The job market is full of twists and turns you’d never expect. I faced my first twist during college.
I grew up in the ’90s alongside the internet. Companies like AOL were just starting out. With a “fast” dial-up modem, you could connect to the web through your phone line. It was just the sort of thing a teenager dying to go to college out of state needed. It was an exciting time. Everything and everyone suddenly seemed magically intertwined in a new way.
Startups were popping up everywhere. Young people were getting investments to start businesses and were suddenly worth millions. It was like being a celebrity. The guarantee of a good job and a great financial future motivated me to study computer and systems engineering in college. I moved from Oklahoma to upstate New York for the opportunity.
Midway through my time in school, the dot-com crash happened. Suddenly, startups were disappearing and jobs in the tech world were drying up. Recruiters canceled their visits to my school – because the jobs they were hiring for were canceled, too.
This was one of the scariest times in my career. It forced me to rethink the possibilities of what I might become. After some soul searching, I found a project management job. It wasn’t what I had expected to be doing, but the good news was it was even better. This work capitalized on my strengths more than computer programming ever did, and it prepared me for my next challenge: graduate school.
Getting my MBA presented a new set of hurdles. The first was saving enough money to quit my job to go. The second was moving across the country to a new city in California where I knew no one. While I was in school, the job market continued to be competitive. In fact, many employers were no longer paying for interns. The prospect of working for free was one catalyst to finish school early and begin my new career.
Although I planned to change careers when I finished business school, employers didn’t always agree. One company offered me twice as much money to do the same sort of work I’d been doing before school. It was incredibly confusing. The money was great, but I’d quit my job so that I could change careers completely. I turned down the offer and kept searching. Eventually, I became a digital marketing executive, and now I’m a career coach.
What I’ve learned along the way is that your path doesn’t always end up as straight as you picture it when you’re 18, and that’s okay. In today’s job market, changing jobs every 3-5 years keeps you fresh. It diversifies your professional contacts and your experience and gives you the chance to negotiate for more money every few years.
Very often, unexpected career interference is a true blessing in disguise.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.