Creating Success: Six Lessons in Graduate Ingenuity

Graduates who manage to thrive in a difficult economy are those who create opportunities for themselves. Recently I witnessed an example of this kind of graduate ingenuity from a former employee, Jordan Austin. Jordan interned for me while he was in college. When he graduated in May 2001 with a degree in English-Creative Writing, he launched his job search. Since few companies were hiring, Jordan waited tables while continually applying for various positions in his field. Meanwhile, Jordan continued to stay in touch with me through emails.

All of this brings us to Lesson #1 in graduate ingenuity: Maintain positive work relationships throughout your career.  Even if you didn’t like the job, stay in touch with former employers and colleagues. You never know when they might be able to help you in the future.   Eventually, Jordan landed a job as an assistant at a public relations firm. This wasn’t his dream job; the work was tedious and involved an hour commute each way.

But Jordan’s determination to make the best of it reveals Lesson #2 for graduate ingenuity: Remain flexible. If you can’t find a job in your field, take something that gets you as close to what you want to do as possible. A position as an assistant, or even temporary work, isn’t a waste of time. You’re building a track record for when the economy rebounds. While Jordan worked at the public relations firms, he continued to network. In the process, he again contacted me. Because he had kept in touch, I was receptive to hiring him for a full-time position. Last year he became the Director of School Programs at LifeBound, my career coaching company. I encouraged him to look at himself closely and decide what it was that he really wanted to do with his life.

This brings us to Lesson #3 in graduate ingenuity: Do a self- assessment, particularly if you’re not sure what career you want to pursue. After several months of self-assessment, Jordan decided to pursue a dream he had early in his college years of being a journalist. Jordan had abandoned his original dream because he didn’t think he had the right training from college. He was an English major, not a journalism major. But through his work experience, he discovered a talent for journalism and writing.

This points us to Lesson #4 in graduate ingenuity: Identify your passion.  Once Jordan had done this, all he needed to do was make contacts in that field.  During the summer of 2003, Jordan applied at several small newspapers and television stations. Consequently, he landed one of the most competitive internship positions in broadcasting. Juggling his paid job three days a week, with his nonpaying internship an additional three days each week, was a definite challenge. But Jordan gladly accepted the challenge because he knew it would lead him to his ultimate goal: to find his true calling. While at the broadcasting position, Jordan learned as much as he could and honed his writing skills to fit television’s format. He was a field producer for election night and coordinated portions of the stations web site. He also offered to assist with directing special telecasts and operated live camera.

The station manager told Jordan that he showed a unique desire and drive, which demonstrates Lesson #5 in graduate ingenuity: Enthusiastically pursue new responsibilities. The station even allowed him to report on community stories, an assignment rarely entrusted to most interns.Jordan now had solid work experience in his career field. So he put his resume on videotape with the goal of landing a broadcasting job. On January 3 of this year, Jordan was offered his first full-time job at a major broadcasting station.  His hopeful perseverance and opportunistic savvy have created a world of success. Yet even while Jordan was building a career, he never wavered in the quality of work he produced for my company.

From his commitment, we see Lesson #6 in graduate ingenuity: Continue to perform optimally at your current job or internship. Remember, when you apply for any new position you’re going to need recommendations and letters of reference. Your former employers, particularly from internship programs, are in a better position to vouch for your work ethic and skill sets than anyone else.  As you might expect, Jordan can’t wait to get started on his new venture in television.  What opportunities can you create for yourself? The key is to start right where you are.

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