By Chris Sell

It was a snowy night in west Michigan.

I had just strolled across the stage of my now alma mater to receive my hard-earned diploma from the university president. Friends and family lassoed me into an assortment of pictures in the auditorium lobby, creating photographic memories fit for a Cameron Crowe film all about college nostalgia. We held firm to our dinner reservation later that evening, giving my family the chance to dine at a restaurant in the picturesque city while celebrating my achievement. Snow fell softly outside the restaurant window like cotton balls falling from the sky caught in slow motion.

I had graduated from college.

What next?

As it turns out, many of my peers chose to dive head-first into the “real world” of work. I opted for graduate school, and took my energy, enthusiasm, and Michael Buble-loving self to East Lansing to study student affairs and higher education administration. Hindsight has continued to reaffirm my decision to pursue a Master’s degree from MSU. The theory I learned, the skills I gained, and the network of which I became a part – the MSU family – has made all the difference in my career thus far.

But what about all my peers, you ask. What happened to the other young professionals who took part in that Cameron Crowe photo shoot with diplomas in their hands? Thankfully, many of them have landed in secure jobs that pay the bills and give them varying levels of significant satisfaction. There’s the Physician Assistant in Chicago, the engineer at Boeing in Philly, and even the good friend who joined me in East Lansing to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at MSU. By and large, many of my comrades and co-conspirators in fun and mischief during our undergraduate days have landed on their two feet with a job that pays the bills and then some.

Yet not every one of my generation has been so lucky. With 2008 came an economic tornado that would have even made the Wicked Witch of the West proud. The United States, along with many other countries, got picked up by the Great Recession and tossed around violently. The yellow brick road suddenly became much more difficult to find. College graduates from across America stumbled into a terrible job market. Suddenly, college diplomas seemed to carry a little less weight.

During my time serving in Career Services, I’ve met and talked with many of my peers – college graduates who have walked across their respective auditorium stages to collect their diploma during recent years– only to discover one of two things.

a.)    They haven’t been able to secure a good job.

b.)    They found a job, but realized the discipline they studied all those years in college doesn’t actually make them happy.

I am commonly asked by recent graduates to help them find a job. Most often, clients send me their resume without hesitation, operating on the assumption that their resume just needs some “tweaking” before a reputable employer will suddenly open their eyes and hire them on the spot. If it’s not the resume, then surely my cover letter is the key to my desired career of happiness, they might say.

And for those who aren’t happy with the job they initially chased? Those who haven’t been able to get the job of their dreams since graduating from college? What recommendations can we give, what advice can we provide, what ideas can we discuss to help those still in their quixotic search of their ideal job?

My advice always remains the same.

Start doing the job you love.

We all know that networking is absolutely critical to one’s job search. Connecting with others who have ties to the field(s) in which you’re interested is crucial to your capacity for learning about new job opportunities. Moreover, expanding your network advances your pursuit of a job by enlisting the help and support of other professionals who can be good company on your journey.

Besides networking, the other critical component to your job search is experience. Gaining relatable experience is very important in order to demonstrate relevant skills and competencies to a potential employer. So often I hear students or young alumni lament the Catch 22 that seems to exist in today’s world of work; it seems near impossible to get experience without a job, but without a job it seems near impossible to get experience.

And my advice still remains the same.

Start doing the job you love.

Experience needn’t be a paid job. For any professionals with aspirations of landing their ideal job, I always recommend they get involved with organizations and get experience related to the industry of which they desperately want to be a part. By getting involved, volunteering, or taking on part-time jobs connected to your desired industry, candidates simultaneously expand their network with established and well-connected professionals. Here are some concrete ways recent graduates can get experience, expand their network, and move from job-seeker to job-holder:

1.)    Volunteer. For those interested in getting “plugged” into industry, volunteerism is an excellent approach. Graduates with a teaching degree looking to land a teaching gig should continue to substitute teach and volunteer as an athletic coach for the school district(s) you like. Public Relations candidates can contact local PR firms to inquire about projects in need of extra contributions. Aspiring Occupational Therapists may volunteer at a regional hospital or clinic. By volunteering, candidates will develop and/or utilize skills that are relevant to the job they’re after. And they’ll get the chance to meet and network with many great people!

2.)    Informational Interviews. Sitting down and chatting with an industry leader over coffee can be an especially valuable tool for your job search. Identify local companies or very reputable organizations, and reach out to staff in positions you’re pursuing. Discuss with them ways you can gain experience and find your niche in the field. You’d be surprised to see how many established professionals are eager to share with you their perspective, insight, and advice. Struggling to identify people or companies? Utilize social media like LinkedIn or explore regional alumni clubs via your alma mater to meet great people in a related industry.

3.)    Be an entrepreneur. No one is stopping you from pursing the career of dreams – you may just not get paid for it by anyone else at first.  If you aspire to be an agent in the entertainment industry, find a job that pays the bills while working on starting your own agency after-hours. If you’re a mechanic in a lousy company looking to become an engineer with a caring company, don’t feel like you have to quit your day job as the mechanic. Just remember you can explore community college classes, part-time jobs, and networking opportunities on the side that can help you shift from miserable mechanic to soaring engineer.

Landing the job of your dreams isn’t necessarily easy. It doesn’t (usually) happen overnight. More often than not, it takes time. It takes a sturdy commitment to chase after the job you really want.

But fixating on a resume or cover letter won’t make the lasting difference.

Just start doing the job you really want to have.

No recession, economic downturn, or Oz-like tornadoes can stop your will to do what you love and get paid for it.


Chris Sell is a proud graduate of MSU’s Student Affairs program. During his time in graduate school, he worked as a Career Services Assistant student employee for MSU Alumni Career Services. Currently, he is an Assistant Director/Career Services Specialist at Western Michigan University. You can find him and his terrific blog at


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