Ways to Handle the Gap Between Completing Your Education and Starting Your New Job

Photo by  Denys Argyriou  on  Unsplash

A university career counselor emailed me some time back with a question for one of her Ph.D. candidates.

For anyone who might be facing the lull between finishing their education and beginning a new job, here's an edited version of our email exchange. Names and several details have been edited.

The Inquiry:

Hi Jared,

I hope you've been well since the training. Can you help me advise a student in an unusual situation? He graduated in June and is starting a government job in D.C. that he’s very excited about. He's awaiting final clearance. His Ph.D. is in [Study Area] and he also has an MA in [Degree Focus]. He is also fluent in [Language]. He needs something temporary and probably part-time to help make it through financially until he’s called to D.C.

He’s getting a bit stressed. Afraid he’s going to have to work at Starbucks. I suggested looking for [omitted] work or contract-style consulting but he’s been unable to find anything along those lines. In other words, he needs something that will be worthwhile to do but short-term/part-time.

Many thanks,

Jane

My Reply:

Hi Jane,

You've already given him sound advice. The fact that nothing is materializing isn't surprising, though. Here's a run-down of what immediately comes to mind based on what I've observed over the years. I'll leave international travel off the table since it sounds like he needs to work.

He needs a survival job.

He should find a job with that in mind. He's working toward—and shouldn't lose sight of—an end goal that is already in hand. That said, he's not the first to have that lag between hire and approval when it comes to a government role, so he just needs to find something that flexible that will pay the bills between now and then. And that's not necessarily easy to do unless he takes a step back a bit from his internal expectations. 

He needs something he can easily leave when D.C. calls.

Actors and performers face this challenge all the time—how to pay the bills while being able to respond immediately to an audition or a role.

The solution can be temping. Yep, temping. As unglamorous as temping sounds, it's there for a reason. Yes, he may have to cloak himself with a bit of humility, but while he's there, perhaps he can look at it as research for some future area of interest. There may come a time when he references his "time as a temp" for a publication or article or some other "real world impact" piece.

Maybe he could approach it like the guy who ate McDonald's hamburgers for 31 days, or the writer who goes undercover as a homeless person for a year. You get my drift. If he can think of the experience as something larger, which might be interesting to "report on" later, it may make the time less frustrating. 

He'll probably never want to highlight it, but it will stand in the gap between now and D.C. Who knows, it might inform his government work, now or later, depending on where he ultimately focuses. 

The best way to approach temping is to submit materials to at least three agencies. One will never use him, one might use him occasionally, and the third will likely use him regularly. It may be that the companies (who are hiring through the temp agency) might need a bilingual [job title], which could turn into a part-time gig or maybe a long-term relationship that bears fruit twenty years from now. He won't know until he goes that route.

He doesn't have to include it on his resume. 

As for the resume, it isn't essential to include anything he does between now and D.C., except perhaps in the short-term resumes that he'll use with the temp agencies. For this reason, he shouldn't add any of that "work experience" to LinkedIn. 

Temping can be akin to contracting, but the work will likely fall outside of his areas of interest. On the resume—in the unlikely event he ever has to include this gap period—he can still frame it as "contracting" and isolate the parts of the assignments that relate to the bigger picture of his career. Less is more in that case. In that case, he can truncate the time period under the temp agency's name, treating it as a single job with multiple assignments.

He will likely still need to include those temp jobs when filling out a formal application, which he may have to do as a government employee. In that case, it won't likely ding him because many have some sort of gap between college and career. (Travel, gap year, etc.)

His should be financially prudent

The alternative would be taking a loan to live (I've heard the long-term effects and it's generally a less-than-ideal approach), borrowing from friends or family (possible in some instances, also not a great idea), or couch surfing with friends (but that still doesn't pay the bills).

He might look into deferring student loans, or at the very least income-adjusted repayment plans until he gets on his feet in D.C. Check with the loan provider, however, because interest can mount up quickly, so he should make an educated decision rather than simply putting loans into deferment without understanding the ramifications. 

He should look at his expenses and cut every non-essential purchase. He might have already done this, but even a cup of coffee a day can range $90 to $120 per month, which would be $450-$600 between now and January.

He needs to be his own advocate.

Sometimes that means facing reality, knuckling down, knowing that something better is just around the corner. As a recent student, this is probably not unfamiliar territory for him. Just knuckle down a little longer.

He should celebrate the achievement of this new role.

And while waiting, he may want to find and commiserate with others who have endured the gap between graduation and the start of a new job. How did they do it? What are their stories? 

He should be purposeful, not entertaining thoughts of stagnation.

This is temporary and he'll look back on this one day and laugh/be grateful/who really knows. Bottom line, it will be a blip in his overall career. He should avoid being defensive of anyone asks about what he's doing. Make light of it in some sort of fun way and move on.

Hope that helps!

Jared

Clear Writing is Hard Work

One of my favorite Facebook and Twitter memes is the Einstein photo with the quote overlay: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Alas, skeptics.stackexchange.com is only one site questioning the quote's veracity, offering this lively crowd-sourced discussion about the claim. 

Attributable or not to Einstein, the truth within the quote is worth embracing. 

As a young New Yorker in 2000/2001, I thought I was a pretty great writer. Turns out, I wasn't. Thankfully, the partner I worked for was not only a hard-ass, but apparently had the patience of Job, because she endured the several months it took me to relearn how to write for business.

