Guest Contributor: Britt Andreatta, MA, Ph.D.

 

First-Year Experience instructors have a tough challenge when it comes to talking about post-graduation career opportunities. On the one hand, first-year students (and often their family members), come in with some set goals and strong opinions about how to get that “high-paying job” at graduation.

On the other hand, most of their opinions are based on misinformation, and can actually undermine students’ educational experience. We have all seen the myopic focus on two or three fields like medicine, law, and engineering, which narrows intellectual exploration and may disregard a student’s natural interests and aptitude.

The trick is to harness students’ motivation to talk about majors and careers while helping them build the soft skills they need for success.

To begin, I help students understand the difference between a major and a career. A major is what you read, study, and write about for three to four years to earn a degree while a career is the kind of work you want to do 40 hours per week to earn a salary. While there may be some overlaps between them, the truth is that the vast majority of people end up in careers unrelated to their majors.

The average adult now has five different careers in a lifetime. As Sheryl Sandberg commented in her book Lean In, the career ladder is gone and has been replaced with a jungle gym with many paths leading to different kinds of opportunities. An alumni panel can illustrate this point very well.

We also spend time busting common myths through readings, speakers and activities. I share data from our alumni survey and the experts from Career Services present compelling information about salary ranges, career paths and even happiness ratings. We give special attention to the fields of law and medicine and students are blown away to learn that they can go to med school without being a bio major.

Students actually get really excited about having their options opened up and we make sure we give them resources they can share with their family members, since that’s often where the real convincing need to take place.

We look at what career “success” really means and that quality of life is a vital part of the equation. I point out that a high-paying salary won’t go far if you have to spend that money on alcohol, therapy, and vacations to deal with a job you hate.

Once we have busted the myths, we focus on how to choose the right major. I talk about how their interests and aptitude can guide them, both in college and throughout their many careers. We also explore how hard work and practice are key to improving any skill as is what Dr. Carol Dweck calls “the growth mindset.”

Finally, I tell students they need to focus on being both hirable and promotable. I have students interview their family members who hire and supervise people. Students ask about what skills they’re looking for especially when promoting someone. The list is always consistent: leadership, the ability to speak and write clearly, problem solving, good judgment, creativity, and emotional intelligence.

This list becomes the core of their “career action plan” so they can spend their college years building their resumes with real experiences in leadership, communication, problem solving, etc. We highlight the many opportunities to do this, both within their major and through co-curricular options like clubs, student government, community service, and internships. We end by promoting Career Services and workshops like resume writing, interviewing, and job searches.

I believe it’s imperative to use the career focus that first-year students naturally have to set them on a path that will make them competitive in tomorrow’s job market.

 

Dr. Britt Andreatta knows how to harness the most of human potential. Drawing on her unique background in leadership, psychology, education, and the human sciences, she has a profound understanding of how humans are wired. 

Her groundbreaking “Potential Paradigm” shifts the way people think about human biology and helps you the harness the best in yourself, others, and organizations. 

Britt strongly believes that most organizations are set up in ways that actually block people from reaching their potential. We ignore our biological wiring to survive and belong, and in doing so, undermine our ability to become our best. Her recent TEDx talk, “How Your Past Hijacks Your Future” illustrates her keen insights.

Britt is a seasoned professional with over 25 years consulting, coaching and teaching. Drawing on her research and experience working with businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations, she creates powerful solutions to today’s most pressing workplace problems.

She is the author of six titles on leadership at lynda.com, inc., including Leading with Emotional Intelligence, Having Difficult Conversations, and Leading Change. She currently serves as the Director of Learning and Development and was recently chosen as a top-3 finalist for the prestigious Chief Learning Officer magazine Trailblazer Award.

Dr. Andreatta has served as a faculty member and dean at the University of California, Antioch University, and teaches at several graduate programs. She is the author of Navigating the Research University: a guide for first-year students (3rd ed), a textbook that helps students succeed in college.

A highly sought-after speaker, Britt is known for engaging audiences with her insightful content and humor, as well as sharing practical tools for transformation. Learn more at www.BrittAndreatta.com.

How do you help students identify potential career opportunities and paths? What types of resources are offered by your institution? Discuss in the comments section below.