Live with your doubts, grow on your strengths: Facing the challenge of uncertainty

As you approach graduation and the looming job market, you may – like many undergrads – experience professional uncertainty, and it’s not hard to see why.

How could you not worry, when US students read that student loan debt exceeds $1.2 trillion, with a 13.7% default rate and European students see that youth unemployment in Europe is over 20 percent and rising? It’s no wonder that students preparing to graduate feel some anxiety that their job opportunities and ability to move up in their chosen career seem unsure—if they exist at all.

In almost 15 years of teaching undergraduates, I have rarely encountered students who are 100% certain about their professional future. When I talk to them about their future, I always reassure them that uncertainty is a normal part of their journey: they need to learn how to live with their doubts and capitalize on their strengths to adapt to an ever-changing world.

These students are not alone: dealing with uncertainty has become a key competence of the 21st century. At some point in everyone’s career trajectory there is that moment of feeling completely lost. Even though we now have unprecedented access to not only a flood of information about potential careers but also to professional networks, we seem to have a harder time managing personal and professional development. Learning how to structure this information into a clear map of promising career trajectories is essential—but not easy.

But in the end, it’s important to take control of what you know so that you can move from doubt to decision and understanding the soft skills you need. As William Starbuck, business professor at the University of Oregon, puts it, “decision implies the end of deliberation and the beginning of action”. It’s normal to reflect, argue, and deliberate about professional or career possibilities, but worrying doesn’t get you too far. Once you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to start thinking about how to apply that knowledge to some pragmatic action.

Do you need to move from doubt to action? Here are some tips that can help undergrads structure their career and personal growth to face uncertainty.

  • Test yourself: Get to know who you are and what you’re made of, using reliable tests (no, not that one you just took on social media!). Praditus is a fast, free, and friendly source of tests that can help undergrads understand their full potential.
  • Journal: Once you have clear ideas about your personality, your motivation, your interests, your skills and the type of work environment you would like, note down in a personal notebook the points you’re satisfied with and what you’d like to change.
  • Organize your facts, and yourself: Create your own personal dashboard and start learning how to manage your energy, not just your time. This article from HBR is a great place to start.
  • Prioritize: Invest your energy in activities that help you grow and that you enjoy. Your energy is limited: don’t waste it by worrying too much about the future.
  • Get feedback: Very often what we see as our strengths may not be as great as we think. Ask friends and family to tell you honestly about your strengths, your collaboration skills and weaknesses and what they think you might be good at. Be prepared for tough criticism, but be aware that not all the feedback you get will be constructive.
  • Make a plan: use all this information to make a short list of things to improve; break this down into many small steps you can achieve over the short to medium term. Achieving small challenges can result in big payoffs!
  • Check your plan: Does your plan for improving yourself match your career goals? As you consider how you might actually attain your dream job, consider adding items to your “short list”: internships, classes, training, and job fairs.

To better face the uncertainty that’s out there, you need to combat the uncertainty within yourself. Let me assure you that with a little bit of work, a good amount of structure, and, above all, trusting and loving who you are, you can find the path to the future you want.

By Dr. Andrés Davila, Research Director at Praditus, professor of people management at ESCE Edited by Maria Crawford editor at Praditus

Emotional intelligence: Soft skills are social and relational competencies that allow for better communication and teamwork.

Recruiters: Recruiters are increasingly looking for profiles that possess soft skills.

Hard skills: Soft skills are social and relational skills that allow to go beyond technical skills.

Example: Soft skills are a set of social or relational skills.

Audacity: Soft skills are relational, technical and professional skills.

Abilities: Soft skills are competencies that allow you to be more efficient at work and therefore to perform better.

Behavioral skills: Behavioral skills are both social skills and interpersonal skills, but also transversal skills, which are used in all professional contexts.

Business: Soft skills are interpersonal and people skills, such as communication, negotiation, decision making, adaptability and flexibility.

Self-confidence: Soft skills allow you to acquire self-confidence, which is essential for success in life.

Creativity: Soft skills are competencies that allow us to manage human relationships. Creativity is one of the most important soft skills.