Skip to main content
ask a career coach

The Question

I am a female in my mid-twenties and I graduated from university three years ago with a bachelor degree in political science. Since then I have worked in administration, event co-ordination, and, for the past two years, I have been working part time at a retail store.

I am stuck and unsure what path to take. I have volunteered for different organizations, gone to job counselling services and taken courses at community college but I can't seem to find my footing or a path into full-time employment.

I apply to entry-level administrative jobs but never get a call back. I am worried because I have a huge debt load. I want to start saving for my future but I also want a career.

The Answer

You face a common dilemma for recent graduates: a university degree by itself (unfortunately) does not equal a career.

Instead, it is an entry-level "table stake" that needs to be combined with a sense of what types of roles might best suit your ambitions, your personality, and your local circumstances (what city or town you're in, and the local job opportunities).

I can certainly empathize with you. Searching for that first substantive role that launches your career often is a frustrating experience full of "Catch-22" moments: not enough experience for some roles, too much education or experience for others. Getting clearer on what you want to try – at least for a time – is one of your first priorities. Given the uncertainty you're expressing about your path, I strongly recommend a networking-focused approach.

You seem to have had some roles that could help to connect you with people in a range of fields, and this can be a valuable source of career advice and connections if used properly. To network effectively, you need to start by taking an inventory of what you have liked about past roles. Answer questions like "What have I found challenging?" or "What parts of my past work got me excited?"

Even if you only have one or two examples, it will give you an idea of what you like to do. Now look for roles (not titles) that allow you to do those things you really enjoy and see what kind of skills, attributes and training they require. Tell others what you enjoy doing so they can also suggest roles to investigate: their experiences may point you in some unexpected directions that you hadn't previously considered.

Your prior roles also will tell you about what type of work environment best suits you. Reflect on what got you motivated, beyond paying the bills. Being able to express these attributes to those who you're networking with is key to helping them identify opportunities that will suit your emerging style.

For example, it is far better to tell someone that you're looking for an administrative role in a smaller firm with opportunities to apply your event management skills than simply letting them know you want an administrative job.

You're starting your career, and it's seldom that we land that dream job early on. Like many in today's working world, you'll have a number of different roles in several fields, all of which will add to your career profile and give you a better sense of what most interests you. The key is to be both patient and persistent.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

Have a question? Send it to our panel of experts: