As you approach graduation and the looming job market, you may – like many undergrads – experience professional uncertainty, and it’s not hard to see why. How could you not worry, when US students read that student loan debt exceeds $1.2 trillion, with a 13.7% default rate and European students see that youth unemployment in Europe is over 20 percent and rising? It’s no wonder that students preparing to graduate feel some anxiety that their job opportunities and ability to move up in their chosen career seem unsure—if they exist at all.
In almost 10 years of teaching undergraduates, I have rarely encountered students who are 100% certain about their professional future. When I talk to them about their future, I always reassure them that uncertainty is a normal part of their journey: they need to learn how to live with their doubts and capitalize on their strengths to adapt to an ever-changing world.
These students are not alone: dealing with uncertainty has become a key competence of the 21st century. At some point in everyone’s career trajectory there is that moment of feeling completely lost. Even though we now have unprecedented access to not only a flood of information about potential careers but also to professional networks, we seem to have a harder time managing personal and professional development. Learning how to structure this information into a clear map of promising career trajectories is essential—but not easy.
But in the end, it’s important to take control of what you know so that you can move from doubt to decision. As William Starbuck, business professor at the University of Oregon, puts it, “decision implies the end of deliberation and the beginning of action”. It’s normal to reflect, argue, and deliberate about professional or career possibilities, but worrying doesn’t get you too far. Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to start thinking about how to apply that knowledge to some pragmatic action.
Do you need to move from doubt to action? Here are some tips that can help undergrads structure their career and personal growth to face uncertainty.
- Test yourself: Get to know who you are and what you’re made of, using reliable tests (no, not that one you just took on social media!). com is a fast, free, and friendly source of tests that can help undergrads understand their full potential.
- Journal: Once you have clear ideas about your personality, your motivation, your interests, your skills and the type of work environment you would like, note down in a personal notebook the points you’re satisfied with and what you’d like to change.
- Organize your facts, and yourself: Create your own personal dashboard and start learning how to manage your energy, not just your time. This article is a great place to start.
- Prioritize: Invest your energy in activities that help you grow and that you enjoy. Your energy is limited: don’t waste it by worrying too much about the future.
- Get feedback: Very often what we see as our strengths may not be as great as we think. Ask friends and family to tell you honestly about your strengths and weaknesses and what they think you might be good at. Be prepared for tough criticism, but be aware that not all the feedback you get will be constructive.
- Make a plan: use all this information to make a short list of things to improve; break this down into many small steps you can achieve over the short to medium term. Achieving small challenges can result in big payoffs!
- Check your plan: Does your plan for improving yourself match your career goals? As you consider how you might actually attain your dream job, consider adding items to your “short list”: internships, classes, training, and job fairs.
To better face the uncertainty that’s out there, you need to combat the uncertainty within yourself. Let me assure you that with a little bit of work, a good amount of structure, and, above all, trusting and loving who you are, you can find the path to the future you want.