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Should New Grads Take Any Job or Wait for the Right One?

Luisa Kloep is a 26 year-old newly minted graduate with a masters degree in fashion and sales management. Like many of her peers, she is bright, talented, and enthusiastic about her new career. She’s also unemployed and feeling dejected about the job search she started five months ago.

Luisa, who came to me for advice, started her graduate program with her sights set on becoming a buyer for a fashion retailer in Germany. But months into her job search, she reached out to tell me she had exhausted all of her options. She had applied to every entry-level “buyer” job in Germany — and after completing over 25 applications and four interviews, she had come up empty. And now, she conceded, she was out of options.

But was she? Should she give up on her dream of breaking into the fashion industry simply because she couldn’t score the “right” job right now? Hardly.

We give new graduates lots of well-meaning advice. Go follow your dreams! Find your passion! Do what you love! Make a difference in the world! Oh, and by the way, you’ve got to make money doing it.

This advice is misguided. Passionlovedreamsimpact — those are heady terms for people going out on their own for the first time and often staring down piles of debt.

And while no one wants to quash a person’s dreams — there’s plenty of evidence out there that following your passion is often terrible advice, or searching for work you love is elusive for the vast majority of us.

For people like Luisa it can be hard to know whether they should just take any job or wait for the right one. But maybe it’s not either/or.  Instead of searching for the dream job, ask yourself: What can I do in the near term that will help me over time find the job I’m going to be excited about, engaged in, and good at?

Because — let’s be real — knowing exactly what you want to do when you’re in your early 20s isn’t always possible. It’s rare that I meet someone who knew what they wanted upon graduating, and are still in that exact same field ten, 20, or 30 years later. I went from the Peace Corps to Goldman Sachs to the EPA to Exxon Mobil, and today, I’m an entrepreneur and communication expert, which would’ve been inconceivable to my 22-year-old self.

It’s time to reframe the discussion for new grads. Instead of lowering your expectations or giving up on your dreams, expand your perspective, take some pressure off the process, and accept that there is value and learning to be had from almost any job.

Evaluate opportunities, not based on whether they are “right” or “perfect” for your long-term goals but based on whether you’ll gain something now that will be useful later. Specifically, think about three criteria: will the job you’re considering offer experience, credibility, or  income?

Experience

It’s tempting to set your sights on the “best” jobs or companies but sometimes you can learn a lot in a role at any company. Ask yourself: What are you hoping to learn? What skills are you looking to gain? If you want to hone your writing skills, for example, you don’t have to work for a nationally recognized media company or a well-known digital marketing firm. You might consider communication roles within trade associations or with a nonprofit organization, or take an entry level position writing for a lesser known digital magazine.

And don’t narrowly focus on the role you ultimately want. Think instead about the skills you’ll need to eventually fill those jobs. For example, if you dream of making it big in advertising, think about copywriting positions or account manager roles within a creative field —but don’t limit yourself only to top-tier agencies. If experience is what you’re after, the brand name on the door matters less than the work you’ll be doing day to day.

Similarly, if you want to run your own company someday, then consider an apprenticeship role at a start-up. Being a jack-of-all-trades and learning what it takes to get a venture off the ground matters more than the prestige of the founders or whether the company actually makes it to the next funding round.

Credibility

Of course, there are industries, say luxury fashion, consumer products or investment banking, where prestige matters. For example, P&G has long been the gold standard in the world of consumer products, so getting in the door — in any position — is a huge win for someone looking to stake their claim in the world of marketing or brand management.

Luisa wanted to be a buyer, and only a buyer — until she realized that getting her foot in the door with any well-known retail or consumer brand could be her lucky break. She ultimately expanded her job search to include marketing and brand management roles with the top brands in Germany and throughout Europe. She also broadened her search to include packaged food companies. Soon after doing so, she called me excitedly to tell me that she had found over 50 additional job openings.

If credibility is what you’re after, then seeking a position with a tried-and-true company that other people will recognize, whether it’s Deloitte, Dropbox, or Delta Airlines, can be helpful. I’m sure having Goldman Sachs on my resume early in my career opened other doors for me later on.

Income

Never underestimate the power of a paycheck. Almost everyone I know has spent time waiting tables, working in a coffee shop or retail, or taken low-paid internships. Do what it takes to duct-tape together an income while you search for the “right” job. When I applied to the Environment Protection Agency years ago, I was told that they thought I was a great candidate but there was a hiring freeze and it could take six to 12 months to get me through the hiring system. They assumed that I’d politely decline but instead I packed my bag, moved to Washington D.C., bunked with a friend, and took a temp job at the Inter-American Development Bank. When the EPA job came through, I was thrilled that I had taken the leap.

Chances are that your career is going to be a series of twists and turns and highs and lows, all of which make it interesting, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. Your career success will lie as much in the mistakes you make — a terrible first job or the dream role you landed only to realize it wasn’t for you — as it does in the right choices you make along the way. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Look for opportunities that give you experience, credibility, or income, and have faith that you’ll find the right job (or it will find you) along the way.


