The news editors at LinkedIn have asked members of the LinkedIn Top Voices to share their advice for new graduates, early career professionals and anyone struggling with uncertainty in their careers and during this time wondering “What now?”
With that assignment, I immediately flashed back to several terrifying and uncertain moments throughout my career. I thought that I would share them with you and offer some advice on what I learned from each of them through my lens as a psychologist and executive coach.
The first moment that came to mind was the spring semester of my senior year in college. I was in the grips of incredible panic and literally swigging liquid antacid like I was drinking water in a desert mirage, until it landed me in the emergency room with horrific stomach pains. It was a super difficult time because my plans for after graduation were derailed by a really awful experience in a writing seminar that really made me question my ability to have a career as a writer. My writing seminar instructor severely and consistently criticized my writing and all of my classmates eagerly followed suit, which made me doubt my future as a writer.
Tip #1 – Don’t let one bad professional experience in an industry derail your interests
My first book, “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self Doubt and Succeed in Life” just came out of few weeks ago. I wrote a dissertation to complete my PhD at Columbia. I have had many experiences with writing since then that taught me that my writing isn’t as horrible as my college writing seminar instructor portrayed, and that it’s a learned skill that can grow over time, and that everyone has their own style. And P.S. a year later, I learned that the instructor that made me miserable published a book that had the same exact themes, main characters, and a similar storyline to the novella that I was getting criticized for in the class. Makes you think that sometimes the true intentions of criticism (especially when its unrelenting) sometimes are unknown.
But at the time, I did let her send my career into a tailspin because I was considering writing programs after graduation. That summer, I was freaking out and one weekend decided to catalog all the experiences that I had enjoyed in college to try to get an idea about what I should consider pursuing next. I didn’t realize it then, but that rudimentary audit was an inventory of my interests, skills, values, personality preferences, and motivators. Today, I know that because as a counseling psychologist trained in career development — these are the aspects that we often assess during career testing.
Tip #2 – Use your college career center
Having worked at various career centers throughout my training and before I started my practice, I know that career centers are often underutilized and that they’re often vast resources for both current students and alumni. Often alumni career resources are very poorly advertised, so contact your alma mater and see what is available to you. The kinds of services can vary, but they often include career coaching, career testing, job search boards exclusively looking for alumni of your university, resource centers, workshops, and trainings. Often these services are free or low cost.
If you find that the alumni services are not available or are not robust enough for your needs,, I would encourage you to advocate for yourself and to provide this feedback to your alumni association. Considerable complaints and feedback can change the access that you are allowed, especially if you have a cohort of alumni that are concerned.
Another option is finding career coaching options on your own. If you are looking for those, consider using the National Career Development Association’s directory or ICF-Certified coach to find certified career counselors. Due to the fact that career counseling is a not a licensable profession, there can be a lot of variance in the quality of career counselors. That is because anyone can call himself or herself a career counselor, including someone, who has never been trained in career development and assessment. Such individuals believe they can do the job because they know a lot from their own work experience, but their lack of training results in the quality being very idiosyncratic. Also, you can reach out to other people that you know who have sought career counseling and been successful in it, and ask them for referrals.
Another thing that I learned from that impromptu audit in retrospect is:
Tip #3 – Get Career Testing if you don’t know what industry or role makes sense next
If you are not sure about what industry, role or career path is next, career testing can be very helpful in giving you a picture of the possibilities fairly quickly. Career counselors often provide testing and I often suggest this possibility first because they are trained to interpret and help to understand the results of the testing. But if you can’t get it from your career center or a private career counselor is cost prohibitive, I recently found this site Truity that offers free and low cost testing that follows a lot of the models that are commonly used.
So, after I did that audit the summer after graduation, I thought that maybe being a psychologist might be a potential route. I asked my father if he knew any psychologists that I could talk to about their experiences and educational path, because I was very concerned about whether this was even a possibility because I was an English major.
