expose me to the field a bit and more. Even through it's part-time it gets me in the field at least, so if you can find a position like that I would recommend taking it. I realized that I don't think I really like where I am which is giving me motivation to continue my job search and it has helped for when I'm looking at organizations and companies.

Just keep talking to people. Go out meet new people, try new things, relax a bit. Things will take its course. Opportunity will come. Think about traveling or working abroad. Its scary for sure, but in order for you to get where you want to be its important to go through this time in your life. You will be happier in the long run.

As we speak, I am contemplating leaving my p/t job and teaching English as a second language in China or Taiwan. Think about taking time off to travel and explore. You never know where things can take you I guess. There's no right or wrong answer, just more or less what YOU want to do. Remember to think of yourself. Be selfish! It's your life!! Good luck.
posted by melizabeth at 8:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

first jobs after college correlate with lifetime earnings

Sure, as a general point. Some people go straight for the big-money jobs and some people go straight for the arts-social work-help poor kids jobs (or whatever the badly paying jobs are). And it makes sense that those choices reflect on choices those people will make later in life too, which naturally would affect their lifetime earnings. So it's not surprising that in general there's a correlation. What does that mean for your individual case? Not much, if you don't let it.

Listen, when you get out of college you're probably not going to get a job which makes use of all your skills. It's ok. I mean, it sucks and is awkward and frustrating, but at a more basic level it's ok.

So - go to career center, think about what kind of industry you might like to work in, or think about where you want to live and start checking job listings for that place, or think about contacts you have (family friends, etc) that might need a smart econ major around. Do you have good quantitative skills? Those are a highly sought after quantity.

Once you get a job, do the job well even if it's sort of unsatisfying, and focus on picking up whatever it can teach you. You'll use it in your next job. You will probably have several jobs in different fields, some boring, some hard, etc. Along the way you're building skills and a network of contacts and a better sense of what jobs are out there and what your strengths are and what kind of work you'd like to do. There's no shortcut to getting to that point, you have to go through some unsettled times to get there. It's ok. You will be okay, you are valuable, you are doing ok, you are capable enough to cope with whatever comes your way.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreeing that correlation of first jobs is an Average, not your personal experience, per se - don't let that hold you back. After college I went from a barely paid internship to a poverty level job (fascinating work with an international NGO, though!) and now I make a very livable wage. I viewed my first jobs out of college as figuring out what I wanted to do before grad school, so that helped alleviate the self-pressure.

One of my favorite (now unattributed) quotes about graduating with a liberal arts degree is "qualified for nothing, but prepared for anything". When you talk to the career center you will see that your education has prepared you for much more than just an Economics job. There are gazillions of different types of office work that you could do, based on your ability to write well and think well (as presented here).

So! Start focusing on what you Can do. And have a friend that Likes you help to write up a resume, because it sounds like you could use some help tooting your own horn.
posted by ldthomps at 6:38 AM on March 31, 2011

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