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2010: The Year We Learned A College Degree Doesn't Equal Immediate Career Success

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Victoria Reitano is a 2010 graduate and frequent contributor to UniversityChic.com.

How many times throughout your lifetime have you been asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" At first your response was fanciful - cowboy, actor, singer, and the like. But then as you grew older and neared adulthood, it became a more of a concrete certainty (environmental law, chemical engineer, doctor, etc.).

Unfortunately, with the current recession still in effect as we lurch towards 2011, your career choices have become less concrete and more of a fuzzy gray area. Of the many U.S. population segments, young adults between the ages of 20-24 face some of the toughest job prospects coming out of college right now. With an 18.2 percent unemployment rate, diminished wages and benefits, and entry-level positions that have been expanded to include middle management responsibilities (due to corporate downsizing), it's not exactly shocking to learn that me and many of my classmates are questioning our current career trajectories.

Too many graduates (myself included) have long fed into the notion that your first position out of college will be exactly the right fit and lead you down a logical career progression that ultimately results in your "dream job." But the reality is, we should be adapting our expectations and looking at our first job (if we can even find one to begin with) as merely a stepping stone that offers up the ability to build valuable skills and capital in the interim.

In May, two weeks shy of graduation and my twenty-second birthday, I thought I found my dream job. I accepted a position as an editor for a major online news source, packed up my belongings, and moved to a new city to start my life as working adult.

Within weeks I soon discovered MY dream did not include 50-hour work weeks, low pay, major stress, and limited benefits. I was exhausted, discouraged, and extremely disillusioned. I was all for paying my dues, but at what cost? Was this what I ultimately saw myself doing for the rest of my life?

It was only after I put my job in the right perspective that I came to recognize that it held value in the fact that it afforded me numerous contacts that could lead me to a position that was more in sync with MY idea of success - not the one that had been dictated to me by my school and society as whole.

I didn't view myself as a quitter, more so a realist who had taken advantage of an opportunity that was presented to me, worked hard to prove myself, and ultimately discovered there was no shame in switching gears and finding something that was better fit for me both personally and financially. It wasn't really about following a set career path - it was about finding the right job RIGHT NOW.

My experiences with my first job taught me that the goals you set need to be yours and yours alone. Look inside yourself for answers, and don't focus so much on what you see yourself doing ten years down the road, but rather what you can accomplish in the present. If you need money to pay off your school loans, take the position that pays the most. If you want to relocate, go where the jobs are - not where it's most convenient.

Dream jobs are exactly that - dreams - they won't necessarily be where you end up in life, but will most likely help shape your career in the long run. Take every single job experience for what it is - an experience. There is no shame in going off the path, just in assuming the right path will automatically find you once you graduate.

-- By Victoria Reitano