Why did I major in anthropology?

A life coach helps frustrated grads get out of their parents’ basement and into a paying job

Higher education, college, jobs

Photo Illustration by Lauren Cattermole

My degree was a waste of time. How did I wind up back at my parents’ house? My mom’s on my case. I need a job. For the newly graduated, life coach Kenneth Jedding offers advice in his new book, Higher Education: On Life, Landing a Job, and Everything Else They Didn’t Teach You in College.

Moving back into your parents’ house isn’t as pathetic as you might think, he writes. “It gives you the chance to explore career possibilities with less financial pressure. If you can work it to your advantage it will go down in your history as a smart move.”

That’s if you can survive your parents driving you crazy. “If you’re feeling like you can’t do anything right, from putting the orange juice back in the right place to wearing the right shoes to sending out your resumé to enough of the right people—then the criticism is probably excessive.” Still, “keep the peace as much as you can,” he urges. “You’ll need to find someone else to vent to.” Even better, “put on your running shoes, go out and run a few miles, yell at the top of your lungs if necessary, and then with all that pent-up anger out of your system, keep thinking about what you’re going to do career-wise.”

If your mom blames you for not knowing what you want to pursue, “explain to her that figuring it out is a process.” He suggests, “Tell her you’re: a) researching career opportunities online; b) seeking mentors; and c) sending your resumé out and following up.”

If you fear: “I majored in the wrong thing! There aren’t any jobs open for people with my major,” Jedding suggests not to panic. “Your major doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Find ways to make it relevant to your story. Think of it this way: a job interview is like a first date. People on first dates are interested in confident people. Keep in mind that when an interviewer asks you about what you studied in college, she’s not really trying to brush up on what you studied in college. She’s trying to learn about you—what you’ve accomplished, how you feel about it, and what makes you tick.”

Jedding gives the example of a psych major who wants to work at a film agency and lands an interview. “Cut to: Interviewer: So why do you want to work for a film agency? You: Well, I love movies. Interviewer: It says here you were a psychology major. You: Yes, I chose psychology because I’m also really interested in what motivates people to make certain decisions and deal with crises—which of course is the arc for the plot of great movies. And psychology taught me how to be convincing, which I think is a good foundation for being a successful negotiator.”
“Hired!” he writes.

However, if your major really doesn’t seem to correspond with the field you’re trying to break into, say, a biochem major applying to an ad agency, “Roll up your sleeves and take a stab at writing some ad copy for a product.”

Also, find a mentor in your field of choice. “Say your friend’s mom works in PR. Great!” But “you can’t just plop yourself down on the sofa, and say, ‘Can you give me a job?’ Even if you’ve known John’s mom for years, it’s now time to act professional. Dress appropriately, speak maturely, and prepare for the conversation. Ask: ‘Can you tell me a bit more about the profession? Do you find it gratifying? Do you think it might be right for me?’ Tell her: ‘Thanks so much. I hope that if you hear of an opportunity in the field and you think I might be a good fit, you’ll let me know. I’d be so grateful.’ You see?” writes Jedding. “You’ve made it clear you hope she’ll bear you in mind, and yet you haven’t put her on the spot.”

Tip: when you land an interview, bring your resumé: “I know, I know, the guy should already have a copy because you emailed it to him three weeks ago. But employers are looking for people who can make their life easier. So when he starts mumbling, ‘Now, where did I put your?.?.?.?’ you’ll win big points by pulling out a fresh, crisp copy.” After, thank the interviewer with a snail-mail note. “Trust me,” writes Jedding. “People appreciate notes.” Ignore your dad’s advice to phone the interviewer to check on the situation. “If you do get through to Ms. Evan,” he writes, “she will have been caught off guard and was in the middle of doing something and now thinks you have insufficient respect for her time.”

If you never hear back, tell yourself: “This job isn’t for me. I don’t need to know why. It just isn’t for me. And then tell yourself: the job that is for me is still out there! And this person who’s not calling me is doing me a favour by allowing me to find it.”

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