Graduates, learn how to launch your careers

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Congratulations, class of 2016! You have worked hard to reach this important milestone in your life. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment.

While graduation is a joyful event, it can also be very stressful. It signifies the end of your life in the perfected role of student, existing in an environment with predictable rules and norms of behavior. Despite the excitement and pride of reaching such an important achievement, this significant life moment is likely to be tempered by fear of the unknown and what lies ahead.

Such fear is completely rational. The world of work is unfamiliar and characterized by a new and peculiar set of rules that must be decoded and mastered. Graduation, like most transitions, forces you to re-examine who you are and how you must evolve to manage the changes around you. You are expected to redefine how you think about yourself, your routines, your environment and your place in the world. Graduation represents the first significant time when we are called to align our current self with our future self, whom we come to know through our goals, hopes and dreams.

Commencement speakers across the country can be heard encouraging graduates to "follow your passion," while parents are likely harping for them to "get a job" before the ink on their diplomas is even dry. The question graduates often ask is, "Should I hold out for my 'dream' job or just get 'a' job?"

Given today's economic climate, new graduates must find the sweet spot between the dream and reality and get to work. It is important to acknowledge the dream to define what you want long term. Then, you must map out the action steps that will enable you to achieve your goal in the short term. The reality is, there are sacrifices and adjustments that need to be made while pursuing your dream, and those typically come in the form of less than perfect jobs right after graduation.

Ask any person over 30 and they will confirm that your future self is guaranteed to change repeatedly throughout your lifetime, as your goals, hopes and dreams evolve. Learning how to experience brief periods of discomfort in order to acknowledge shifting priorities to deal with changing realities can be empowering. It allows us to accept and embrace a change in status, explore new roles with enthusiasm and curiosity, and transform ourselves rather than stay stuck in familiar, yet unsatisfying situations.

Your dream job is not likely to be the first stop on your career path, but you have to get ON the path. The key is to select a route going in the direction you want to go. If a career in finance is what you are seeking, holding out for the corner office at Goldman Sachs while you sit at home playing Xbox guarantees that your dream will remain unfulfilled. However, accepting a construction job at Uncle Lou's company does not put you on the path you want to travel — unless it is a means to pay the bills while you study for your MBA or you are doing a finance-related externship.

To find the sweet spot between the dream job and a job, consider these four questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. Why do I want it?
  3. What must I do to get it?
  4. Am I prepared to do those things?

The answers to the first two questions define the dream, while the answers to the second two questions clarify your reality. If the answer to #4 is no, you may need to revise your dream unless you plan to live in the land of rainbows and unicorns forever. Instead, consider accepting "a" job on your dream path to get started.

Armed with a general sense of your dream, it is now time to explore the world of work. Read job descriptions to get a sense of job requirements and day-to-day tasks. As you prepare to launch your career you must be able to to articulate how your abilities, skills and talents will benefit employers. Learn to tell your story well.

Compare the new college graduate who says, "I just graduated and can't find a job!" to the one who says, "I recently graduated from Georgian Court University with a B.A. in Business Management and am looking for an opportunity to start my career!" The first comment inspires pity. The listener's attention is drawn to the tight job market. They have no idea how they can help, except maybe to offer encouraging words like "hang in there." The second comment, on the other hand, is engaging. The listener wants to know more. What kind of opportunity are you seeking? What type of position do you want? When your message is upbeat and forward-looking, when you convey a "can do, will do" attitude, your listener is drawn into the conversation and becomes eager to help.

Well-meaning parents and mentors may try to push you in a direction that "makes sense," confusing security and earning potential with happiness. Understandably, they would like to see a return on the college investment. But market-driven decisions, devoid of any consideration of an individual's unique talents, interests, needs and dreams, will ensure a lifetime of disappointment. Similarly, stubbornly focusing solely on your "uniqueness," without any consideration of market needs, will adversely impact your career launch.

Transitions can be disorienting and uncomfortable. However, they are completely necessary for personal and professional growth. With purposeful reflection and occasional realignment, you can become the person you want to be at any stage of life! Graduation is the first step on your journey.

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