With the unemployment rate the lowest in decades, recent graduates should be able to find jobs they love, right? But if you polled working professionals, you'd hear a lot of complaints. Whether underemployed or just feeling stuck, many people face Monday mornings with a groan. Don't let this happen to you. Follow this advice and love what you do.
1. Give yourself permission
Maybe because of our Puritan work-ethic roots, many people think work shouldn't be fun. From the moment we're born, we're programmed to become doctors, lawyers, teachers or whatever else is expected of us. No one gives us permission to love what we do.
So here it is. You have permission -- no, an obligation -- to love your job. Not just because you'll enjoy your work, but also because those who love what they do are successful.
How many people do you know who are miserable because they did what their parents expected of them? You owe it to yourself and your family to pursue your dream.
"After all, it's you who has to face the music every morning, not someone else," says Edward Hoffman, a 1997 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who's now a consultant with Andersen Consulting LLP in Chicago.
But how do you get there, especially if you've been groomed to fulfill someone else's dream? First, you'll need a career assessment. You'll know if it's time for a change if any of these are true in your first job:
You routinely utter expletives when you wake up.
You have a sick feeling in your stomach or insomnia on Sunday nights.
You frequently tell friends or co-workers how much you hate your job.
You have psychosomatic ailments.
When describing your profession, you sigh deeply and say "It's a living."
Guess what? It isn't a living. It's "dying" if you answer "yes" to any of these.
2. Know your strengths
Ask yourself, "What do I do well?" Review your past contributions. Ask, "What have I done that I'm proudest of?" Maybe you've worked your way through school, earned a high grade point average, been praised during a stressful internship or won an award.
"When I was interviewing, almost everyone advised me not to list my G.P.A. on my resume," says Julie Isaacson, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who's now a media planner with the ad agency Euro RSGG Tatham Chicago. "But I worked hard to get that grade point average. So I listed it, and the woman who hired me told me that she thought it was gutsy to put it on my resume. And that's one of the reasons she hired me."
Acknowledge your own abilities and achievements. Also ask others for acknowledgment and an analysis of your strengths. Poll friends and family on what they think you do best.
Reaffirm your priorities. What do you value most: your family's wishes or having a job you love, wherever it's located? Pat yourself on the back for reaching this point and choosing a path that will fulfill your dreams.
3. Cultivate a "beginner's mind"
Zen teaches a concept called the "beginner's mind." Beginners see infinite possibilities, while experts may see few because they're supposed to know everything. To be a beginner, you have to accept that there are things you may not know. View your job search as an adventure. Now more than ever you must be open to new ideas.
Mr. Hoffman had studied journalism but kept his mind open during his job search. "By opening my options, I found a whole new world of career choices for college graduates," he says. He wound up choosing a position in technology consulting.
4. Enlist help
Some new graduates -- and sage executives -- have trouble asking for help. They view it as a sign of weakness. But it takes courage to admit you need assistance.
Asking others for help also compliments them. Most people enjoy being asked their opinions or to help.
Where to go for help? First, assess your resources:
family and friends
church or synagogue
past employers or professors
libraries and the Internet
college or university career centers
"I found if you're willing to accept help in choosing a job or career, there are many options readily available at little or no cost," says Mr. Hoffman. "Anyone and everyone you know is a potential resource. Usually these people are willing to listen, give advice and talk about what they do. They, too, were once in our position. And most of them haven't forgotten where they came from."
Most people want to help, but they can't unless you can tell them what you need.
Develop a short, concise statement: "I'm looking for a job in retail sales, and I was wondering if you have any ideas about people I should speak with." Or, "I'm thinking about becoming an actress. Do you know anyone who's in the business?" Your mission is to get names, phone numbers and permission from your referral to use his or her name.
5. Take initiative
You don't need to go it alone, but you do have to take steps to help yourself. For instance:Enroll in a job-search seminar. Most campus career services offer courses in resume writing, networking and interviewing.
Join a campus chapter of your professional society and attend meetings.
Take care of your health. If you haven't been exercising, start. No need to join a club or buy expensive equipment: walk three to four times a week for 30 minutes. Eat right and get enough sleep.
Enjoy and appreciate your family and friends. You need your support system most now.
Do research on career fields and employers. Books, magazines, audio tapes and Web pages on career development and your chosen field are all free at the library.
6. Find a coach
A coach is someone who makes you do what you think you can't do so you can be what you say you want to be. No one achieves excellence without a coach. The first person an Olympic athlete thanks after winning a gold medal is usually his or her coach.
A coach is someone who has a fierce belief in you and your abilities, usually more than your own; holds you accountable for what you say you want to accomplish; believes what you say, even when you don't; and doesn't sell you out or let you off the hook.
A coach isn't a cheerleader. If you want unconditional encouragement, ask your best friend, sibling or parent.
Who should you turn to? For now, ask an adviser with your career placement office if he or she can coach you. After you start work, seek a mentor who will encourage your career goals.
Have you ever known someone who asks for help but then doesn't follow through? There's nothing more frustrating than someone who's committed to his or her own misery.
If you're serious about having a job you love, listen to your coach. Trust that what he or she prescribes will help you achieve your goal. Be accountable for what you say you want to do and look for results.
8. Take action
All the research and coaching in the world won't help unless you take action. Write a strategic plan for your job search. Include your goal, objectives and strategies for getting the job of your dreams. Then list the steps to take to accomplish your objective.
Your weekly schedule might read: "Make three phone calls to people who work in rocket science. Schedule one interview with Joe Smith's brother-in-law who works in the lab. Make a trip to the library and look up five research companies in the city's book of lists. Check out two books on rocket science. Go to the career center this Wednesday. Meet with career coach to set short-term goals. Read the on-line postings daily."
Make your actions specific and measurable and they'll lead to the job you love.
9. Tap your faith
Whatever your chosen faith, now's the time to call on it. Enrich your spiritual life. Serve others as a way of contributing to the world. Use prayer and meditation to center yourself on this journey, one of the most important of your life. And give thanks for the abundance you've been given. That spirit will put you in a place to receive even more blessings and find the work you love.
Emotions can fluctuate when you're on a job search. Finding your spiritual "center" can help during the roller coaster of interviewing.
"Going to church and praying helps me when I'm feeling low," says Arlene Go, a recent graduate of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. "It helps me become more positive in general and it really relieves stress -- even if it's just for that one hour."
10. Give back
Some professionals develop networking amnesia. They'll call on you in their hour of need, but once you're the one on the line, they won't take your call. What goes around comes around, so make sure this doesn't describe you in your first job -- or earlier.
Networking is a never-ending process, built on relationships and investing in others before you need them. When someone's referred to you for assistance, view it as a compliment rather than an imposition. Meet her for coffee or take him to lunch. You'll be known as someone who's well connected. Those connections will pay dividends in finding -- and keeping -- the job you love.
Ms. Austin is a magazine marketing director in Chicago
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