I went to my first career fair a few weeks ago. I printed out 10 copies of my résumé on heavy card stock paper, wobbled across campus in a new pair of black Manolo Blahnik pumps, and bought a new Moleskine notebook. I rehearsed my responses to “typical” interview questions, bought a bottle of water just in case my throat became sore, and waited patiently in line behind everyone else who prepared the exact same way as me.
“Are you willing to work unpaid after you graduate?” a representative asked me. My résumé consisted entirely of unpaid internships done in the hopes of attaining a paid job after graduation.
“We don’t have any paid opportunities available right now, but check with us six weeks before you graduate,” another representative remarked, adding my résumé to the growing pile by her side. She scrawled “graduating” on the top.
“Are you interested in finance?” a smiling representative asked me as I gazed curiously at her table.
I hesitated. Could I be? Could I try to be? No. Whatever my skills are, they do not lay in finance.
My first career fair taught me three things: 1) I need to start checking for openings about six weeks before graduation. 2) I am not special. 3) Everyone lists “social media/blogging” as a skill on his or her resume and I am, again, not special.
I ran into a former boss of mine in the restroom at Teen Vogue, where I am currently an intern. “I really need post-college advice,” I said to her while she washed her face in a precision-oriented manner that made me rethink my entire morning hygiene routine.
“I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I got my job literally the day after graduation,” she replied.
I relayed this conversation back to my friend, who spends an hour everyday browsing LinkedIn and contacting people about potential opportunities. Like me, she didn’t choose an industry with a straight-out-of-college recruitment process.
“I hate this! I just want to know what I’m doing after graduation, already,” she lamented.
Whether it was a smart decision or not, I spent my college years doing exactly what I wanted to do without much thought for what would happen after graduation. I was under the idealistic impression that if I worked hard and pursued my passions, I would get to exactly where I wanted to go.
I studied anthropology and art history, glancing for a moment at the course requirements for the business management concentration. I interned at Vogue for the summer, where I learned how to carry five cups of Starbucks in five-inch stilettos. My parents look at my résumé with blank expressions, unsure of what exactly I had done with my life for the past three and a half years.
I confided in another friend—an art history major currently doing an unpaid internship like me. “Why are you so stressed about not knowing?” he replied. “I love not knowing. It feels like I could do anything.”
“It feels like I can’t do anything,” I snapped back. Not knowing felt crippling when I had always thought it would be liberating.
I explained my postgraduate worries to a friend who will be working at McKinsey after graduation. “Not that you understand how I feel—you already have a stable and prestigious job,” I said sullenly.
He choked for a moment. “Uh. Whatchu talking about?” he finally replied.
The hesitation in his voice made me second-guess the preconception I had that everybody—except me—had life figured out. Columbia teaches us to question (or protest) everything, and, consequently, we may never know enough to our satisfaction. By the time we leave Columbia, we know more than we did coming in, but we also leave questioning more than we did coming in. In terms of career—whether we’re financial economics majors or art history majors—we will hopefully carry our curiosity into our respective industries.
When I was a high school senior, four years of college looked like a path I could understand and foresee from beginning to end. And yet, four years later, college has turned out to be the exact opposite experience I had imagined. While my friends at Goldman Sachs and Google seem to have the next four years of their life figured out, I have an inkling that they will be on the path of self-discovery and self-questioning just as much as I will.
Noel Duan is a Columbia College senior majoring in anthropology and concentrating in art history. She is the co-founder of Hoot Magazine. You Write Like a Girl runs alternate Wednesdays.
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