Sunday, May 17, 2009


A few words to current graduates.

I was driving on the UC Berkeley campus today, taking my daughter and her friend to the public swimming pool. Once I got near campus, it became very apparent that it was graduation weekend. Even though the traffic was frustrating, it was a positive sight seeing all the recent graduates and their families walking around with smiles on their faces. I saw joy, relief, hope and excitement in their eyes.

My daughter, who is seven, asked me what was going on. I told her that people were graduating from college. She replied by asking, “What are they going to do now?” I responded by saying that they face a world of opportunities and a world of challenges all at the same time. And that the choices they make in the next few years, will have a profound impact on the long term quality of their lives.

I feel I have insight on this matter for two reasons. First, I graduated from college in the early nineties, when the economy was slow. Myself, and many of my peers of that time made some poor work decisions, because we felt we just needed a job, any job. And second, as a career coach, my specialty client population is mid-life, mid-career professionals, who often come to me because early on in their professional lives, they put enormous time, energy, and commitment into jobs and careers they ultimately found unfulfilling. Eventually the need to change out their predicament becomes dire.

So, here are a few words to the graduates I saw on campus today. First, don’t be too picky. It’s great to have long term goals. It’s also a good idea to pursue opportunities that stick as closely as possible to those goals.

However, we’re in a tough job market right now. Plus, we’re going into the summer months, when hiring tends to slow down anyway (it’s a good time to take that post graduation trip). Thus, if one really needs to work, then it doesn’t pay to be too rigid in your requirements. Maybe the job doesn’t need to be exactly on your chosen career path, but if it’s related, perhaps you can savor picking up skills in the short term that will help you down the road. The job also doesn’t necessarily have to pay you the optimum of what you were hoping to get. I believe, if one makes the right choices, and gets the right exposure, the money will follow. Finally, the job doesn’t have to be with the perfect company or organization. Right now, given the market conditions, if one finds an opportunity with a solid organization that is reasonably stable and provides opportunity to learn and grow, I say jump on it.

The other side of this point is not to sell yourself too short either. If one takes just any type of job, because it’s a job, or maybe because it pays well, but doesn’t offer any substantive professional development, or exposure, you may end up making a costly mistake. One could find themselves spending several years in a dead end job that offers no transferrable experience. In a situation like this, one may end having to start over a few years from now, having to take a new entry level position, or a cut in pay. Or, if one is not willing to do that, then they may fall into an alternative career path that wasn’t planned or greatly desired. This is basically the scenario I described earlier, which leads to mid-life discontent.

In general, I believe it’s always good to strike a balance. In the current environment, it’s healthy to be flexible and prepared to make some concessions, yet it’s also equally important to consider how your short term job decisions might impact your long term career plans.

--Steve Hernandez