Humor me for a minute and think back to your first post-college job search. Be honest with yourself. It was awful, wasn’t it?

If you were like me or any of my friends, the process could not have been more deflating. You are months from completing 17+ years of grueling education. It’s almost over. Your hard work is about to pay off.

Then you look at the job boards. Everything seems to say:

“Required experience: 3-5 years in the industry in a similar role. Advanced degree strongly preferred”

Super. You have seventeen years of experience in an “industry” that ceases to exist post-college, developing “skills” that either 1) nobody cares about or 2) are not differentiating outside of school. 
At the same time, you have been fed the line for two decades that you can do anything, so dream big, set long-term goals, make sure to do something you really love, etc.

So what gives?

I had the opportunity recently to speak to a group of Innovation Scholars at my alma mater, St. Olaf College. In preparation, I was thinking of what advice I would offer them based on the experience I’ve had early in my career. Here’s one that stood out:


Whatever your parents told you about setting clear career goals and having a ten-year plan – throw it out! When you are a young professional, you don’t have the luxury of being strategic. Nor is that necessarily what’s going to make you the most successful.  

When you are just getting started professionally, you are a typical startup entrepreneur.* Think about it…
  1. Real-world experience is limited. Beyond perhaps a couple of internships and your pending degree, your resume looks pretty anemic. You have never had direct reports or managed a multi-million dollar project/initiative. Unless you are a whiz-kid, you have yet to develop anything proprietary. So the likelihood of landing that management job with the F500 company down the road is essentially nil. Similarly, most entrepreneurs, even of fast-growing companies, are under-qualified on paper. As a result, their odds of being catapulted to the head of the crowd through VC or other institutional funding are extremely limited.
  2. Opportunity costs are low. Let’s face it, if you make a bad first career move, the impact is pretty limited. You won’t have missed out on much in terms of foregone income (the alternative wasn’t a six-figure executive salary) or learning (certainly, some jobs teach more than others, but during the initial stages of your career, you have so much to learn that just about any job can provide a valuable education). Likewise, it’s the relatively inexperienced, poorly paid person with the lowest opportunity cost who makes the strongest candidate for entrepreneurship. Start-up entrepreneurs are usually NOT former high-powered executives, because these individuals’ opportunity costs are so high.
  3. Cash is king. Again, just like a startup entrepreneur with limited savings and no real access to financing, keeping the lights on tends to take priority over pursuing your lifelong dream, when push comes to shove. 
So, my advice? Forget the strategic career plan. Forget the dream that you’ve had since second grade. At least for a few years.

As with a start-up entrepreneur, being opportunistic and adaptable is more important than being strategic. Keep an open mind and put your name out there. Don’t be too picky and don’t get depressed when you can’t find the perfect job.
Find an interesting opportunity that will pay the bills, work hard to extract as much income, learning, and contacts from it as you possibly can, and when the next opportunity comes along, move on. By the time you are five to seven years into your career, you will have a base of experiences, skills, and savings that will allow you to dream bigger and be more strategic. You’ll have stories that you can talk all about in that dream interview. And you will have enjoyed the process a whole lot more.
*Typical start-up characteristics taken from Amar Bhide’s, “The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses.”  Read it!

Posted via email from Human Ventures