Over the years of mentoring 17-24 year olds, we’ve been struck by the numerous misconceptions that are causing anxiety, disillusionment, uncertainty, insecurity, strategic mistakes, and regret as they plot their career courses. Whether due to incomplete training in high school and college, lacking self-awareness, or mistaken assumptions, their progress is being thwarted by several career-related myths.
This blog is designed to help you debunk these myths with the teens and young adults under your guidance. It will not only give them greater peace of mind, but also instill valuable career savvy in positioning them for success.
- Success is all about smarts. So many young people are misguided into thinking that you need a 4.0 GPA or an Ivy League degree to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Employers routinely cite soft skills (aka: leadership/character skills) as more important. This was confirmed in the 21 Workplace Readiness Skills identified by Virginia employers in an extensive survey. Employer comments such as, “We hire for attitude and train for skill” are becoming more commonplace. This is an especially important message to share with students who are less academically gifted.
- You need to know your future career while in high school. Undecided high school students can become insecure or feel pressure when their friends are more certain of their future career/major pursuits. This is deeply unfortunate because: 1) many students haven’t conducted extensive career surveying or are lacking in self-awareness and 2) many “decided” high school students eventually change their minds in college (or elsewhere) when they are exposed to a variety of courses; most change their major at least once. This is why we encourage high schools to emphasize the career process(and extensive surveying) rather than career adoption, where possible. We do recognize, however, that for certain majors, a definitive choice needs to be made while in high school—hopefully after vigorous analysis.
- College is automatically your best route. Fortunately, more schools are realizing the downside of “college for all” messaging. High college dropout and low completion rates, significant costs/debt, difficult job acquisition in certain majors, and the availability of many well-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree are having an impact. We need to guard against even subliminal messaging that paths other than a four-year college are somehow inferior.
- Choosing your major is a sufficient career strategy. With a recent Gallup survey indicating that the greatest regret of college graduates is the major they chose, it’s clear that students need to be more strategic in their selections. This includes: 1) researching the realistic job prospects in that major, 2) strategically selecting their minor, and 3) not choosing their major until they’ve spoken with practitioners with jobs in the majors they’re considering.
- It’s STEM or bust. Whether overt or subliminal, one message that is being promulgated in schools and universities is that STEM is where you need to be for an excellent career. Importantly, even though many of today’s most successful companies are in tech-related industries, by no means do even a majority of their jobs require technical degrees. For example, tech companies still need marketers, communicators, human resources professionals, attorneys, accountants, client service representatives, and the like. Those who are not analytically, technically, nor mathematically inclined should by no means feel insecure if their skills and interests lie elsewhere.
- Your professors and counselors know best. One of the most common regrets of college graduates is that they gave too much credence to the career advice of professors and counselors who: 1) often lack a real world understanding of the job market and 2) don’t know their students that well. College students are impressionable when it comes to advice from professors and assume counselors know more than they do about actual jobs. As a result, students can overly rely on the advice of others who don’t have all the necessary information or perspective. When 40% of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees regret the major they chose, you know we have a problem. It is painful to see how misguided so many students are as a result of this myth.
- Your degree is your guaranteed ticket to a great job. Many college graduates falsely (and regrettably) assume that once they earn their degree, the job offers will magically follow. They quickly learn that they gave their college and degree too much credit in the job acquisition department! This is especially problematic when, unlike accounting or nursing for example, one’s major is either broad (e.g., communications, economics) or not necessarily linked to jobs (e.g., many humanities or ____ Studies majors). It is critical that students have a definitive job acquisition strategy before they choose their major and before they graduate. Many don’t and live to regret it, especially when their loan payments are due!
- A good resume will automatically get you into the game. While an excellent resume is a must to land interviews and win jobs, it is only one piece of the puzzle. These days, employers rely heavily on online applications where it is not always easy to stand out from the crowd. It is extremely valuable to also have: 1) a great cover letter and application and 2) an insider going to bat for you. Here is where networking becomes so important. Also, it’s critical to know the job-posting platforms, regularly screen job openings of interesting employers, and have outstanding interview and follow-up strategies. It’s all about persuading the employer that you are the best person for the job. That means knowing your value proposition for the job opening at hand and effectively communicating that throughout the process.
- You should hold out for the perfect job. Young adults are naturally idealistic, but this can be a severe impediment when it comes to the job search. Some are so specific and demanding about their first job that they severely limit their choices. By holding out for perfection, they forego a good job that positions them for their dream job when it becomes available. Given that employers generally give preference to current employees when recruiting, it can pay off to land a related position and compete when the desired position becomes available. Many young people are floundering because they let their egos get in the way of landing their first job.
Finally, we encourage you to share What I Wish I Knew at 18 with your children and students. Our career chapter offers these, and many other insights and strategies.