Quelling Career Anxiety

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By Frederic Richter ’10

Lump in throat. Difficulty swallowing. Slight nausea. These were merely a few of the physical feelings I had when thinking of that dreaded “G” word: graduation.

I hoped to pursue a graduate degree in filmmaking—I love screenwriting and have a keen interest in film production—but it was April, and I hadn’t been accepted to any film schools. I had received a slew of rejections, one waitlist and an acceptance to a certificate program.
To make matters worse, filmmaking, like most creative fields, is fiercely competitive, and few are lucky enough to get stable jobs or paychecks, even with a graduate degree.

What other options did I have? With concentrations in film, writing, and history, as well as a strong journalism background, I knew there should be a plethora of easier or more lucrative alternatives, though I wasn’t sure what they were. And the idea of spending an aimless post-graduation year living at home with my parents sent me into a panic.

So I attended a two-part program sponsored by the Offices of Career Counseling and Alumnae/i Relations, designed to help graduating seniors transition into the world of work.

The 45-year plan

The facilitator, career-counseling veteran Dede Bartlett, announced that she would help us “cover our options” in the current job market. After all, she said, we’ll be working until 2055, when, if we are “very good,” we will be eligible to retire. She continued to stir the nausea of the audience by noting that we entered SLC at a time when the world was completely different and jobs were easier to get. “Those days are gone forever and not coming back,” she said. Then she noted that certain locations are not good for job growth, including Los Angeles, the capital of the film world.

However, Bartlett urged us not to panic. Organizations are hiring, she said, and we should consider growth areas like the federal government, the armed forces, health care, biotech, technology, and education. “These are the employers of choice…Try to see yourself working in one of these areas,” she suggested.

But where would this leave me, someone attempting to pursue a career in the fine arts? Bartlett explained her number one career tip: be flexible. “Consider taking the job that pays the bills … but keep your dream and keep working at the job that will help you get to that dream.”

Raisin Bran and Job Interviews

Bartlett had plenty of advice on how to get that job. Brandishing a small box of Raisin Bran like a talent show prize, Bartlett explained that as job seekers, we are like boxes of cereal: there are a lot of us, so we need to use our packaging to entice the consumer (an employer or graduate school) to pull us from the shelf.

An important part of this packaging is the interview itself, and the ability to portray your strengths in a condensed, confident manner. Bartlett stressed the need to articulate how our skills and talents mesh with available opportunities. She pointed out that most SLC students have strong writing and “coping” skills, which are far more important than our chosen undergraduate disciplines.

Bartlett herself studied French literature at Vassar, another liberal arts college, and earned a master’s degree in American history, yet she eventually worked for Exxon and Altria, two corporate powerhouses, for 25 years. 

Post-Graduation Options

“Whatever your concentration is, your career won’t be a straight line. On average you’ll have 7 to 10 jobs in your lifetime,” Bartlett said. But they don’t have to start right away. Bartlett listed three ulcer-inducing options for the first year after college: work, travel, or graduate school. If you take a job right after graduation, she said, it boosts your career and allows you to start repaying your debts. On the other hand, this may be the only time when you would have the flexibility to really travel. Graduate school is a significant investment in your career, but Bartlett warned about massive debt accumulation. For would-be travelers, Bartlett was encouraging, but suggested you travel with a purpose and defined time period, as well as a reentry strategy.

Homework and Beyond

At the end of the first session, we each received a career folder and a multi-pronged homework assignment: get a business card, draft a strategic post-graduation plan, and establish a “board of directors.” This board, Bartlett explained, is the group of people who can help you with career advice (i.e., not your friends). My board consists of the people who were always there for me: my writing, history, screenwriting, and literature teachers, as well as an employer. These are the individuals I have turned to for advice about jobs, graduate school, and internships.

If I didn’t get into graduate school, my strategic plan was to attend UCLA’s certificate program, intern with a film distribution company, work as a freelance writer, and reapply to graduate school.

As for a business card, given my numerous different skills and talents, I ordered two different ones, to match my two (okay, three) resumes, for screenwriting, journalism, and history. These tools, coupled with my support network, will hopefully allow me and other liberal arts majors to appear professional as we network, interview, impress, and land jobs.

Good Call

I was attempting to exorcise some of my plentiful anxiety at the gym when my cell phone rang. It was a blocked number—a telemarketer perhaps? Yet I answered.

“Hi, this is Karin Tucker from the AFI Conservatory”—the film school I had been waitlisted at. “Well, I think this news will brighten your day…”

I had been accepted to graduate school, which solved my dilemma about what to do with the next year. My strategic plan could wait.

Of course, I’m still a fledgling screenwriter hoping to enter an already difficult job market in a very challenging field. But I know one thing: the rigorously creative academic life of SLC helped prepare me for whatever is coming.

Frederic Richter ’10 is spending the summer polishing several screenplays, submitting to festivals, and doing freelance writing. He will of course find time for his friends and swimming. This fall he will attend the conservatory at the American Film Institute as a screenwriting fellow in Los Angeles, CA.