8 Common Misconceptions About Starting a Career
Networking is scary, even for the most social and outgoing students.
In my ten years of teaching, students have told me dozens of reasons why networking won’t work for them. But in each case, these students hold incorrect beliefs about what they need to achieve or feel before getting started with networking.
Here are the top 8 misconceptions about networking and starting a career and why students should disregard them.
Misconception #1: Asking for help is a sign of weakness
One of the tragedies of the individualistic culture in the United States is that people are often told that they should be able to accomplish everything all by themselves. Independence is viewed as a sign of strength and intelligence.
Many students (especially first-generation students) have told me that they were raised in families where they were trained not to ask for help. But the reality is, as the poet John Donne claimed, that “no one is an island”; we all need to rely on other people to thrive, collaborate, and find new opportunities.
Asking for help is one of the smartest things you can do for your career. You will find that many professionals who have never met you are extremely willing to be of assistance just because you are a student asking for help. People understand that the years during and immediately after college are some of the most difficult in a person’s career. Furthermore, the relationships that you build through networking can be valuable for the rest of your life.
Misconception #2: Your internship or job needs to be related to your major
Many students believe that once they choose a major or program of study, they are locked into a narrow set of career paths. Students think that if they study accounting, they must become an accountant. If they study psychology, they must work in counseling or human resources.
However, your major or program of study does not necessarily determine your long-term career path—or even your first job out of college. Research shows that only 27% of college graduates in the US end up in a career related to their academic majors. Other studies have found that many jobs that students take when they graduate didn’t even exist when they began their college careers.
It’s quite common that students are drawn to career paths outside their chosen major. Although this may make your job search more difficult, you can tell your story (during career conversations and interviews, as well as in your resume and cover letter) to connect the dots between your interests, your studies, and your future ambitions.
Misconception #3: Applying to jobs online and through career fairs are the only ways to land internships or jobs
Many students believe that positions advertised through their college’s programs, events, or online job portal are the only jobs available to them. To be clear, if a company you are interested in working for is attending a career fair, hosting a recruiting event, or interviewing on your campus, you should take full advantage of all these opportunities.
However, these aren’t the only avenues to landing an internship or job. Remember that most internships and jobs are never advertised or posted online in the first place. By utilizing career conversations to connect with professionals at the companies where you want to work, you can put yourself in a better position to land opportunities with companies that do recruit from your school.
Misconception #4: Your first job determines your long-term career success
Too many students believe that they are a failure if they don’t get the perfect job right out of college. How would you know what a “perfect” position is in the first place, especially given you likely have a narrow range of experiences?! In fact, it’s very rare for students to get exactly the job they want right away, but this doesn’t mean that their career ambitions are doomed or unattainable.
Each job you get will make it easier to get the next one, so treat your first job more as a learning experience than a prediction about your future. I have a friend whose first job was stocking shelves at a CVS pharmacy store and now has a leadership position at Google.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself by comparing your choices and progress with your peers. Everyone finds their vocation at their own pace.
Misconception #5: GPA is everything
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has done research asking employers what attributes they look for in new graduates. The most important attribute was written communication, with 82% of employers saying they highly value it. Close behind were problem-solving, the ability to work in a team, and initiative. These traits are all valued more highly than GPA by employers. Don’t be discouraged if you have a low GPA.
Your GPA is just a number, but it is admittedly a quick way that companies can sort through hundreds or thousands of applications. Most employers understand that your GPA doesn’t fully represent who you are, but it’s up to you to prove that to them. If you have a low GPA, you can still land an internship or job at a great company—even a competitive one.
Misconception #6: You don’t have enough experience to land an internship or job
For many students, the most challenging job to land is their first. Each future job you get will build off your past jobs, but this presents a problem for students who don’t have much experience.
Even if you have never had an internship or job, you still have valuable experiences that you can discuss with potential recruiters and employers. Perhaps you volunteer at a local organization, play a leadership role in your family, perform in the arts, play sports, or have completed various school or even classroom projects. Each of these experiences will show employers your skills and character. Students often mistakenly believe that employers are looking for more experience from students than they actually are.
Additionally, don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet every qualification on a job posting. If you meet around half of the job requirements, that’s plenty for you to apply. Networking can increase your odds of landing a job even if you don’t meet all the written qualifications.
Misconception #7: You need to plan your future career before you start networking
You don’t need to have your future figured out before you begin networking. One of the major advantages of networking is to help you discern what experiences and career you want in the future.
Networking allows you to learn vicariously, that is, through other people’s experiences—both good and bad. This means that learning from others about what you don’t like is just as valuable as learning what you do like.
You should never wait until you’re certain to begin networking and applying because you’ll never be fully certain. It’s also likely that through networking and completing internships, you can surprise yourself about which career options you might enjoy.
Misconception #8: You’re not good enough or you’re not worthy
Maybe you’ve been told by family, friends, or teachers that you can’t do something. Maybe no one in your family or community works in the industry that you aspire to work in. Maybe you can’t identify any of your passions. Maybe you have a DUI on your record. Maybe you have to work two or three minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet. Maybe you’ve applied to over 100 jobs online and never even obtained an interview.
All of these are challenging roadblocks, to be sure, but none of them make you unworthy of a career that you love and none of them mean you aren’t good enough.
Everyone faces different challenges in their career journey, but if you persevere with the right strategy, you can overcome the odds and get a job you’ll love. It may take time, courage, and persistence, but you can do it. If you have persevered through difficult circumstances in your life, you likely have unique skills and mindsets that companies will definitely value. You will need to learn how to tell your story so that future employers recognize your authentic self and character.