Graduation swept through town this weekend, and along with it came the speeches, the pomp, the circumstance and academic regalia (When I wear mine, I look like Henry the VIII got a Mr. T starter kit for Christmas).
Along with all this comes the anxiety of, “OK, now what?” Some students have jobs and they’re worried about how well they’ll do at them. Others have no jobs and wonder if they’ll ever get one. Parents worry that their children will be happy. Some probably also wonder if they’ll have to give up the home gym or a spot in the basement for a returning grad who hasn’t “found it” yet (whatever “it” is). What comes next?
For journalism grads, the anxiety can be even more palpable, as everyone seems to be telling you that your field is dead and you should have gone into business. Other fields can spend months or even years cultivating students for a job that’s waiting for them upon graduation. Journalism? I’ve been told once during a first interview, “We’d like to offer you the job today (Saturday). Could you start Monday?”
I asked the hivemind of pros and profs what advice they had for you all and it was really a mixed bag this time. Usually, everyone chimes in and it’s all in the same vein. This time, things were all over the place. One professor friend of mine noted:
My adult daughter just moved back home, soooo I got nuthin’.
I have often relied on the famous William Golden quote about Hollywood as well: “Nobody knows anything.” Whoever tells you, “This is how to get your perfect job” is either lying to you or trying to recruit you into a cult. Unlike all of those multiple-choice tests you’ve taken over the years, this question doesn’t have a right answer. That said, here are a few to think about as you try to game up for the next stage of life:
- You have to be idealistic, but you have to be practical: U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks once said this in explaining his team’s chance to do well in the 1980 Olympics. His point was you should shoot for the best possible outcome, but you shouldn’t do so without a reality check. In the case of the job search, take a shot. You want to work at a top five newspaper, in a top 10 TV market, a Fortune 500 company or whatever right away? Toss an application out there. What’s the WORST that can happen? They say no and you don’t get the job, which is right where you are right now.
That said, a 22-year-old journalism graduate with five clips from an internship at the Tamany Tattler and a year’s experience at the student newspaper isn’t likely to land at one of those spots right away, so feel free to look elsewhere. Apply to starter jobs, smaller firms and other places that have openings and you think would be worth a shot. You have to eat. You have to pay rent. And, as they mentioned in “Bull Durham,” it beats selling Lady Kenmore’s at Sears.
- Don’t become a desperate psycho-hose-beast: As Tom Petty noted, the waiting is the hardest part. For you, this is the most important thing ever, especially if you’re searching at this time of the year. Even if it’s not cold, snowy and gray where you are, a winter job search can be danged depressing. You know that you don’t want to go home for the holiday where every well-meaning relative will ask, “So, what are you doing now that you’re graduated? Do you have a job?” (Side note 1: When you say “No” and they look at you like you just came down with an incurable disease, remember that look so that you never give it to anyone else ever. Side note 2: Realize that these people will always ask you questions like this that will sap your will to live, even after you get a job. “Do you have a job?” will become “Are you dating anyone special?” will become “So when are you getting married?” will become “Don’t you two want kids?” will become “Are you sure you only want (1, 2, 3…) kids?” Your only hope is to outlive this person so you don’t have to hear, “Are you sure you want to be buried here?”)
This can drive you crazy and it can manifest itself in a number of ways, none of which are good. The worst thing you can do is take it out on potential employers as you decide to call, email or text repeatedly to find out exactly WHERE they are in the hiring process. Most people can smell desperation a mile away and it naturally repels them. Think about the guy at the bar who is insistently trying to buy a gal a drink, a shot, an appetizer, a game of darts or a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba. Does that interaction ever end well for that guy? If you ever need a reminder of how bad this can get, catch the classic “Mike from ‘Swingers'” scene (NSFW- some cussing) or the “Wayne’s World” look at Stacy’s unrequited love.
In short, don’t push it. Breathe.
- Look more deeply into your toolbox: The premise of both of these books is that we’re putting tools in your toolbox that you can use in a variety of ways. If you can find the perfect job that makes you happy right away, that’s great. If not, don’t be afraid to apply those tools elsewhere. A recent grad sent me this note, which touched on something I never considered:
After I graduated while I was looking for work I hooked up with a temp agency. It’s a great way to try different stuff without major commitment, you gain experience (and interview skills), you get to network, and you get a weekly paycheck. And some positions are temp-hire.
