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This was adapted from CNBC’s Work It newsletter on LinkedIn about all things work — from how to land the job to how to succeed in your career. Click here to subscribe.
We can all agree that finding a fulfilling, well-paid job is a solid goal. The real question for the class of 2023 is: What’s your plan to get one?
If you are just applying to any jobs that sound sort of good, and giving it half-hearted enthusiasm, you might be wasting your time.
A lot of college grads take the same approach to their job search: They scroll, scroll, scroll job boards, then apply, apply, apply, said Gorick Ng, a Harvard career advisor and author of the book “The Unspoken Rules.” You may submit a dozen or a hundred applications — then wonder why you’re getting radio silence. It can be defeating and leave you feeling more directionless than ever.
What’s important, Ng and other career experts say, is that you don’t just look for a job, whether it’s your first or fifth. You have a strategy.
“When you’re first starting out, no one tells you about how you need to take ownership of your career trajectory,” Ng wrote in an advice column for CNBC.
3 question to ask yourself when you start job hunting
“Securing a job is like walking into a grocery store: You’re more likely to walk out with what you want if you walk in with a list,” Ng said. He recommends asking yourself a few questions before you start:
“Where do I actually want to work?”
“What do I actually want to do?”
“Where do I actually want to live?”
If you don’t know the answers to those questions, Ng says, then ask: “Who’s living the life I want to live in the future?” and “What did they do after college that put themselves on this path?” Do some “serious LinkedIn research” to find those people and take notes on their career path and skills. “If you don’t start with a plan of what you’re looking for, you’ll waste hours and hours aimlessly scrolling and end up with the same conclusion many job seekers come to — which is that everything looks appealing ... and yet everything looks unappealing,” Ng said. “That’s not where you want to be!
When you’re first starting out, no one tells you about how you need to take ownership of your career trajectory. Gorick Ng AUTHOR OF “THE UNSPOKEN RULES”
LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann recommends making a career bucket list. Write down a list of everything you’d like to do in your career, such as “I want to work in a different country” or “I want to make a positive impact in the world,” Heitmann told CNBC Make It. She suggests making a list of your skills and strengths. Do you have the skills and experience needed for your dream job? If not, what can you do to get them? Maybe that means you look for a specific type of job now, or take a class. Ng has a great exercise for this:
Divide a piece of paper into three columns
In the first column, write down what skills/experience you have
In the third column, write down where you want to be
In the middle column, try to identify what might be stopping you from getting that role and any skills, experience or other factors you may need to get there.
This will help you not only target jobs — but map out a strategy for how to get them. “When it comes to your career, you don’t want to sit on your hands — you want to constantly be learning, thinking and growing,” Heitmann said. “That’s the best way to find the job that makes you really, really happy.”
Why you might want to rethink job-hopping
Sometimes — especially when you’re first starting out — there may be a temptation to take just any job. And you may not get your dream job on the first attempt. That is totally normal. But what you want to be mindful of is not repeating this pattern over and over again — going from position to position hoping the next one will be more of what you’re looking for. Job-hopping has become increasingly common in recent years: U.S. workers spend an average of 4.1 years with one employer, according to research from career site Zippia. And hopping is more common among recent grads: People under 24 have 3.8 more job changes than people over 45. People change jobs for all sorts of reasons — they’re bored, they want more job responsibilities or they want more money. Those are all valid! No one wants to stay at a job that isn’t delivering on satisfaction, experience and pay. But the risk you run when you’re not 100% sure of what you want to do, or you know at least it’s not THIS job, is that you will just float from position to position, assuming that you will figure it out at some point. Before you know it, you’ve spent 10 years moving around and you still don’t know what you want to do. Career coach Phoebe Gavin says job-hopping makes your life more “chaotic.” You might want to be more deliberate in your career choices. “Take the long view,” Gavin told CNBC Make It. “Be thoughtful about what you’re building for yourself instead of letting the winds of chance blow you wherever they’re going to blow you.” “Most people think very, very, very short term,” Gavin said. And when you’re just focused on the short-term gratification of getting a new job because you are dissatisfied with your old job, you run the risk of building “a career that is largely out of your control.” Instead, ask yourself: Where do I want to be in a year? In three years? In five years? If you have some sort of plan or strategy, you can figure out what you want out of the NEXT job that would get you closer to where you’re headed. You can target jobs that offer you certain skills or experience you need to get to your five-year goals and beyond.
Are you on the right career ladder?
Ng offers this visual: Jobs are rungs on a career ladder. When you take a job, consider the whole ladder: What are the jobs one, two or three rungs up? Do you know the skills and experience you need to get there? Most important: Is this the ladder you want to be on? “Ask yourself, ‘Am I excited about the doors that will open if I excel in my current role?’” Ng wrote. “If no, it’s time to rethink whether you are climbing the right ladder.” It’s OK if your first or second job out of college isn’t exactly on the right ladder. But before you just keep job-hopping, give some serious thought to what ladder you want to be on, and figure out a plan for how to get there.
Don’t assume that you will get something because you ‘deserve it’
OK, so let’s say you are lucky enough to land at a job is on the right career ladder for you. Yay! Amazing. Go you! Once the high-five hoopla has died down, there is a serious question you need to ask yourself: Do you know how to climb that ladder? One of the biggest career mistakes people in their 20s make is thinking that if they just work hard at the job they are given, they will get promoted. They’ll get the career they “deserve” because they’ve earned it. Jenny Cheng, the vice president and general manager of Google Wallet, told CNBC Make It, that’s actually one of the worst career mistakes you can make in your 20s — “expecting things to happen simply because you deserve it.“ Cheng herself fell into that trap early on in her career. “I remember thinking that I would get promoted because I was doing such a good job, but I think the mistake there is not realizing that it isn’t just about merit,” she said. Cheng’s advice is to:
Be clear — and vocal — about what you want at work
Look for opportunities — and raise your hand
Check in with your manager to see if you are on track for that opportunity or if there is something else you need to do
Ng has a list of five questions you need to avoid getting stuck on that ladder, including:
Am I aware? Do you know which behaviors are rewarded or penalized at your company?
Am I visible? Do people in positions of power know what you’re doing – and what your accomplishments are?
Read the full list here. For the class of 2023: Up until now, you’ve worked hard and advanced in schoolwork or extracurricular activities. You had a robust support system like parents or teachers to help guide your strategy — and help you stay on track. Now that’s up to you. You don’t have to have all the answers or a great plan right away. Still, it’s important to consider: What do I want to do? What skills and experience do I need? And what’s my plan to get where I’m going? — With reporting by Morgan Smith and Ashton Jackson.