Applying to College vs. Applying for Your First Job

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A few years ago, you were applying to college. Now, you’re applying for your first real job. I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Here’s the good news: the processes are very similar. Here’s the bad news: the processes are very similar.

Luckily, there are people around to give you a little pep talk. Like Frank Bruni of the New York Times, for example. Okay fine: he’s talking to applicants who didn’t get into their ideal college. Still, even for me, someone years past his first job and even more years out of school, his words scratch a very particular itch.

Here’s the gist: you don’t always get what you want. You also don’t always get what you deserve, but this doesn’t necessarily say anything about you. A lot of the times it says more about someone else. For example, in the job search, someone might come from a family with connections to the industry you want to work in. Or someone might have gotten special training you don’t have access to.

Luckily, though, you’re not looking a job in the same way you look for a college. Sure, people transfer around, but for a lot of us, the word “college” evokes memories of a single place. On the other hand, the first job you take is just that: a first job, one of many. And getting the exact right first job matters a lot less than you think.

In fact, I will even be as bold to say that you shouldn’t get your dream job on your first try. The various aches and pains that come along with fitting your circular college self into the square shaped hole of the working world might taint what could otherwise be an amazing experience when you’re a little bit more settled in.

I’ve talked about my career trajectory before. I took some weird jobs that didn’t necessarily relate fully to what I wanted to do in life, but just getting out and working helped me get in the right mindset. Had I not taken those jobs, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today: doing what I love in a cool city.

So, just like Frank Bruni says to the college applicants who didn’t get into the school of their choice: it’s okay, don’t let this one thing define you. Keep your head up and keep working hard. Stuff will fall into place as long as you keep pushing forward.

(photo by Flickr user Andrew Schwegler, used under a Creative Commons License).

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