In an introduction to Dante’s Inferno, T.S. Eliot wrote that hell was a place where nothing connects with nothing. In an email to a college thesis advisor, I once defended this claim, noting how true it rang in light of my impending graduation. Granted, I was being a touch dramatic, but since I was leaving college without a job, a clue, or an inkling as to how to find either, it didn't seem too far off the mark.
In honor of graduation season, one of the most peculiar and simultaneously inspiring/perplexing/exhilarating/nerve-wracking/anti-climatic periods of a millennial's life, PolicyMic is running a full week of special coverage on social justices issues in higher education. We asked you to weigh in on everything from student debt to changing gender dynamics, and we're thrilled to have the chance to spotlight your perspectives on these critical issues, all week long.
To help kick things off, here's a glimpse into how some of we PolicyMic staffers made our way from recent matriculate to full-time employee. Hint: The only thing all of these stories have in common is the utter absence of formulaic steps taken from A to B. Take comfort.
1. Elizabeth Plank
When I was about to graduate, my parents encouraged me to apply for a Masters in Social Work. I thought I would have a heart attack if I didn't keep being in school, but I also realized that I was just pursuing it because I thought that's what I had to do. I'd never really thought about what I wanted to do. I was working as a special needs counselor and a coworker gave me a real life lesson. He told me to stop using "should" and start using "want" or "could". Once you start talking to yourself in those terms, you'll start making better decisions for yourself. After putting in a lot of thought into it, I decided to delay my degree and find myself instead. That year off changed everything for me. Don't be afraid to take some time to find your passion. (From Liz)
2. Tom McKay
I graduated from the New College of Florida in May 2011 and hung around the school over the summer making money as one of the supervisors of the student maintenance department there. (Yes, my first job post-graduation involved hauling trash. Welcome to your careers, millennials!) This is proud Tom in a dumpster:
After that, it was either live in Florida, move home with my parents in Pittsburgh, or move to NYC with some friends. One of those choices is obviously more appealing. I interned with PolicyMic for a few weeks at the end of 2011, and then had the following jobs over the course of the next year:
- Telemarketing for an Australian "professional development" company. Worst job I've had ever, hands down.
- Working for a Congressional campaign, Clyde Williams For Congress, as the director of their finance and tech operations. Fond memories!
- Working as a contract consultant for various political groups, in the process making some connections.
- Selling erotic bronze statues online. Yeah ... That only lasted two months. I can tell you some weird stories.
- Full circle, ended up working with PolicyMic again as an intern. The rest is history! (From Tom)
3. Alex Marin
I had to do a bunch of unpaid internships, which was tough but gave me experience and contacts that later on helped find paid opportunities. The key is to be proactive and work your networks, both online and offline, to stay current and relevant. It also helps to stay on track of the industry/career path you're really passionate about, and not to detour too much from it (though this can be a big challenge as the economic realities will force one to take whatever is paying the bills). The upside is that millennials are becoming more entrepreneurial whether is by joining tech incubators or starting their own food truck businesses. (From Alex)
4. Laura Donovan
A week after graduating, I traveled to the south of France with two of my good friends from college. One of them grew up on the French Riviera, so we stayed at her gorgeous house for a month and a half. It was a relaxing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but two weeks into it, I started to worry about the fact that I didn't have a job lined up yet, and that the time I could have used to job hunt was being spent on a trip. I confided in my friends, especially late at night when I couldn't sleep, but they both told me to just enjoy my vacation time while I still could. I should have listened, because now I know I'll never be able to take a month-long European vacation again!
Once I returned to the states, I went home to California for two weeks before moving to D.C., where I took an internship at The Daily Caller. I threw myself into the internship, hoping it would lead to a full-time job, and right before Christmas, I was offered an online editor position. Sure it took me nearly seven months after graduation to actually land my dream job, but once I got the offer, I couldn't have been happier. The previous year of uncertainty and post-grad anxiety no longer mattered, because I'd finally found work in my field of choice and would only go up from there.
So, kids, the moral of the story is to enjoy yourself after you graduate and not stress too much about finding work right away. You won't be un (or under) employed forever. (From Laura)
5. Sam Meier
Immediately after graduation, I lived in my brother's dorm room in Hoboken, New Jersey for a week.
Then, I spent my summer in California on an academic fellowship, before moving to New York in August to start here at PolicyMic. Those two months, I traveled from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach to San Francisco to follow up on my undergraduate research on the women of underground comix, which meant I spent eight weeks hanging out almost exclusively with senior citizens. I would describe this experience as meeting your heroines, and finding them to be quite similar to your grandmother. (It further made me appreciate how awesome my one surviving grandparent is.) I fed and walked one cartoonist’s aging, blind, sweater-wearing Chihuahua. I helped another organize and label her original artwork. I almost met Matt Groening. I showed a third how to use a Kindle. And I learned a lot. Though it sounds trite, I realized first and foremost that history is never in the past. History lives in the present ... and it needs your help to learn about e-books. (From Sam)
6. Jake Horowitz
My first job out of college was working as an intern at a think-tank in the Middle East and teaching jazz saxophone to middle school students in Beirut, Lebanon. It was AMAZING. I did some freelance journalism work in Lebanon and Syria, traveled across the Middle East, ate great food, and met awesome people. It may sound cliche, but if I had one piece of advice for graduating seniors, it would be to do something you really, really care about - or something you think you might really really care about. The pressure to make $ often leads people to go straight into a conventional job where hours are long hours and people aren't happy. Travel. Learn a language. Pursue a hobby. Be willing to work for free. Be flexible. Be unconventional. Don't rush into a job you don't like, just because it's a job. Things will work out and you'll be a million times happier if you do what you love to do. (From Jake)
7. Nick Baker
The summer after I graduated from college I headed back home to California to teach tennis for three months before heading to D.C. to try my luck in the political world. The most important thing I learned during my time in the capital is that it pays off to dive in and try new things. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. I fell into the category of motivated graduates who don't have an easily identifiable career passion. But jumping around from job to job in D.C., I was able to figure out some of the goals I want to achieve in my career, while also identifying some of the things that aren't for me. My advice to new grads: Go out there and get your hands dirty! You'll never find out what you want to do if you sit on your hands, doing nothing. (From Nick)
8. Chris Altchek
When I graduated from college, I was lucky enough to have secured a job at Goldman Sachs after having interned there the previous summer. Goldman was a great place to get professional training. I was surrounded by incredibly smart and driven people – who taught me a lot about the corporate world. I learned the basic skills that I will have with me for the rest of my life – being obsessed with the details, reading contracts, being professional, and presenting effectively. A lot less recent grads are going into finance and consulting today, which is great for other industries, but I think I benefited greatly from my crash course in professional training I received at Goldman. (From Chris)
As you can see, dear graduates, there is no linear path to the perfect job. There is no magic formula to determine what that perfect job will even look like, or if when you have it, you'll still enjoy it. Terrifying? Yes. Liberating? Absolutely. If it turns out that your first job out of college happens to be, say, doing minimum wage, part-time data entry for a Christian music label, great. There's still a chance you can move to Chile, go to graduate school, and become the Community Editor at PolicyMic. Just keep going.