I lectured in a university accounting seminar a few months ago for a cohort of graduate students from all academic fields. Some were PhD candidates, others pursuing MFAs, MAs, MScs – the gamut.
Afterwards, I was approached by several of the students in the course asking for my card. Their intentions were clear: they wanted to network and I was happy to oblige. After all, today’s job market seems to be all about who you know, and I exhausted other prospective employers with my desire to network when I was younger. So I had to pay it forward, of course!
Over the next few days, a few emails and resumes trickled into my inbox and I was keen to give them a read and forward them to people I knew. However there was a problem: every single resume looked exactly the same. Same skills. Same education. Same vague and unclear career interests.
I wrote one student back and asked what they enjoyed most about their pursuit of economics. They wrote back that they enjoyed the quantitative side of economics, which to me, basically meant “math”.
I started to feel especially depressed when I realized that this particular cohort was one of many other cohorts, filled with students eager to apply their skills, unclear on what they truly wanted or brought to the table aside from their education.
As I started to zero in on what to tell these young up-and-comers, I wrote back to each of them and summarized these points:
Do something crazy and put it on paper.
Volunteer in a distant land. Take a course completely unrelated to your degree. Join a random student club and become a leader in it.
All 3 resumes I received all conveyed the same message: “young, smart, and educated human calculator.”
While that will suit some employers just fine, they all hire for fit, and fit means flagging the individuals who are unique and will add to the dynamics of the team, not conform to the standards that universities and college create. Myself and many of my most successful peers are shining examples of this: I have friends who were opera singers and now work in marketing, others who began in life sciences and now work in finance.
If a company wanted absolute conformity in the makeup of its staff, would that be a fun place to work?
Try to make a living in what you studied first before going back to school.
Almost every resume I saw was littered with education but no experience and no gaps in between first and second degrees. Worst of all, it appeared some graduates just kept specializing in the same thing: Bachelor of Economics, immediately followed by a Masters of Economics.
When I finished my theatre degree, I promptly moved across the country in a below minimum wage job. It wasn’t because I wanted to just get away, but I wanted to try to make it in the field I studied the first time around. I took a risk, and while it didn’t pan out as I had hoped, it gave me a valuable learning experience and a “no regrets” mentality. Had it worked out, who knows where I’d be!
Shifting industries, I find that the bosses I want to work for appreciate the old experience, because they know I’m adaptable, can learn quickly, and most importantly, am willing to take risks.
Which leads me to my next point…
Be a grunt for just a little and be good at it.
I’m not saying you have to be a glorified administrator, printing papers and getting coffee for years of your life, but I find employers appreciate those who did it.
Importantly, I find bosses want someone who won’t raise the “That’s not my job” line. Work is a team sport. It means everyone has to play a role in achieving the objectives of the business. Sometimes that means doing grunt work that no one else wants to do – but if you’re willing to do it with a smile, your colleagues and your boss will love you for it. The minute someone says: “This isn’t my job”, the minute the team fails.
Think about it – in hockey, if the defenceman pinched down to try and create offence, would the forward not bother to backcheck or cover for them because it’s not his/her job?
Bring unique value to the field you’re entering.
I can’t stress this one enough. There has to be something that makes you special over everyone else and it’s not going to be your education because there was a cohort that graduated just like you.
For instance, my success in the arts was tied to my logical ability to manage creative projects. That shifted into the business world where my creativity and aptitude for communicating complex ideas succinctly has shone.
So if you’re in research, maybe you can present the numbers in a captivating way. If you’re an accountant, perhaps you have a knack for taxation, specifically.
Too often I see young professionals portraying themselves as “anything and everything” specialists. That’s a hard game to play.
Finally: You don’t need to conform.
I’m going to spill a Hallmark card moment here: be yourself. Conformity is what ruins people. It’s what de-educates us away from being creative or quirky so we “fit in”.
The more unique your identity, the more you stand to be noticed and bring to the table the skills you truly enjoy sharing with others. Go out and get your dreams.