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I don't know what to do with the rest of my life

Q: I recently graduated from college as a poli-sci major and did a one-year stint volunteering for a grammar school as part of a non-profit internship. I am now home and without a job in this terrible environment. To make matters worse, I have no idea what I would like to do and it seems that this is paralyzing me to move ahead with my job search. I did work for the Obama campaign for several months as a Volunteer Coordinator. I liked the work but hated my boss. Any ideas/tips to get me moving in the right direction?

A: Yes, I do, and please know that you are not alone. There are so many young people who are traumatized by this current situation. Here are some tips that I hope will be helpful:

- Know that there are lots of things you could do well. I really don’t think there is just one occupation or industry for any one person. I think all of us have certain skills and interests and we can apply them in many different fields and occupations.

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- Think about the things you like to do and do well. Think about different jobs/industries where you could do them. Knowing what your strengths/talents are can be very helpful.

- Think about seeing a good career counselor. There are some terrific ones around and they can be invaluable in helping you identify your skills and strengths and what you enjoy doing. It is really important to find work that you enjoy doing. For example, I am good at detail, when I have to be, but I couldn’t do a job everyday that is all detail and no big picture. It would drive me nuts. Ask around. Treat the first meeting as if you were trying to find a doctor you liked. There must be a chemistry between you and the counselor. If not, try another. I liken it to dating. Either there is a chemistry there or there isn’t. You want someone who is on your wave length—that feeling of simpatico. Ask for three references and call them. After speaking to the references, you will have a better idea whether this counselor is about results - and that’s the bottom line. You want someone who can help you identify areas that you are very good at and you enjoy doing and where there is a market for those skills - that’s the mother load!

- Don’t be hard on yourself that others may have found permanent work and you haven’t yet. A lot of this is luck—what some people call serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time. I know you know this by now, but you couldn’t have picked a worse time to be looking for work! Companies are shedding jobs, not adding jobs. So use this time to learn more about different types of jobs.

- Use this time to gather data about different occupations and fields. Look at it as if you’ve got this “out of jail card.” The job market is terrible so use your time to do lots of information interviewing and learn what other people do. Something will resonate with you. You will say, “I could do that!” or “This sounds interesting.” The more you learn what other people do and the incredible variety out there, the more you will realize what interests you and what doesn’t. This is important too. It is very helpful to know what you would hate doing. You can eliminate those from your list.

Informational interviewing starts with making a list of people you know. You don’t have to be best buddies with them. Think about your friends, neighbors, acquaintances, anyone working that you know is fair game. With information interviewing, you are learning more about what each person does and thinking whether this interests you. You might ask: 1) Can you walk me through your day. What do you do? 2) What do you like about your job? 3) What do you dislike about the job? 4) This has been really helpful. Is there anyone else that you can think of that I might talk to? Try not to leave one meeting without at least one name of someone else that you can call. Again, you are not asking them for a job—you are just learning more about what they do so you can determine whether you should explore this job/field further.

Try to set up 3-5 informational interviews a week. The more you meet with people, the more you will learn about different types of jobs and industries. Call the person up. “I’m trying to do some career research and I would really like to learn more about what you do for a living. Can I buy you a cup of coffee and take maybe 20 minutes of your time?”

When you are meeting with the person, be mindful of the time. Check in with the person after 20 minutes. That might be all the time they have. Thank them for their time and helpfulness. Ask who else could you meet with?

This is a really helpful exercise and I really encourage you to do some information interviewing. You may identify a job/industry/field that you never thought about before and might be a perfect fit for you

- Register with several temp agencies. Things are slow at temp agencies these days but could pick up once the Economic Stimulus package is implemented. This will allow you to experience many different companies and their cultures and see what you like and don’t like. Yes, you have skills that companies will pay for…you can use the computer, you are polite, you have good phone etiquette, etc. And it pays!

- Volunteer! If you like working in a political environment, volunteer at a local congressman’s office. It will also give you another experience which I am sure will be very different from anything you have done before. You will also see how different a job can be when someone else is managing the office. Each congressmen in Washington has a local office and tries to get back on Friday’s to see what is going on locally. There are also local politician’s offices that you might volunteer in as well. Sample several offices. Each will feel very different. If this is where your heart is, volunteer in the office, with the hope that they will eventually be able to hire you.

If not at a politician’s office, volunteer at a school, non-profit or anywhere else that might interest you. It will make you feel good that you are helping out and you will feel appreciated at a time when you are not getting many pats on the back. It will also give your days some structure.

It may also open a whole new vista for you. You may find a non-profit that you love and realize that is what you want to do with your life. You won’t get rich but the pay isn’t bad at most and you will be doing satisfying work. Just a thought! So that is my plug for a career in the not-for-profit world.

It also does one more thing. When an interviewer asks you what you have been doing since the Obama campaign, you can respond that you have been volunteering for your favorite non-profit and that it has been a great addition to your life right now. Good luck!

Have a question? E-mail us at jobdoc@boston.com, or use the form on the right.


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