What’s Next: Career Advice from the Office of Career Advancement

By Amy Antonelli, MC/MPA’13, Correspondent

In 2005, Steve Jobs offered the following words of advice to Stanford’s graduating class: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

For the 550 graduating HKS students progressing toward commencement next month, these now-famous words resonate profoundly. Bridging the gap, however, between understanding one’s heart and intuition and actually incorporating it into a career can be a very challenging endeavor.  

For many, Jed Bartlet’s relentless question remains: What’s next?

According to Mary Beaulieu, Assistant Dean and Director of the Office of Career Advancement (OCA), it is not uncommon for students to graduate without a clear decision regarding their next steps. If you find this disconcerting, take comfort in the following OCA statistics, which have held steady, even in a continued challenging economy: By October of their graduation year, roughly 93 percent of HKS students are employed, and, depending on the year, 96-98 percent express happiness and satisfaction with their post-HKS position.

“The end of the school year can be a very stressful time, particularly for those who must facilitate a ‘just-in-time’ job search,” says Beaulieu. “However, there is no need to panic as the numbers don’t lie.  We continue to see that HKS students are extremely employable in fabulous and fulfilling jobs.  The key is to take the time to know what you are looking for and make the connections that can help you get there. And there are so many people who stand ready and willing to help you make those connections.”

To help graduating students deliberately think through the process of designing their careers, we offer the following suggestions: 

Use the OCA.  The OCA offers tremendous support to graduates.  The career coaches encourage recent alumni to call, come in for coaching appointments, and even to get help negotiating salary offers.  

“For some of you,” reassures Ms. Beaulieu, “the first time you come talk to us may be after you graduate. That is perfectly OK. For various reasons, many students do not gear about their search until after Commencement. We are open all summer, and we are here to support you.  After all, you will always be a member of the HKS family.”

Students who remain unsure about their career direction should consider visiting the OCA to simply brainstorm ideas and talk through their options. The coaches and other OCA team members spend a tremendous amount of time gathering job leads on behalf of students, and they are very well informed about current offerings.

The OCA has strategically built up their networking group around LinkedIn which allows students to connect to the most updated Harvard listings as well as your outside network simultaneously. Since most employers now look to LinkedIn or Facebook in their recruiting efforts, this has been a particularly helpful exercise. It also allows classmates to “endorse” one another in areas of expertise.

Network. “I feel like we over-think ‘networking’,” says Chris McQueen, an instructional designer at Google. “It’s not really about ‘who do I know, and how can I use them to get to my next step?’ It’s more about sharing ideas. It’s about telling people what you’re excited about, about looking at other people’s work and saying ‘Wow, that’s really cool – tell me about that.’   As you get interested in other people and seek to learn, networking happens automatically. It’s really about making friends. It’s about staying in touch and helping each other.”

Becoming Harvard Alumni gives students access to the Crimson Compass, the Harvard-wide alumni database in which HKS graduates can make contact with one another over a vast range of geographies and career sectors. Often, simply initiating a friendly coffee with another alumnus to discuss areas of shared interest can lead to exciting job possibilities the graduate hadn’t previously considered. 

It usually isn’t even necessary to directly ask for a job. Just inquire about their experiences, organization, and the alumni network in your area. Most people are flattered when asked to talk about themselves, and being genuinely interested helps you connect. 

Students should also maintain close connections to members of their current program and HKS general class. Jobs referrals are often passed along when one student turns down an offer she knows to be the perfect fit for one of her friends. Investing the time and effort to expand your HKS network now could lead to big dividends in the future. As the Harvard Business School suggests, “given that 65 percent to 85 percent of jobs are now found through networking, it should be the focus of about 80 percent of your allotted search time.”

Students can find a very helpful step-by-step guide to successful networking, including sample outreach emails and meeting questions, on the career development page at www.alumni.hbs.edu/careers

Sell Yourself. Once a student has decided on the direction they want to pursue, the onus is then on them to describe the way their skills, education, and experience connect to that industry. Taking the time to identify clear, specific examples that can be easily supported as relevant to the job they seek is often critical to acing an interview.

Another way to impress prospective employers is to write down two or three “achievement stories” that demonstrate skills, education and experience in connection with a specific event.   Interviewees who are able to promise to do a job well by demonstrating their capacity are much more likely to be successful than those who only offer words.

Several excellent online resources can also help students with their job hunt and additional career advice. Some of the best for those searching for careers with social impact include: NextBillion, Idealist, Commongood Careers, Net Impact, Bridgespan’s Nonprofit Job Board and Echoing Green’snew Work on Purpose. Other Harvard-recommended sites include Wet Feet, Job Hunters Bible, and Career Games. Remember that the OCA is in contact with many of the top employers listed on these sites and can often open doors for HKS students once a desired job has been identified.

***

Ultimately, when searching for jobs, graduates should always remember the fundamental message of Steve Jobs: 

 “I’m convinced the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it.

 Don’t settle.”

 (A special thanks to Mary Beaulieu, Chris McQueen, www.alumni.hbs.edu and www.execglobalnet.com, and the late Steve Jobs for their contributions to this article.)

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