Jodi Glickman is a keynote speaker and the CEO of leadership development firm Great on the Job. She is the author of Great on the Job and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Networking You can connect with her online here.

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How Asking Multiple People for Advice Can Backfire

  • Category EQ

When was the last time you sought someone’s advice? Perhaps you were navigating a tricky situation at work, searching for jobs, or making an important purchase. In these situations, we often focus on gathering all of the information we can in order to make the best choice. That’s why we may turn to a few or many people for different opinions. Research, after all, has shown that leveraging the “wisdom of crowds” can lead to more accurate decisions. But could turning to multiple people ever backfire? Our recent research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests it may.

Doing the “right” thing is undoubtedly important, but so are the impressions we make on and the relationships we establish with our advisors. Given that we commonly consult people with higher status than us, their perceptions about us could have an out-sized impact on our futures.

In a series of studies, we tried to understand the interpersonal consequences of people’s advice-seeking strategies by investigating how advisors reacted to them. In one study, we asked 200 workers in the United States to recall a time they had been asked for advice, in which they were either the only person or one of multiple people consulted. We then asked about their impressions of the advice seeker, how close they were after the exchange, and how willing they would be to give guidance to the same person in the future.

Given how commonly most of us are told to seek second and third opinions, we expected advisors to rate those pursuing this strategy as more competent. But we found the opposite. People who were in a group of several advisors not only rated the advice seeker as less competent, but also indicated that they felt more socially distant to them later and were less interested in advising them in the future.

What prompted the negative reaction? We hypothesized that advisors were really reacting to the reduced probability that their own advice would be followed. (The more people an advice seeker approaches, the less likely it becomes that he or she will follow any one advisor’s advice.) People tend to think highly of themselves and their own opinions and gain status when their advice is taken. So they might be offended by the idea that their advice could be disregarded and, as a result, negatively judge and distance themselves from the offending party.

We tested the link between the advice seekers’ follow-through and advisors’ subsequent behavior in a series of five experiments with 1,362 participants, in which we controlled whether recommendations were taken or not. We found that advisors whose suggestions were ignored did become more offended and were more likely to denigrate and sever their relationship with the seekers. They also felt less secure in their capabilities and social standings.

To investigate the link between these negative reactions and the fear of rejection sparked by presence of multiple advisors, we conducted another controlled experiment. We recruited 186 experienced workers from an online crowd-sourcing platform (Amazon Mechanical Turk) and told them that a novice worker had asked them for advice about using the platform. Half of the advisors believed the newbie was seeking counsel from only them; the other half believed the person was consulting four other experts. (In reality, the role of the novice was pre-programmed.)

Advisors were then asked how likely they thought it was that their advice would be followed. They were also asked to rate the seeker’s competence and given the opportunity to either continue working with the person or to work with someone else on a subsequent task. Sure enough, we found that advisors told they were among a group of people consulted thought their advice was more likely to be ignored and correspondingly deemed the novice as less competent. They were also more likely to select a different partner.

Having uncovered a significant interpersonal cost to following the wisdom of crowds – or simply disregarding advice – we wanted to understand how pervasive these behaviors were. Maybe people understand this and avoid these risky advice-seeking strategies. But when we surveyed 119 full-time employees across an array of U.S. industries who had sought advice in the past month, 58% reported having consulted multiple advisors, and 52.9% reported ignoring recommendations they had received.

Why might advice seekers overlook this potential for backlash? Our research reveals that they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with their advisors when it comes to the purpose of their interactions. In another study, we found that those looking for advice simply wanted to receive information (thereby widening the set of options considered), whereas those giving advice were more likely to believe that they were supposed to provide direction (which would serve to narrow choices).  If you illuminate a specific path, you might be more likely to expect people to follow it than if you shine a light in a general area.

What all of this work seems to suggest is that advice seekers should expand their consideration of the potential consequences of asking for guidance. In addition to considering who will provide the most information, ask yourself how advisors might react if their advice is not followed.  You might also benefit from being more transparent about your goals. If you clarify the reason why you are soliciting advice (“I am hoping to explore all my options”), that may help set the tone for the discussion and expectations for the actions you take in the future.

For advisors, it’s worth understanding the general tendency to react to advice seekers with an egocentric bias. Many of us genuinely want to help those who seek counsel, and our recommendations may not always be the best.

Want our advice? Considering the broader goals of advice seeking could pay off for seekers and advisors alike.


Hayley Blunden is a PhD student in the organizational behavior program at Harvard Business School.


Jennifer M. Logg is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Her primary research examines how people expect algorithmic and human judgment to differ (research she calls, Theory of Machine, a twist on the classic “theory of mind”). Her work tests how people respond to the increasing prevalence of information produced by algorithms.


Alison Wood Brooks is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. She teaches negotiation in the MBA and executive education curricula and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group.


Leslie K. John is an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Twitter: @lesliekjohn.


Francesca Gino is a behavioral scientist and the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She is the author of the books Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life and Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. Twitter: @francescagino.

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