The job seeker’s Catch 22 mindset

Yesterday on LinkedIn I read a post about the Entry Level Epidemic that college grads face.  Tracey Edouard wrote a strong piece about the feelings that what I feel both grads and job seekers sometimes encounter when they are venturing into the next leg of their professional journey.  The article can be found here:

Having coached adult job seekers as well as college students I discovered one concept in Tracey’s article that really got to me:

“Companies won’t hire you because you don’t have enough professional experience, but how else are you supposed to gain professional experience if you’re not given a chance to work in the professional field?”

I call this the Catch 22 mindset which I’ve seen many times.  This belief is a self perpetuating loop that will keep you in the cycle of never getting experience.    Searching on a job board and going through the application process and getting screened is not the only way to get a job.  During my stint as a career advisor for students in the medical field, I wouldn’t allow my mentees to fall into this trap.

As a former job seeker I felt well qualified for positions only to get rejected after a week or two.  After repeated attempts and failures, my ego painted a picture that narrowed my hopes and possibilities.  That personal experience allowed me to understand how that state of mind began and built a limited view of the world around me.  In my journey I did learn new ways of adapting and moving beyond that point.

  1. Get volunteer experience in the areas you want to work in.  Is there a university, non-profit, or municipality that could use some assistance on something despite lack of budget?
  2. If you can’t find a volunteer experience, start a project and make one.  I know of a person in my network that wanted to get more into marketing so he decided to be a campaign manager for a local candidate in an upcoming election.
  3. Create a community group that does projects for the surrounding area.  There are some great local groups that do very good things for charity.  In my area, WGirls chapter does quite a bit of good.

The fundamental problem I have with the Catch 22 experience model is that there is so much external locus of control with the perspective. Yes, there are certain aspects of the deck that are stacked against recent grads, but instead start looking at what you can control. When in college, it is important to start building your experience early on (like sophomore year) so you can have a couple years of transferable experience.

I believe college students could benefit from more mentorship.  A capable mentor can help you structure what you want to do and help navigate the changes that occur in college studies. I changed my major in my senior year from a BS to a BA. I did not have mentors or seek other professional guidance that would have helped me establish clarity. I roamed and searched in my 20’s and stumbled in my early 30’s. Looking back I wish I had more mentors along the way to authentically help me.  Here is what I’d advise to others:

1. Start planning your sophomore year.  Create plans for 1 year, 2 years, and 3 years out to clarify your goals post graduation.  This doesn’t have to be etched in stone but it will help start the process.
2. If direction is a challenge, look for some assessments and a coach/professional to help you with it. I’ve seen good things come from MBTI, Enneagram, Talent Dynamics and more.
3. Join professional groups to meet people that can help. I do some work with the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee and they have a fantastic student program. Find something that can put you in contact with those who can be of service.
4. Every 6 months, do a head check. How is my perspective, what are my limiting thoughts, what is motivating me right now? If it’s healthy then keep feeding that process. If there are unhealthy things then hit those head on.

In my opinion Awareness is the key to it all. An honest examination of your beliefs and willingness to create your own opportunities are your ticket to success.  Career opportunity is not a closed loop, but a rather complex journey in which we all probably need guidance at some stages.  Take control, ask for help and don’t lose heart.