When I graduated, I had no idea what to do after college, especially with an Anthropology degree. Though I wasn’t the only one of my peers in need of career guidance, I felt like the only one who wanted to follow many divergent paths. I couldn’t do any career planning because I couldn’t decide which path to choose.
But, then it happened. I was employed in a full-time, salaried, “grown-up” job. I was working as an Operations Analyst for an education technology start-up in New York City. This wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for, though I was relieved to find that I was employable and that jobs for college graduates actually existed! The job search process had been so disheartening -- you needed experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience -- a Classic Catch 22. Nevertheless, I caught a break and was hired. Of course, I prepared for those interviews by reviewing my relevant volunteer, internship, and extracurricular experience, and I read up on the company. Most importantly, I presented myself with confidence and poise, which demonstrated my maturity, something that my young resume could not show.
Once employed, the top three things I struggled with most were accepting that I was at the bottom of the “food chain”, learning how to manage up, and figuring out how to strike the right tone between friendly and professional. Sure, I had some bad experiences early on, such as a co-worker blaming a faulty product on me to our clients. It was infuriating and embarrassing. I resolved the situation when I invited her to a meeting where, instead of berating her, I clarified my commitment to keeping our clients happy and ensuring transparent communication with her. It worked! We were able to move forward and work together seamlessly after that. Certainly, there were other political coworker dramas, especially when I was so new to the workforce, but I learned a lot about professional communication and collaboration during this time.
Currently, I am applying the academic skills from my degree to freelance consultant projects, primarily research, writing, and editing. I’ve also recently been offered an Operations Manager position, now that I’m a few years into my career. Though I stumbled into operations in the first instance, I’ve found that it’s the right department for me since my brain is process-oriented and I love the management side of seeing a project through to fruition. Another great thing about operations is that it lends itself to many different industries and will allow me to move around to meet my diverse professional interests. The main thing that I learned in college was not the intricacies of my major, but learning how to learn. This has made me an efficient, effective professional who is flexible to new systems and information.
Looking back now on my early career experiences, I would have focused more on developing a specialized skill that, contrary to popular belief, wouldn’t isolate me into one career, but open up many options for me. For example, those who are fluent in other languages aren’t hemmed into just translator careers. Rather, almost every company and every industry has need for cross-cultural language skills. Furthermore, it demonstrates to employers that you have the grit and intelligence to master something complex. So, my advice to soon-to-be grads is find something you love, even if it’s just a hobby, and become an expert. Maybe that’s data analysis, graphic design, or understanding the stock market. You don’t need to waste money on buzzword seminars featuring “lean” or “agile” methodologies. This subject doesn’t even need to be something business oriented, expertise simply demonstrates expertise. Be an expert.