Tip #4 – Do informational interviews when you are trying to discover the next path or looking for a job
My dad happened to know of a psychologist in his company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and he put me in touch with her. She was great and happened to be an English major in undergrad as well, and she showed me that you didn’t need an undergrad degree in psychology to be a psychologist. She also opened my eyes to the field of Counseling Psychology, which drew me because it was focused on people’s strengths. Little did I know, but I would find out later, early counselors in this specialty developed the field of career development theory and testing. In the 1950’s, the field was born in order to support veterans in VAs, who were returning from World War II and needed support in vocational rehabilitation, trying to figure out what to do next after their military careers. This particular specialty of counseling psychologists would become my own passion.
Informational interviews can be incredibly helpful in building community, learning about opportunities and details about certain fields that can be hard to learn just by Googling. I have seen many job opportunities come from an informational interview although NEVER ask for a job during an informational interview – it’s meant for simply gathering information and building relationships. If you are not sure what to do during an informational interview, here is one of my favorite resources.
Always end your informational interview with the magic informational interview question – “Do you know anyone else that I should speak to?” It creates an opportunity to easily build your networking web and another reason to stay connected because once you meet with these other people, you will follow back up with the person, who referred you, to update and thank them.
As you may have seen if you watched my TEDx talk on Impostor Syndrome, I have experienced feeling stuck in my career (more than once). In ALL of these occasions, I have found my way out due to a person. There is a particular theory about networks that suggests that the people 2 or 3 rings out on your network are the most powerful and that has proven true in my career experiences. The people that helped me land a new position were not my closest friends or contacts, but looser connections that saw in me a potential valuable asset to their organization or a friend’s. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need the first ring of contacts – it means that they can be incredibly helpful in linking you to the people in their network that might really make things happen.
Tip #5 – Always be networking!
Networking shouldn’t just happen when you are looking for a job. You should always be building it because networking is more like farming than fishing. You need to plant and nurture the seeds of these relationships and community so that they grow deep roots. If you take care of them, they will feed you!
I hear a lot from people that they don’t like networking. I often encourage them to consider the strengths that they have in networking – everyone has them. Sometimes, it’s that you are very good at 1-on-1 interactions, perhaps it’s that you know how to make connections or add value. If you don’t like networking, it’s likely that networking can be depleting for you, so it’s important to build in self-care into your networking process so that you don’t develop a negative perspective toward it.
Tip #6 – Always hold on to HOPE
As a psychologist, one of things that we are taught in the very beginning of our training is that the instillation of hope is fundamental for change. If you don’t believe your goals are possible, you won’t put the effort toward them, you won’t take the risks and you won’t lead your process with the belief that your current situation will not be your future situation.
It’s not that you will always feel tremendous amounts of hope – that’s not a realistic expectation. It’s that you will always purposely let the light of hope flicker and not let it go out. You will choose people around you that know how to rekindle the light when you are struggling and that you will help others keep their hope lights on. Hope and belief in the future can be incredibly important in propelling the positive actions toward change.
I had a mentor once say that your career path only seems linear when you look back at it — when you are going through it, it can feel like it’s all over the place. It’s important to remember that. You are not alone! We have all been through career crises, we have all had career setbacks, we have all struggled and been lost and afraid. It’s a normal and difficult part of a career journey.
Finally, I will tell you what I would have told my 22-year-old graduating self all those years ago.
Stay present and conscious of the fact that your current state will not be your forever state. There will be bright times ahead and you will gain much learning during these trying times. But trust yourself, your ability to learn and be adaptable in difficult times.
And to paraphrase something my partner always says, Work as hard for yourself as you do for others and you will be unstoppable!
What are some lessons that you have learned from the difficult moments of your career that you want to share with current graduating class or people who are in transition in this moment?
If you are struggling with Impostor Syndrome, which is the experience when you have accomplishments, skills, and credentials, but struggle to internalize them and worry that every mistake might reveal you as incompetent or a fraud, check out my new book: “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life.”