In January 2011, I walked into the Atlanta Ernst & Young office wide-eyed and bushy tailed. I had just completed my 4.5 year college career and a lengthy career search, resulting in offers from multiple professional services firms and Fortune 500 companies.
Spots in the performance improvement practice at Ernst & Young were highly coveted amongst my peers and I thought I hit the jackpot as jobs go. The recruiters pitched me on the travel, breadth of industry experience, and valuable skillset I would build. I was ready to learn and excited to be there.
Nine months later I turned in my letter of resignation and prepared to leave my highly coveted consulting job. What I found on the job was distinctly different from that which I was pitched during recruiting season.
The more I told the story of my first year of work, the more peers I found who experienced the same thing. They left school excited to enter the “real world,” got past the honeymoon period at work, and then realized how little they had learned about the business world, jobs, and what it means to show up to work everyday.
Seeing so many people experience the same thing made me wonder: what’s the problem? Why is this happening?
What I found was not surprising, but it was disappointing:
- We’re taught to follow an existing path based on our college major. Accounting majors go to accounting firms. PR majors go to PR firms.
- Recruiters love that we’re ushered down certain paths because it makes their job easier. Recruiters have quotas to hit for hiring, and they’re occasionally willing to stretch the truth to make those quotas happen. (Their performance metrics and bonuses are based on that, after all.)
- University career centers are profit centers for universities. They sell spots at career fairs and on job boards to companies. Because of their lack of resources, they can generally only spend time partnering with companies who will hire large numbers of grads at a time. This leads to Fortune 500s and major firms having a major advantage over small and medium sized companies in college recruiting.
- If you try to change any of the above, people will fight tooth and nail to resist you. To change the system would be to upset the balance that works so well for career centers, recruiters, and college grads.
There’s one problem. That last statement was a lie. The system appears to work well for college grads, but what it does instead is something quite different.
The system as it exists teaches college grads to follow the rules. When grads follow the rules, company hiring quotas get filled. When company quotas get filled, graduate employment rates for the university in question go up. When university grad employment rates go up, the university gets ranked higher in Businessweek rankings, etc. And so the system goes.
The Real Problem
The system is a problem, but the system is resistant to change so it’s futile to try to change it as a small group or individual. So I asked myself: What is the problem that can be solved at the individual, grassroots level so that this problem goes away?
In a working world where Millennials expect to stay in their current jobs less than three years, on average, career search becomes one of the essential skills to carving our own path in the world.
It turns out that nowhere in school are we taught the skills necessary to successfully conduct our own job search. Instead, we’re simply told to go to the career center (and we all know where that leads). We’re taught to rely on job boards and resumes instead of networking and portfolio-building.
One level deeper even than anything listed above is that we are not taught to build self awareness and consider what we actually want before jumping into our career search.
It’s, “Hurry, get an internship before they’re all gone!” Instead of, “Who are you, what did you love growing up, and what problems exist in the world that you’d like to help solve through your work?”
And that’s how we end up disengaged in our first jobs, counting down the seconds until we can find a way to get the heck out of there and move on to a job that matters.
The solution to all of this craziness is to help upcoming college grads and young professionals do two things:
- Understand what they want from their careers
- Build the skills necessary to conduct a job search independent of career centers and job boards.
In 2012, I set out to do just that by building my first course, which we called Career Kickstarter. The course is broken down into 12 sessions (kind of like coaching sessions): two parts with six sessions each. The first teaches self awareness, or how to know what you want from your work. The second teaches the essential skills to conduct an independent career search.
The course consists of 12 sessions:
- Purpose & Passion
- Ideal Job Description
- Career Research
- Cover Letters
- Job Offers & Negotiation
We Built the Course in Three Stages
2) Pilot Study
3) Online Course
We ran a pilot program for a combined live/online version of Career Kickstarter for 42 students at the Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia. 28 of the 42 finished the program and 95% of them were very satisfied with the outcome of their career search. That’s ~15% better than the all-student placement rate within the college, which I viewed as a big win.