Equally patient—ometime during those same years—was my dear friend Marquel. She spent one memorable hours-long session with me on the Barnes & Noble Lincoln Square floor surrounded by piles of business writing books. She also listened to my belly-aching about the struggle! Major points for Marquel.

Of the six books I bought that night, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia O'Conner proved the most helpful. And the funniest. I could probably stand to read it again, come to think of it.

So that's the back story to the joy I felt upon reading Victoria Clayton's superb October 26, 2015 article in The Atlantic: The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing. 

I've been working with a lot of PhDs-to-be lately, and am happy to report that they write clearly, by and large. Their curiosity and intellect is obviously deep, but they also have a fresh sensibility about and interest in communicating with the world outside of academia. I haven't read their dissertations—most still in progress—but their résumés and cover letters are clear and straightforward.

If you struggle with hyperbole, sentence structure, overwriting, lack of clarity, and beyond, you'll find all of the links in this blog post to be helpful resources. And take it from the guy who once relearned how to write who now makes his living writing: it can be done. You just have to realize the problem, and then set your mind to it.

If You're Looking to Brand Yourself or Your Business

Somewhere between 2009 and 2010, I was working with a team to develop a now defunct version of my website. 

In thinking about what I wanted to highlight on my new website, I realized that I wanted to reach people who cared about what *I* cared about. People who got it. People who were interested in uncovering the value they brought to the world.

Part of that work involved branding; a concept that has been increasingly appropriated by individuals who, instead of companies -- and perhaps rightly -- consider their personas as full-fledged, sale-able brands in the digital world. (Paris Hilton anyone? Kim Kardashian? But I digress.)

As part of that branding exploration -- for myself and on behalf of my clients -- I stumbled upon Simon Sinek's TedX Talk, "How great leaders inspire action," which fundamentally changed the development of my then website. Not surprisingly, Sinek's insights have made their way into the development of my new website (yet released), as I continue to tighten my brand in an effort to work with clients who are "just the right fit."

Why am I blathering on about this? 

If you're considering the development of your own brand, or merely thinking about how to become a better leader, I urge you to invest the 18 minutes and 4 seconds it takes to learn the science behind Simon Sinek's quintessential TedX Talk. 

There's a reason he ranks highly on Ted.com's most popular talks of all time. 

Are You a Multipotentialite? TedX Challenges Us Again

A colleague and dear friend emailed Emilie Wapnick's recent TedX Talk to me yesterday.

At age 65, my friend is an executive résumé writer and career coach with a more-than-interesting professional history.

Indeed, she began her résumé writing practice after at age 50 after stumbling into contingency recruiting three years earlier. 

Prior to that she earned a PhD and an MBA in unrelated fields, ostensibly for the joy of it, and before that, she grew up studying the organ! We bonded over J.S. Bach, love him or hate him, as I studied the piano for many years myself.

Like so many who spend their 75 to 90ish years on the this planet smearing together the humanities and the sciences, this TedX talk resonated with my dear friend. 

It's worth the 15 minutes you'll spend watching it and challenging yourself. 

Are you a multipotentialite? If so, what the hell are you doing about it? If not, are you giving room to those who are?

CTOs, CIOs, and CMOs - This One's for You

A European client who's frequently at the cutting edge of technology and marketing yesterday forwarded HBR's The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist article by Scott Brinker (CTO at Ion Interactive) and Laura McLellan (research vice president at Gartner). 

It's a must read for my senior technology and marketing clients (CTOs, CIOs, CMOs, etc.), as we've all seen the same blur between the disciplines in recent years. Just think about the tightly woven job descriptions for so many program or product managers. So why wouldn't be think about the top roles integrating just as tightly? 

Important read for my clients.  

The MBA: Overrated?

A July 2015 BusinessInsider.com article recycled through my Twitter feed last week, and I almost didn't catch it, but I'm glad I did. 

I work with MBAs all the time. Newly minted. Mid-career. Senior MBAs. They're all smart people, and pretty great to boot. But probably half struggle in the same ways the rest of us struggle, asking, "What's my value in the world?" and "What do I want to do next?" (It's not lost on me that this is partly because of the nature of my work. I will naturally meet people who are questioning.)

A big part of discovering an answer to those questions, though, involves stepping out from behind the numbers and being human, which is why "6 career moves that are worth more than an MBA" by BusinessInsider.com struck a chord with me. Really interesting, and seemingly random insights (all six of them) are all tied into a single article that actually makes a lot of sense. The "become a master storyteller" resonated with me, as you might imagine.

Above is a sneak peek. Click the photo to read the entire article.  

 

More News for Humanities Graduates Exploring Tech

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news that Silicon Valley might be welcoming to humanities graduates comes this earlier published Forbes article: The 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket. 

As a musician, myself, this would have been awesome news fifteen years ago. For today's humanities graduates, especially those with advanced degrees, it's a watershed moment. 

If you're a recent or about to graduate humanities student, read the whole article, top to bottom. Then, if you're interested, start doing the research and the networking to make it happen. The way you think is valuable. 

Screenshot of Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, in George Anders' recent Forbes.com article. Photo credit: Carlo Ricci.

Screenshot of Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, in George Anders' recent Forbes.com article. Photo credit: Carlo Ricci.