Will the First 3 Years of Your Career be the Most Miserable Years of Your Life?
Written by Trent Hazy – CEO of MindSumo
Since 2007 I’ve seen dozens of family and friends graduate from college with one of two attitudes – ignorant optimism or paralyzing fear. Those who feel neither are still recovering from a late night of partying or not graduating.
Regardless of the outlook recent grads adopt, most realize they’re leaving a safe haven of exploration and entering the “professional world.” What none of them realize is that each of them are about to dive headfirst into the three most miserable years of their life.
Between ages 22-25, a majority of recent grads are working in an entry-level position in one of the following capacities:
Analyst, Associate, or Engineer at Big Company
This is the way things have always worked – you find a nice safe job at a big company and start climbing the ladder. Except, this isn’t the old days and you don’t plan on staying for more than 2 years. In these roles, you’ll quickly find that being part of a large organization means your managers do a lot of micro-managing, the mindless tasks always fall on you, and each week is packed with dozens of “necessary” meetings. Daily tasks include “research”, the creation of reports, and very few individual projects that impact the company. Occasionally, as an engineer you make some real, albeit small contributions, but you’re not even close to reaching your potential. For the most part you have no real responsibility and rarely engage in creative problem solving.
Big investment banks and consulting firms have been attracting “top” university talent for decades. These huge companies use a well-oiled recruiting machine as the front for the fraternity, filtering out “unqualified” students who don’t perform well on case interviews and brain teasers. On average, a recent grad in banking makes $112,000 in year 1 while a normal graduate makes $42,500. Tack on ridiculous food allowances and hefty bonuses, and the lifestyle starts to look appealing. What happens behind the scenes is 100+ hour weeks filled with never ending Excel tables and PowerPoint decks that lead to lethal exhaustion. Once again, we see no real responsibility and no creative problem solving.
Marketing / Social Media
These types of roles are becoming more common every year. Whether you accept it or not, the reason you got the role is because you’re young and should understand social media. Generation Y is 2.7 times more likely to list blogging as a job skill than the rest of the population. The fact remains that you’ve never done very effective marketing campaigns at a huge scale before, curating Twitter content isn’t the most riveting activity, and your superiors rarely agree to test your ideas. Still trying to find the responsibility and problem solving you crave? Keep on looking.
Analyzing each of these paths leads to a clear conclusion – misery lies ahead. You will inevitably have no real responsibility and no opportunity to engage in creative problem solving. Companies will try to mask this fact with big bonuses, elite status, Disneyland attractions, swanky offices, free food, fancy titles, and fun team activities. But every day you will leave work wishing for fulfillment and a real challenge.
Here are a few other paths that can delay or reduce the length of this 3 year misery period.
So you hid from the real world a little longer. Nicely done! You can try to market yourself as an “expert” in a specific field, but it remains to be seen whether you’ll be given substantial responsibility once you graduate. Data from The National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that unless you’re going into teaching, your new degree isn’t going to get you too many more offers.
Elite fellowships like Teach for America are starting to get noticed by more students these days. Nearly 50,000 students applied last year. The competitive application process, structured program, and new environment make this experience appealing to many ambitious students. One of the greatest aspects of the program is that you are forced to sink or swim – you have real responsibility, you have to solve problems every day, and you might impact others’ lives. However, the big question remains – what do you do after the fellowship is over?
Startups have recently become a popular career option. 41% of Stanford computer science majors work at a startup after graduating. At this rate, my guess is over one third of all graduates from top universities will start their career at a startup in 2020. You have real responsibility, and your tasks make a difference to the point where major company functions fail without you. And you are using your brain to put out fires on an hourly basis. Sometimes this is overwhelming, but at least you feel fulfilled.
PLANNING FOR THESE YEARS
You may have noticed how many times I’ve referenced responsibility and problem solving. These two ingredients lead to professional fulfillment and will drastically improve your quality of life during the years between 22-25. Do your best to get into a role that has both, or at least acknowledge that you chose to forgo these things and caused increased pain during the three most miserable years of your life.
In the end, the best course of action is to make the most calculated career decision you can before graduating, then course-correct consistently with your long-term satisfaction and learning in mind.
“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
Trent Hazy is the CEO and co-founder of MindSumo. Follow him on Twitter @trenthazy
Image Credit: Flickr