Pop quiz: What can a college student, an entrepreneurial grad student, a working mother escapee from the cubicle job world, and a 60-year-old business owner have in common on the subject of job seeking at a bad time? Read on.
But first, a story: A senior in college is in a job interview with an investment bank.
"Why do you want to work with us?" the interviewer asks.
"Because you still exist," the job seeker answers.
I heard this story during dinner late last month with a group of Stanford Univeristy seniors. It was a joke. It was followed by laughter; nervous laughter.
One of that group was my daughter, and with my daughter in the midst of this job search worst-ever year, it's been on my mind too. And for this post I'd like to make a three-way combination of people saying (sort of) the same thing.
Let's start the three-way with David Miller, of Campus Entrepreneurship, a grad student, entrepreneur, and a blogger I read regularly. In MBAs: Time to Look in the Entrepreneurial Mirror he writes:
If the state of the economy around the time of graduation is the main determinant of career earnings for those who enter the labor market upon graduation — then DO NOT enter the labor market. BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR. Take control of your own financial trajectory. You won’t show up on the payroll data that Kahn uses when she does her research.
The path may seem more difficult — creating something out of nothing vs. taking a second choice job that pays the bills in the short term, but it will pay off in the long term.
For part two, another blogger I read regularly, Pamela Slim of Escape From Cubicle Nation. I sent her post Stop searching for the perfect job and start finding your life's work from a few weeks ago to my daughter. She said:
Jobs are temporary things, often enticing on paper until you realize that as soon as you get comfortable in your position, it will change, your boss will change, your team will change or your organization will change. That is just the nature of business. Therefore if you go into a job excited by the position or the person you will be working for and not the work itself, you often set yourself up to be disappointed.
Your life's work on the other hand, are activities that you have natural talent for, which energize you and stimulate you and do not change no matter what "job" you happen to be in. I found this for myself when I began to think about my own life's work. I reflected back on all the things I have done in my career and I came to the realization that the core of my life's work is about transformation.
Pam's been through the job mill and looks back on it.
For part three, you have me, the 60-year-old guy. Neither of those two above were writing for seniors in college. They are both right, in the long term, but neither was writing to the college seniors looking for jobs in the midst of financial crisis, massive layoffs, and so on.
Sure, in the long term, the best job is one you make yourself. However, that's not realistic for the 21 or 22-year-old just getting out of college. Many of the best of them will end up building their own new world and their own jobs with it. In the meantime, though, I understand why they want that job. They did well in high school to get into college. Now they want to do well in the next step. And they can't really jump straight out of college into entrepreneurship. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and all, but how many exceptions per million?
I don't blame them for worrying.
The best advice I got at a similar time in my life was from Steve Brandt, who was, at that time, teaching at the Stanford University business school.
He said it might not be practical that we the students would try to go straight out of school into starting our own companies. We probably didn't have the track record or the traction.
But what you can do, he added, is to choose which stream you're going to swim in. What you do now in your first few jobs will determine what you can do later.