(Column originally published here.)
In this increasingly status-driven world, the measure of a man (or a woman, for that matter) is often his (or her) professional life. The pressure to find the perfect gig bears down early — if they can hold a pencil, kids can take career assessments. For the remainder of their educational lives, our impressionable youth are steered in a direction— to put it politely — that was determined when they probably still wet the bed.
But what happens when your mortarboard barely has a chance to collect dust, and that dream job comes along — and you’re not ready?
Career counselor’s cap? On.
I’m a very recent college grad with a degree in software engineering. I worked at an internship at a pretty legit company that gave me a good recommendation.
So I went off to find a job. I interviewed at a few places. The job I really wanted extended an offer to me.
But the problem is, at my internship, I didn’t do any actual software engineering. In fact, I was more of a secretary. So I don’t have as much experience as it seems.
After the interview, even though I did well, I realized that I’m underqualified for the job. My internship looks good on paper (good company, good recommendation), but it didn’t give me any experience. I interviewed well, but looking into the job position, I’m unsure about whether or not I can actually handle the tasks that go with the role.
It’s not about me not knowing if I can handle the tasks of the role. I’m not exactly able to fulfill all of the job requirements listed.
I didn’t lie on my resume or anything. It’s not like the job description said, “Be good with people,” and I’m thinking, “Oh geez, I’m socially retarded.”
But those more defined, software engineer skills that I have to have to get the job — I don’t have them.
Do I take the job or not?
- All Systems Go?
You certainly are a very recent college graduate, aren’t you? Well, you’re thinking just like one, at least.
Lucky for you, I’m thinking like the wizened and sage thirtysomething that I am, and I’m channeling a news flash for your benefit.
Buck up, enginerd-in-training. You’re in for a bumpy ride. But hold on tight, because you’re going to weather this storm.
I’m not going to soak you with, “You can do it! Believe in yourself! You don’t know until you try!” rah-rahs. I’m not into that many exclamation points in row, I hung up my pom-poms in 1997, and thankfully, I’m too young to be your mother.
But I do want to shake you vigorously. Don’t downplay your accomplishments so quickly, young Padawan.
You got the chance to associate your name and your skills with the likes of a prestigious company in your field. They liked you enough to put nice things about you down on paper. You found the position of your dreams, knocked the interview out of the park, and you got that damn job.
Meanwhile, your peers are still probably trying to make Plan D happen.
But it’s yours. You’ve got it.
Keeping the gig, on the other hand, is another matter — and with your current defeatist attitude, you’re sure to lose it.
You see, the nature of some internships isn’t to give you any substantive duties. It’s to familiarize you with the work, the flow, the environment, and the overall professional life in your field. You’re likely not entrusted to move mountains as an intern; sometimes, which coffee to brew that day is the biggest decision you’ll make.
But rest assured, those corporate overlords are watching you. They’re assessing you. They’re sizing you up. They want to make sure you’re someone they want in their field. Because if you suck, they’re going to be dealing with your whippersnapper ass for at least 25 years to come.
The same thing happened in your interview. Your new company reviewed your résumé and your recommendation, saw your potential, knows you’re greener than fresh grass — and still extended you the offer.
And yet you still don’t think you have the skills to do this job?
(You obviously didn’t wear your insecurities on your sleeve at the interview.)
Look, kid, you really don’t know until you try. But like I said, this cheerleader’s retired. So if you think you need to beef up those software engineering skills to do the job you’ve been offered, just do it.
Knowledge isn’t confined to the hallowed halls of educational institutions, or we’d all be stuck with twentysomething brains like yours. The School of Hard Knocks teaches us far more than we ever learned between the covers of books — like going after something if you really, really want it, and doing everything you can to keep it.
Whether you realize it or not (and you don’t realize it, that’s clear), youare qualified. Leaders in your industry think you’re qualified. Former supervisors think you’re qualified. Your degree-granting university thinks you’re qualified.
But you don’t, and that’s all that matters. So go out there and figure out what it is that you don’t know, and know it, dammit. Take an online course. Read a few books. Schedule mentoring time with experienced software engineers. Peruse websites. Ask questions on forums. Be aggressive. Do you want it? Prove it, mister.
Yes, there might be a steep learning curve, but it’s all accessible. No one’s asking you to be a stuntman or a motivational speaker. It’s concrete knowledge that you can find, learn, sink your teeth into, and digest.
College isn’t the end of learning, buddy. It’s only the beginning.
You’ve worked this hard. You’ve gotten this far. Are you seriously going to drop the ball now?
I didn’t think so.
With my advice, you’ll never need a Plan B (or C or D). Just ask. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, message me on Facebook or Twitter,or leave a question in the comments below. I’m qualified, and I’m for hire.