Six years, two colleges, two degrees, one year off of school, and about four internships is what it took before I realized I was going at this “job search” all wrong. Many of us graduate high school and think to ourselves, “I can’t wait to go to college, find a job, and start living my life!” But if anyone was attending college in the last decade, they probably realized the façade of the American dream has quickly flipped to scraping for hope of any full time job remotely related to your college degree.
What many students need to hear is not how to pigeon-hole themselves into a specific category, job title, or industry. What to be desired is putting individual strengths and interests to good use! So that’s what I am here to tell you, students. Finding your passion, recognizing your strengths, and putting positive energy out into the world will eventually pay off… maybe just not right away.
I too, was once a lost senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I was a Mass Media major, with a minor in communications. I chose these vague career paths because I knew I enjoyed writing and learning about what was going on in the world, but had no idea of what direction to take. I had plans to crank out a low-stipend internship in a semi-related field, which led to me living at home in my parent’s basement with a cliché cubicle-ridden job to cover my loans. I may not have known what I wanted, but I knew that wasn’t it. It was time for a change.
I started to ask myself what I wanted, what I enjoyed, and how I could turn that into something that eventually brought in an income. I went back to school for my Master’s in Educational Leadership, stuck around, and got involved in the community. Mankato might just seem like a place to bide your time while commuting an hour and a half each weekend to the Twin Cities, but it can be so much more than just your old college town.
Put yourself out there!
After receiving an email about a need for volunteer Girls on the Run coaches through the YWCA, I signed up with the intention of helping a few young girls train for a 5k run. I never thought of it as a networking opportunity. Seeing the change in those 10 middle school girls awakened something within me, and was the first time I thought maybe the classroom wouldn’t give me what I was looking for.
Upon completing the program, I had built new relationships within the organization and wanted to help advocate for the YWCA. Without realizing it, my thesis project for Ed. Leadership started to revolve around the Women’s Leadership Program. I became addicted to fundraising, organizational change, and program development and wanted to be more than someone’s mediocre intern.
Once I felt comfortable within the YWCA and gained the staff members’ trust, not only did they give me noteworthy projects; they also introduced me to their friends and colleagues. I started to network within the community. My self esteem was at an all time high! It had been a long road of first interviews with sappy rejection letters to follow. This was the first time after graduation my life wasn’t revolving around finding a job. My focus was re-directed to helping others and building my own strengths.
It’s who you know…
Now, I know you have probably heard that a million and a half times, but it is so true. However, the misconception is you can’t simply know the person, but make sure they also know you. Nothing speaks louder than a strong reference and a sparkling reputation. If you think your part-time job or less-than-perfect internship isn’t worth the effort, you are wrong. No one ever starts off in their own corner office with a view. I once had to hot glue magnets on the backs tiny limestone Minnesota shaped rocks, stuff thousands of envelopes, and hang posters around town for days on end… with a smile on my face. Sure, I didn’t earn a paycheck for doing those less than exciting tasks, but I earned a lot of respect for not complaining. My supervisors knew I did exceptional work at a fast pace, and was always willing to take initiative on new projects.
I met my current supervisor through the Women’s Leadership Program, and I didn’t get the job by reading her my resume. I mentioned my respect for the work she does, and offered to join the Executive Board for her nonprofit. Later the next week, I received an invitation to have coffee with her and talk about the board position within her organization. I showed up to the meeting and, without even asking a single interview question, she and the president of the board slid a PAID POSITION description across the table to me. I was aghast! Someone actually wanted me, and was going to compensate me?!
A year later, and I am now the full time Outreach Coordinator at LEEP and loving every minute of it. I’m advocating for individuals I care about in the community, networking and learning the ropes, and still have to hang the occasional poster around town. I feel supported in my career choice, and was able to use my talents to help a community that gave so much to me throughout my college years.
The best feeling in the world wasn’t finally securing a paycheck, but using my skill set to propel me into my next project. Rather than waiting for someone else to open a door for me, I started to create my own opportunities. If I hadn’t tapped into my personal strengths and passions, I never would have the job I love today. Try not to brush off picking up those extra shifts to help out a co-worker, or slough off the idea of volunteering a few hours a week. Throw yourself into new experiences, hope for the best, and expect to hit bumps in the road. You will find your path if you follow your passion.
– Cate DeBates, Outreach Coordinator, Leisure Education for Exceptional People (LEEP)