You’ve worked hard for years taking classes in general education, your major discipline, and electives. You probably completed at least one, if not several internships and campus employment opportunities. You stayed up late and rose early to complete a ridiculous amount of reading, writing, and homework in a small window of time. You consumed more coffee than is humanly possible just to keep moving through the day. In the case of parenting students, you even missed out on important milestones in the lives of your children. But in the end, you knew it would be worth it. In the end, you would begin working in your field, whatever that may be. You sent out your CV, transcripts and other pertinent materials three days after commencement (if not before), and then the interviews began. Finally, you scored a full-time spot in your dream career.
Whether the above paragraph is in regards to an undergraduate or graduate degree (sans general education for the latter), it is the ideal situation. However, it is not reality. Not for me, not for most people. For me, the dream career would have been a full-time tenured position in the English department at any community college happy to have me. The next-best dream would have been to obtain a career in another field and at least snag one or two English classes nearby as an adjunct.
Currently, I work full-time as an academic advisor, and while it isn’t what I dreamt of doing when I started my academic journey, it is a career I love. Do I wish I had at least one class going into the fall semester? As crazy as it may sound to work full-time and teach, yes, I do! Trust me, working full-time (with decent pay and benefits) and teaching one class is still easier than being a “freeway professor,” teaching two classes at one community college, two at another, and possibly two elsewhere, all the while never receiving healthcare or retirement benefits.
While everything seems to be working out for me, I am the exception. Most of my peers who graduated the year before me or this same year have stepped away from education, not necessarily by choice, but simply to pay the bills. Or they are anxiously waiting and praying and hoping that they will hear back from even ONE college about even ONE class. They need that call because they need to live. They feel worn out. They feel bitter. They feel disconnected from the academic community that prepared them to be educators but then only did the minimum to help them take the next step. Did anyone warn them that this would likely be the outcome? Mostly, yes. I, myself, was advised to pursue another option because of the lack of adjunct positions (for the record, I knew I would never get a full-time job right out the gate). But still, I had already come so far by that point, that I persisted.
Now, here is the message I have for those graduates who cannot find classes, who cannot even find jobs within the university or community college system:
- Think CREATIVELY. If you are an English major, like myself, I challenge you to think back to any time when you defended the major as useful. If you can’t snag even one adjunct job, what can you do with your degree/skills? Editing? Writing? Tutoring? Business? Communications? Public Relations? Marketing? This can be said for other majors as well. You must consider the ways in which your skills and past experiences make you competitive. As an English major, academic advising never seemed like a possibility until I realized that my degree prepared me for the career in many ways – through written communication, through the teaching program, and through tutoring students across disciplines. The discipline itself prepared me because as an English major, I learn to analyze the way in which people say things and how they behave. In advising, we have to pay attention to body language and tone – we have to be aware that a student may be crying out for help and is simply waiting to be asked, “Is there anything hindering your academic success?” All of the skills I’ve gained that qualify me as an academic advisor are not skills one might immediately consider. Yet, here I am.
- Be FLEXIBLE. Be willing to step away for a while in order to build your resumé. When the time comes to apply to a job more aligned with your career goals, don’t dismiss the position as useless when applying for jobs and filling in your job description. What did you do at your job that is transferable to your dream job? Bookkeeping? That’s organization. Answering e-mails? That’s communicating with clients. You have to be willing to step into a job that might not seem like it will move you closer to your career, though it may be. The best example I have is during an interview at the nearby community college last week. Though I organized my CV so teaching and tutoring stood out, the interviewers both wanted to know more about advising. Then, they informed me that my experience on the “other side” of college makes me a well-rounded instructor who teaches the whole student and not simply the writer. You’d think that upon being told there weren’t any classes, I would be discouraged. But I didn’t. I felt hopeful. I felt confident, despite the situation right now. I had chosen to be flexible and pursue another career. In the end, it will help me, not hurt. Even if you think your current job won’t enhance your resumé, you have an opportunity to use the experience to the best of your ability. And who knows, you may end up loving the job after all (but maybe not, and that is OK)!
- PERSIST. I urge you to be persistent in pursuing your goals, even if they can’t be reached tomorrow or next week or next year. TRUTH: You have to find ways to live, but you also have to keep working toward what you want in life. Why persist? Because eventually people retire. Eventually another position will open up. There will always be a need for instructors, but that need will ebb and flow. Don’t wait, but also don’t accept defeat. Don’t let the difficulty in scoring your dream career lower your self-confidence. It is NOT personal, it is business. Furthermore, you need to PERSIST right now in your job search, thinking in and outside of the “teacher” box. Every day you need to be on job sites, applying to those job postings that require you to think creatively about your skills. And if you get an interview, GO! Even if it doesn’t pan out, the experience will better prepare you for next time. It is true when people say, “Finding a full-time job, is a full-time job.”
- I also recommend that you stay connected to your academic community, be it through volunteer opportunities or conferences.
Overall, being persistent is going to 1) Helping you find employment and 2) Keep you moving toward your career.
Finally, I encourage you to never be “Too big for your britches.” Even if you taught as a graduate student, tutored, worked a front desk, counseled children and adults, attended court hearings, assisted clients with filing taxes, took vitals and injected pain meds in a patient, you are a recent grad. You may not be brand new to the field you are pursuing, but you also aren’t an expert…yet. We all have to pay our dues. We all start somewhere and while it might feel like the bottom, chances are you forget what it was like when you were actually at the top of the unemployable list. The thing to remember is, every step we take where we are working hard and becoming experienced, is one step closer to our goals.
Now, if you landed on this blog post in hopes that I would say “Don’t get a degree, it isn’t worth it,” I’m sorry I wasted your time. I will never say that, even given my situation. Why? Because earning a degree, truly earning it, is more than just a ticket to a job. Going to college was a transformative experience for me, and it is for many people. As an academic advisor, I see students every day who want to pursue education for the same reason. I also meet with students who want to pursue unique careers that one might not believe a degree will increase your odds of employment. You’d be surprised.
The truth about finding a job after college is simple: You will. Might not be your ideal. Might not be right away. Might even lead you to something you never knew you wanted to do. Yes, you should always follow your dreams, but expect that the path may be winding, uphill, rocky, and long. The truth is that finding a full-time job with or without a degree is no easy task, but it is possible if you Think CREATIVELY, be FLEXIBLE, and PERSIST.
What is one skill you’ve gained at your current job that is transferable to your “dream” job?
FYI: I am currently running a giveaway on Instagram through August 2! Head over to @CollegeSuccessForMoms on IG to check it out.