The Template

Every week, I maintain THE TEMPLATE, an award-winningWinner of the 2015 Plank Center Award (public relations org.) for commitment to mentorship. blog that's been viewed more than 1.5 million times by people all over the world. In every column, I provide step-by-step instruction to help you become a stronger communicator. Like I always say, "Write well, open doors!"

Un-Happy Holidays: How to Defend Your Career Path

You know the conversation is coming. Right after you return home for the the holidays, unpack your bags and relax on your parents’ couch…you hear the fateful words:

“What are you going to do with your life?”

Heavy question. Complex answer.

Before you stammer a response, take advice from Ben Holder of GradStaff, a national college recruiting firm that matches “great grads with great companies.” Holder told me it’s OK if you don’t have your career totally figured out. The key is to explain how you rely on the transferable skills gained at college and elsewhere to move ahead.

A few of Ben’s responses to classic questions:

“What are you going to do with your life?”

Answer: “There’s not a magic formula to deal with the inevitable twists, turns, road blocks, and unknowns – and I’m okay with that. I’m really just trying to focus on the short-term and not put too much pressure on myself. I’m working on getting to know my best skills and finding a great entry-level position that allows me to utilize those skills, learn as much as possible, and start building a foundation.”

“Why are you still working at that restaurant when you could be getting a real job?”

“Although it’s not what I plan to do for my career, my current job IS a real job. I’m developing important skills and demonstrating my ability to lead people, solve problems, and provide awesome customer service. Employers crave highly-developed skills like these, whether they’ve been honed in a restaurant or office environment. These skills will be super helpful when I do eventually begin my career.”

“Why aren’t you spending more time at home applying to jobs?”

“Each corporate job attracts 250 resumes on average, so competition is stiff. Further, up to 80% of open positions aren’t posted online, so it’s extremely important that I’m growing my network strategically. For example, I’m really interested in non-profits, but my network isn’t as strong in that area. To close the gap, I’m getting involved in local meet-ups and organizations that will help to expand my connections in that space. This is time that is extremely well spent.”

Thanks to Ben and GradStaff for the thoughtful answers. And remember: you can always ask friends and family (ahem, the people grilling you with tough questions) if they can aid your career. Stuff like:

  • Can you connect me with anyone who can help my job search?
  • [If the person has expertise with resumes] Would you mind reviewing my resume or LinkedIn profile to give me tips on how it can improve?
  • Do you have any ideas of jobs I might like?

And if the person does lend a hand, make sure to send a thank-you note (use template #2 in this post).

Happy Holidays!


Featured photo: Jim, the Photographer (Flickr)


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