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Great Un-Expectations

Posted At: April 15, 2009 12:58 PM
by Jarrett Cocharo

Author Josh Billings once wrote, “Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” So, according to Billings, people are holding more cards than ever in the current job market. Today’s college graduates no longer expect that the first job out of school will be the last job they ever have. There is a new company man in town.

As much as we try to plan our lives and our career paths, it never quite works out the way we had envisioned it. When people ask me what it is that I want to do with my life, I give my standard answer:

“Well, I want to work first in a public relations firm’s brand management department or in a corporation’s marketing department. Next, I want to attend law school. Probably, Southern Methodist University. But now that I’ve said all that, it probably won’t come true.” (I’m superstitious.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t be successful in other areas. It just means that since I am planning to go to law school, I will probably end up working for the Peace Corps in West Africa learning French and doing humanitarian work. Ask any working professional what their career path was, and more than likely it didn’t quite turn out the way they had expected.

Chem-E to marketing: A career ever changing
Jennifer Kass, product line manager in Texas Instruments’ Education Technologies’ department of communication and marketing, is a perfect example of someone whose career path was shaped by twists and turns. After graduating from The University of Oklahoma with a degree in chemical engineering, she worked for Williams managing gas lines and for 3M (the post-it company) overseeing the production of truck decals. She left her post at 3M to attend “b-school” at The University of Minnesota where she graduated with a master of business administration and a concentration in finance. After taking a job in Texas Instruments’ finance development program, she rotated between different areas of the company.

It was during one of these rotations that she worked very closely with the product line management team, a team outside the finance department at TI. After repeated interactions with this team, she was able to move to the communication and marketing side of TI.

Some helpful words of wisdom
Kass said students will learn more from actually doing, rather than sitting in a classroom. While she thought she wanted a career in finance, she discovered something for which she had more passion after observing and talking with others with whom she worked.

“You want to learn about others around you to make yourself well-rounded,” Kass said. “Then if opportunities arise, these people will remember talking to you and they will remember your interest.”

Kass is the perfect example of what Penelope Trunk, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Time, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe, describes as humanity’s ability to change. In her blog, she explains working professionals need to prepare financially for a career change, because it is almost certain that they will want to change jobs.

“Today people start working when they are 22 and don’t stop until they are 65 or older. It makes sense that the career you pick when you are 22 will not be appropriate when you are 44.”

Trunk notes the biggest fear prohibiting people from taking new jobs is the fear of a salary cut. This fear is especially big when a person is supporting a family.

Now, I am not one for being a statistic, but it seems inevitable that my career will take me to places I cannot imagine right now. Take for example my shock when I learned my highly regarded PR professor was one year away from a Ph.D. in English before switching careers. If even she is not exempt from the life-altering shifts that arise before us, I sincerely doubt I will follow the straight and narrow course in the PR field.

Recent developments
I am beginning to realize that the mythical notion of having a strong résumé and diverse portfolio is the key to a job in the real world. In fact, job opportunities are going to come from the places you least expect.

Last week I was talking with one of my fellow classmates about whom I needed to contact in the Student Government Association about advertising in our campus paper. Our SGA is currently in the middle of a transition, so the conversation quickly turned.  What started out as an advertising sales pitch soon turned to a discussion about my qualifications to work for the SGA communications team. Now, I am the new associate communications director for the SGA. Who would have thought?

Job offers are going to jump out at today’s graduates from a diverse range of sources. Any personal or business relationship you have is a potential springboard into the work force. These relationships may save you from your old bedroom at Mom and Dad’s house and put you in your own apartment in a young, trendy neighborhood.

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