A journalism professor noted something similar:
Think creatively about ways you can use your journalism skills for other professions, such as PR, teaching, trade publications, advertising, web producer and social media manager jobs. Many more people cross back and forth into journalism and other careers these days than they did back when we were journalists.’
Look around you and see what kinds of places need your skills and don’t fret if they don’t have your exact degree specified in the requirements. You will bounce a lot in this day and age (sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, sometimes against your will), so look for things that you think might pay the bills and give you a leg up the next time your perfect job comes around.
- Remember the Johnny Sain Axiom on Old-Timers Day: Sain, a longtime pitcher and pitching coach, used to disdain Old-Timers Day. It wasn’t the concept he opposed, but rather that banter among the older players. Sain used to note that “The older these guys get, the better they used to be.”
The same thing can be true for you when dealing with people who are more than happy to tell you that when they were “your age” they got a job right out of school or they had a perfect job waiting for them or whatever. In their mind, they had it all figured out perfectly and made a seamless transition between their education and a career, so why can’t you?
The truth is, it wasn’t that easy for most of them. Some people just got a fortuitous bounce, a lucky break or a family connection. Others don’t work in your field, so comparing your search to theirs is like comparing apples and Hondas. It’s not that they’re better or stronger or faster or whatever. It’s just the way it happened for them. Each search and each job is unique (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word), so don’t let what other people tell you about how great life is get you down.
Even more, don’t presuppose that people you see as your role models nailed the perfect job on the first take. I met with a couple students last week who kept referring to a recent grad as “having it all worked out.” She was their role model who, according to them, interned at Company X, graduated into a full-time job at Company X and then got promoted at Company X in less than a year. She was their Golden Goddess.
What they didn’t know was all the anxiety she had about getting ANY internship, how she had been rejected twice by Company X for an internship and how she ended up sobbing in my office multiple times after that. They also didn’t know about the office fights and other less-pleasant aspects of Company X. In short, the grass isn’t always greener.
- Don’t keep up with the Joneses: The easiest way to make you hate yourself and your job search is to compare yourself to other people in a constant game of one-upmanship. If Billy gets a job in a top 75 market, you shouldn’t try to get one at a top 50 market. If Jane gets a job as a writer at a 50,000 circulation newspaper, don’t just go looking for a job at a 100,000-circ paper to prove a point.
I watched this happen constantly among peer groups of students at several of my previous stops, in which it wasn’t enough to get A job, but rather it was crucial to get a job that was better than someone else’s job. Here’s the problem: Just because a job is at a bigger place or somewhere with more cachet, it doesn’t follow it’s a good fit for you. This was how one of my former students ended up in Kentucky doing night-cops, despite not wanting anything to do with Kentucky or a night-cops beat, simply so he could look more impressive. It didn’t work out and he was miserable, before eventually going back to a job that was more “him.”
I know it’s hard to push back against that competitive thinking. (Trust me, it happens everywhere, even in my gig. Former professors will tell their former doctoral students, “Oh, I see you’re at (less prestigious university)… Did you know that James is now at (mega-university) and he’s a dean?”) However, if you find something you like doing, you’ll never really work a day in your life.
- Never forget this moment: You will eventually get a job and you will do well. You will get older and get more responsibility. You might change jobs or careers or whatever. However, what should never change is your memory of this moment right now, when you’re scared out of your mind about getting any job at all, making rent, dodging Aunt Ethyl and her questions at the family holiday party, trying to avoid calling the Beaver County Tidbit 1,002 times to find out if they are still interested in you and everything else you feel.
If you can remember the feeling you have at this moment, you will never lose your empathy for the future generations who are going through it. It might help you in little ways like not asking the “Aunt Ethyl” questions of your younger family members or hustling a bit more to get through that stack of resumes you need to read. It might help you in big ways as well, like thinking a little better about the next generation instead of a little worse of it. (People more than occasionally ask me if being around younger people all the time doesn’t make me kind of envious of their youth. My answer is always, “Hell, NO!!!!!” I survived my 20s the first time and made it this far. There’s not enough of anything in the world to make me want to go back to that point in time).
When it comes to getting employed, things almost always work out. I know that sounds ridiculous, but my batting average on things like is pretty good and in the end, you’ll have some great stories to tell.
And thanks to your journalism education, you’ll tell them well.