How to Make the Most Out of a Degree Without a Clear Career Path

You’re crossing the stage, holding a diploma in your hand as you look out into the crowd. The lights are bright, and the sea of faces stretches into the dark abyss.

You shake hands, smile for photographs, and as you walk through the exit door, you realize the transition you just made. The tassel is turned. Your academic goals are achieved.

Now what?

This is a common feeling for many graduates who pursue majors that don’t always provide clear career paths. Suddenly, they’re faced with a mountain of student loan debt and stuck working at a coffee shop with seemingly nowhere to go.

The good news is, hiring trends look promising. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released a report in April that found hiring was on the rise -- almost 41 percent of employers say they intend to increase hiring. What’s more, they expect to hire 5.2 percent more graduates from the Class of 2016 than they hired from the Class of 2015.

So how can those who lack a sense of direction find their footing and hit the ground running? Here’s how recent graduates can use leadership skills to create their own paths and make the most out of their education:

Embrace Self-Leadership

Employers want employees who possess strong leadership skills. The 2016 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that 89 percent of the 7,000 companies surveyed see leadership as an important issue (up from 87 percent in 2015), and 57 percent say that leadership is very important (up from 50 percent).

This is where self-leadership comes in. Self-leadership is the ability to fulfill your potential by building a strong foundation to bring yourself to positive places in your daily pursuits -- both in your professional and personal lives. Job seekers need to build this skill.

Embrace self-leadership by making it a part of your daily life. Start by writing down goals for your career and personal life to stay motivated. Strong leaders use optimism to drive their success, and they follow their core values to guide their decision-making process.

Gratitude and humility are also very important when you’re trying to fulfill your potential. When you start to develop a sense of appreciation for what you have and feel a modest sense of confidence, you can find positive sides to everything.

To self lead effectively, replace fear with unwavering curiosity. View challenges as opportunities for growth, then you can dedicate yourself to being a lifelong learner.

Develop a Growth Mindset

The secret to being a lifelong learner is to change your mindset from seeing yourself as fixed and limited to your current skills. Instead, realize that you are in a constant state of evolution, where you can continually learn and develop new skills and habits. Once you develop this growth mindset, you can utilize it in every facet of your life and career.

For example, if you find a passion for website design, dedicate each day to learning as much as you can without burning yourself out. Use social media and online resources to stay informed about the industry. Take online courses to develop skills that will make you more employable.

The worst thing you can do is allow yourself to get lazy. We all have those days where we want to lounge all day and watch Netflix, and they’re fine once in a long while, but don’t allow that to become a habit. If you have goals and have made no progress toward them, evaluate your activity levels. How much time do you spend on tasks that don’t advance you toward reaching your objectives?

Laziness often develops when you’re too comfortable. Self-leaders who develop growth mindsets don’t settle -- they push further and seek out risks. They actively move outside of their comfort zone and evaluate their abilities to identify where they want to grow and what they want to learn.

Join Professional Organizations

Not only will you pick up on good habits when you join professional organizations, but also you’ll participate in one of the most important career practices -- networking.

When you meet people, you share ideas, meet more people, participate in events and social gatherings, meet more people, gain a deeper understanding of how your industry operates, and -- you guessed it -- meet more people. You want to expand your network and create long-lasting relationships with talented professionals who are driven to become the next generation of leaders.

Social events are great opportunities to continually educate yourself, meet potential mentors, and develop important skills like communication and professionalism. You can also find career development courses and other resources to create the direction you need, build confidence, and become the strong leader you know you can be.

How are you developing leadership skills and making the most out of your college degree?

Mike Moradian is the executive director of HonorSociety.org, an honor society that recognizes academic achievement and provides valuable resources and tools to its members. Connect with Michael and HonorSociety.org on Twitter at @HonorSocietyorg.

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