Three Words College Seniors Need to Stop Saying

I was chatting with my neighbor the other day – a very bright, motivated college senior majoring in environmental studies who was home for the weekend.  “What are you thinking about after graduation?” I asked, conversationally, although since this is my field, I was genuinely interested in the answers. 

“I don’t know,” she answered as she stood there looking ill at ease.

Now, right there, with those three words she stopped the conversation dead. There was NOWHERE to easily go, based on her lead. It was up to ME to resuscitate the corpse of our interaction, and I was tired, and on my way to pick up food for dinner. I hung in there and asked a few probing questions. “Have you done any internships?” “Where do you want to live?” “What was your major?”, and we foundered until we found our way again. She had a great internship over the summer and while she is not certain what she wants to do she does have early hypothesizes. For example, she is considering looking for jobs in environmental advocacy or working with municipalities engaged in building a stronger renewable energy portfolio.

That awkwardness could have easily been avoided. I understand the tendency to feel awkward about making big declarative statements about the future when you are “just a college student,” but you need to get over that hurdle. Given that coaching college students and new graduates into their first professional role is my career, I was willing and confident enough to work harder to get her past the ‘I don’t know.” Most people you run into will not be that focused or informed and will be likely to let the conversation drop when they get “I don’t know” as an answer. Once you are a college senior (or junior…or sophomore…), it is no longer an acceptable answer to “What do you want to do when you graduate?”

There is so much you can learn from talking to people and being willing to share your plans about what comes next! For example, I was able to talk with her about my prior experience working for a public utility and offered to put her in touch with someone who was responsible for managing their portfolio of renewable products and services.  I also know an ex-colleague who is an HR person for an energy consulting firm. She of course had no way of knowing that I had these contacts, but you also have no way of knowing who your aunt or uncle, or former high school teacher, or next- door neighbor knows or how they might be able to help you

When that question is asked of you, it is a gift, not a stressor. Do not squander it! The person you are talking to is showing genuine interest in your future career. The conversation is now open and it is up to YOU to push it forward. In our work at LaunchingU we want our clients to be seeking these conversations out, not doing their best to avoid them. Here are some possible scripts for an approach she could have taken:

– “I’m not sure, but I had an internship over the summer, and am developing an interest in environmental policy. What is your background and how did you get started?”

“My major is environmental studies and I know that there are a lot of possible paths. I’m particularly interested in advocacy work or in working with towns transitioning their energy strategies. Do you know anyone in that field I could talk to and learn more? I’d love to do some informational interviews.”

Play around and develop a few of your own scripts. Make it a goal to NEVER say “I don’t know” to the question “What do you want to do?” again. You don’t have to be certain about what you want, but develop some hypotheses and go out and learn more by talking with people.  After each of these conversations be sure to reach out to these contacts, thank them for the time and interest that they took in your early career, and connect with them on LinkedIn. 

If your a college senior or a parent of one and you need help in your transition from college to career contact us for a complimentary planning session. Contact us at or at (603) 398-7278.