First Jobs & Core Stability: My Advice to 2021 College Grads


I can only think of a handful of moments that would have been a more challenging time to enter the world of work. (The economic of crisis of 2008 quickly comes to mind.) In today’s pandemic world, job interviews are likely remote experiences & the flow of your job search may feel weirdly isolated and opaque. Recent grads won’t have the advantage of site visits or sitting in the same room, face to face, with one of their potential team members or supervisors. Yet, we will muddle through it — with some of the adaptations becoming part our longer-term future. In the post-pandemic world of work, the idea of “the office” will have already evolved, and there will be increased opportunities to work at a distance (hopefully opening up new possibilities for far-flung career paths).

However, certain things about finding work should remain the same. At the root of all this, is effectively matching you with the work that will help you find success. In this regard, my work in core stability, might lend a useful lens to your job search. At the heart of the matter is this: you are you — and determining the role that would best align with you — is still of great importance. Focusing on this alignment, will likely make you a happier & stronger contributor to whatever organization you join — and you can play a key role in this process. The premise is simple: find a role that accesses your strengths & fully engages you. To achieve this, you must settle yourself & reflect. Core stability requires that we deeply understand ourselves and our work life non-negotiables. This requires that we practice something I refer to “radical self-knowledge”. As the name implies, it eludes to the notion that knowing you — what motivates you in work settings, drains you & engages you — will play a key role in your career journey.

In this spirit, here are a few things to consider as you enter the job market — keeping the principles of core stability in mind.

  • Know you. Never underestimate the importance of understanding yourself. The more self-knowledge you quickly accumulate, the greater the chance of a better job fit. Think of your experiences during your college years, grab a notebook and answer these questions: What motivated you and helped you to feel engaged? What was the setting? Type of team? Leader style? What experiences drained you? Ask yourself what the deciding elements were. Refer to your notes often. If possible, respect these elements when searching/choosing a role. (Read more about work life non-negotiables here.)
  • Role Setting. Doing what you do, is one thing. The actual place where you unleash all of your training and talent is another. For example, an I/O Psychologist can work in a variety of settings; a fast paced consulting firm, a larger organization or a university setting. Each has unique qualities. (I opted for a consulting firm, where I had worked PT as a student.) This may be the case in your field as well. Become an expert in setting differences and how these differences might affect the “gestalt” of your work life. Ask yourself this: How would the differences affect your work life well-being?
  • Know Your Teaming Preferences. Teaming will likely remain a critical aspect of your work life. If you are leaving university and have found teams troublesome, the issue may not have been teaming per se, but the qualities of the team in which you were working. Do you work best in a tight, close-knit team & or within a looser structure? Ask questions concerning both team structure and work flow, with regard to any potential role. Try to gain a clear picture of what teams might be like within your new role.
  • Understand your place in the customer/product journey. Perspective is the key here. So — attempt to visualize how your role fits into the larger scheme of things — and how this might affect your feelings about work. For example, as an engineer you might work for a specialty supplier or the larger manufacturing organization. What role would be more meaningful to you? What aspects of the work in these settings might contribute to engagement or disengagement?
  • Seek Clarity. Bottom line, if you cannot ascertain how your work life will look day to day, you need to probe for more information. The devil is in the details, when it comes to a potential good fit. Know the role and try not leave the details to chance. Burnout can arise in a fast & furious manner, when you are left in the dark.

Hoping these notes provide some guidance as you begin crafting your path. When I reflect back on my first role — it was purely chance that I landed where I felt both challenged & rewarded. I find this alarming.

I’d like to increase the odds to work in your favor.

BTW, you can read more about core stability in this post at the Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundation through core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post


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