In Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major. My response is in 3 parts: (1) summer suggestions, (2) hitting the job market next year, and (3) long-term (3-5 years) career positioning. In Part 2 I provided suggestions for what to do this summer and in today’s post I’ll cover hitting the job market. You’ll want to go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.
The beginning of your career campaign after finishing college is brutal. Unless you are going into a family business or have great connections that will plug you into a paying job, there’s really no way around the pain of trying to land that first career-oriented job. Here’s my 4-step plan for getting off the ground.
Step 1. Take any job you can get so you can pay rent. Unless you have better offers to choose from please don’t turn up your nose and refuse to take a job that doesn’t require a college degree. Waiting for the perfect gig may be the worst thing you can do; the fastest way to downgrade your resume is to create a large gap of time where you don’t have anything to show for it. Even worse is to have no money for rent, groceries, or entertainment. If you can get a GIS/geography job, great! If not, do what you can to pay your bills and avoid monster debt. My favorite option for this first job is to become a waiter or bartender. The reason I like these jobs is that they’re typically easy to find, the pay is decent if you work at the right type of place and they teach sales skills. If you’re a waiter and your income relies on tips you’ll soon figure out that getting customers to buy a bottle of wine or opt for dessert can increase your tip substantially. Eventually, you’ll figure out that if you offer value – by providing helpful ordering suggestions (not just recommending the most expensive) and going the extra mile to provide excellent service – you’ll earn more money. Becoming a “trusted advisor” is exactly what you need to do whether you’re selling corned beef and cognac or consulting services. If you can’t find *anything* then spend $50 to setup an LLC and start marketing your services. Contact local businesses and ask them if there’s anything they need done. Offer to do it for free and gain experience. If you do a good job you should be able to start charging an hourly rate or a fixed fee per project. Keep your prices low and then raise your rates gradually once you’re busy. By the way, this is the time in your life when you are best equipped to weather the financial strains of entrepreneurship. The problem is that you don’t have much experience. Technical know-how and creativity can be enough to overcome the experience gap but it’s not easy so you better be really good.
Step 2. Be a geographer even if you’re not paid to be a geographer. The other thing that’s good about restaurant or bar work is that you can work evenings and use your days to advance your career. Just because you’re not paid to be a geographer doesn’t mean you can’t behave like a geographer. Write about places, create maps, do research projects, conduct site selection studies – do something that sounds fun. Take advantage of your first chance to do a geography project that no professor has to approve or grade. If you’re interested in health/medical applications, go to the CDC website, cancer.gov, or some other NIH site; download data and find an interesting story; explore and share what you learn. Make a map. Write a blog post. Over time, build a portfolio that you can use to demonstrate your interests and skills. This will be a huge help in landing that first career-advancing position. Use this time to explore! Find out what really gets you excited. You need that excitement to fuel your campaign to career success.
Step 3. Keep an eye out for a position that would allow you to pursue your passions. Set up a search in something like SimplyHired for geospatial jobs with the key words that work for your interests. Check it regularly and take the time to write a custom cover letter when submitting resumes. Think of each job application as a consulting proposal. You need to stand out so create a customized proposal and sell yourself! Also, establish a full-fledged LinkedIn profile. Join LinkedIn groups and interact with people who are in your field. You might also check out 1 or more conferences each year where you can meet, in person, the top dogs in the field. Identify people you want to meet (perhaps use LinkedIn) and then find them and introduce yourself at the conference. Make a business card, just your name and contact info is fine, and ask to exchange with them. Once you have an email and/or phone numbers, reach out once or twice with reminders about what interests you, where you want to go and what kind of position you are looking for and send a link to your portfolio. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Don’t be too much of a pest and don’t be discouraged if they don’t respond. They’re busy and may not be able to help. Go to local tech meetups or community business events. Make yourself presentable and ask if there are any intern or volunteer opportunities.
Step 4. Take action. As I said at the outset, getting started in a career after college is very challenging….especially in this economic environment. Be patient but don’t sit around and complain. No one will listen and it won’t get you anywhere. You have to take action. Try something, anything. Aim to fail frequently by trying new things. Maybe they’ll lead to something good, maybe not. You won’t know unless you try. The worst strategy is to apply to every job in the universe by sending your resume and waiting around for the job offers to come in. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to make things happen through your action. You’re not in a waiting room at the doctor’s office hoping for a quick cure; instead, you’re in the gym trying to get yourself in shape. Start moving!