Ask Amber: Don’t panic (Part 2)—opportunities are out there for young professionals

Katie McCune at the CU Career Services panel on October 19.

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

Last week, my coworker Katie McCune was a member of a public service sector career panel at CU Boulder, put on by Career Services. Though the panel was targeted at current college students, there was a lot of value in the panel, no matter what career stage you are in. In fact, Katie has also written a blog about the value of this panel for those looking to get hired in the public service sector. To read her advice about the sector, click here.

One piece of advice that Katie, who is both a young professional and someone in a position to give advice to young professionals, gave really stood out to me. She told students at the panel that it’s ok if you don’t know exactly where you want to go with your career and summed it up perfectly to me after the panel by saying: “I really wanted to impress upon them that it’s going to be ok, don’t panic.”

Panic: a familiar feeling to many of us getting ready to graduate or just out of college. With the tough economy and the pressure to define ourselves by our career path, young professionals may find themselves with knots in their stomach when asked, “So what are you going to do with your degree in (fill in major here).” I know that I myself have felt the need to give a very specific answer that will dictate what I will be doing with the rest of my life. However, this kind of thinking sets an impossible standard that may actually limit your career potential. Every panelist that spoke on October 19 reiterated the fact that they did not travel a straight path to where they are today.

The panelists included successful business people: National Park Service Research Learning Specialist, Ben Baldwin, Community Outreach Manager for the Office of Congressman Jared Polis, Christine Berg (also running for Lafayette City Council), President of Burgess Consulting, LLC, Melanie Burgess, Colorado Judicial Branch Policy Analyst, Veronica Marceny and Research Associate at JVA Consulting, LLC, Katie McCune.

Each panelist shared the wisdom they have acquired over the course of their journey to where they are and the qualities that one needs to be successful in the public service sector: tenacity, flexibility and being proactive.

Be tenacious; don’t assume that a “no” is always the final word. If you don’t get hired right away or at all for a job or internship, it’s possible that the answer is “not right now” rather than flat out no. Offer your services as a volunteer, stay in contact with the employer by calling or writing to thank them for taking the time to consider your application and check back in when the next round of jobs or internships pop up. Show your natural curiosity and enthusiasm for the job and the sector. As Veronica Marceny said, people who seem curious tend to get hired more. Ask legitimate questions and be willing to do some research yourself about things you don’t understand. The more you know and the more you discuss with your potential employer, the more likely you are to get the job.

Be flexible: “Take some chances, flexible people do well in the public service sector,” says Katie McCune of another quality important to those interested in the public service sector. Other panelists stressed that if an opportunity comes your way to do something you are interested in or that’s in your field, but you’re not sure if it’s exactly what you want to do, give it a try. This flexibility to try new tasks may lead to you realizing a new interest of yours, or at least help you get your foot in the door. Everyone agreed that it’s much easier to move around within a company/field once you are in. You may also get the chance to try other tasks once you get the job. Ben Baldwin, who works for the National Park Service, made a great point when he said not to expect to only do your job. Oftentimes, tasks outside of your job description may be assigned to you and you never know when one of those will really spark your interest. Melanie warned to be careful which of these opportunities you say no to because not only could you be missing out on something you could be great at, you may also not get asked again. Don’t develop a reputation for being unwilling to go above and beyond your job duties, because it may give the impression that you are not a team player.

Finally, be proactive. Katie suggested not waiting for internships/volunteer positions/jobs to come to you. If you are passionate about working at a specific company that doesn’t currently have internship or job listings posted, contact the company directly and offer to volunteer. As previously stated, once you are connected with the company and they see your enthusiasm for the work they do, it’s easier to get hired. If there is a project or a task you are interested in once you get an internship/a volunteer position/a job that’s outside your scope of work, talk to your supervisor about it. Taking on more than you are assigned shows you are eager to learn and contribute to the organization.

Establishing a career is an ongoing process, so if opportunity does not come knocking on your door as soon as you graduate, that doesn’t warrant panic. As the boomer generation enters retirement, more jobs in the public service sector will open up and young professionals will have more options. Just remember to keep fighting the good fight.

More tidbits that came out of this panel:

  • Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note and phone call to an interviewer or employer.
  • Don’t take chances for granted—you may not get another. If you violate an employer’s trust again and again, you likely won’t get the opportunity to re-earn that trust. Melanie warns that it’s better to be honest with an employer when you cannot complete a task than to just ignore the problem or not turn something in without explanation.
  • Find what makes you sparkle. Christine gave some background on her own resume and how her vastly different jobs and time spent abroad in college set her apart from other applicants. She encouraged others to find qualities or experiences that will make potential employers curious when they read your resume.

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6 Responses to Ask Amber: Don’t panic (Part 2)—opportunities are out there for young professionals

  1. Katie McCune says:

    For those who are wondering what to do with their major, or even for those of who are mid-way through their careers and still wondering what they’re going to do with their lives, check out this article:
    http://chronicle.com/article/What-Are-You-Going-to-Do-With/124651/
    It’s a long read, but well worth it in my opinion. It’s a great reminder to resist doing something because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do and instead seek out what truly makes us happy.

  2. amberalarid says:

    Thank you for sharing this Katie, what a great resource! I think this a refreshing way for students and recent grads to think about their education and their degree.

  3. Osei May says:

    This is a great piece. Thank you Katie and Amber. It’s definitely true. Persistence and curiosity are key, winsome traits. Who doesn’t like working with someone who asks great questions and is steadfast when challenges arise? Also I concur with the point about finding out what makes you sparkle. I heard a colleague of mine remark that everyone should be able to distill the narrative of their skills and experiences into one sentence.

  4. Amber Alarid says:

    Your colleague has some great advice and in the case of distilling your skills to one sentence it is indeed very important to know what makes you sparkle.

    • Osei May says:

      True. However this can be a very daunting task. I recently, met with a mid-career level professional who has impressive and diverse experiences in research for social impact. Yet, she was challenged as to what method or approach to take on distilling her experience, skills, and passions. I used Strengthsfinders as a filter which helped me succinctly highlight the sweet nexus of demonstrated skills and passions. I recommended this approach because most people want to be known for what they enjoy doing and what they are good. Plus, it leads to individuals and organizations finding the mutual “right fit.” She found it helpful.

  5. Amber Alarid says:

    I completely agree. We at JVA feel that Strengths Finder is a great resource and encourage others to use it as well.

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