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A How-To Guide for Answering Questions About Your Career

Headed home for the holidays? If so, we know that some of the questions you’re about to be asked are overwhelming. We get it - you don’t have every single one of your next steps figured out. But your auntie, uncle, high school acquaintance, or good friend may not. So instead of getting tongue-tied at the dinner table when you’re asked “Sooo.. what’s next?”, keep the following in mind.

Forsh/Soph  |  Juniors/Seniors  |  First-Generation Students

FROSH/SOPH

Returning home after being at Stanford can bring a change in pace and setting that feels startling.  In just a few short months, you’ve survived your first winter quarter enrollment and navigated the Circle of Death.  Thanksgiving might be the first time reconnecting with friends you haven’t seen since you left for college, and those reunions can be weighed down with the expectation that you’ll be wiser from your time apart.

First, debunk the assumption that you have everything figured out. Freshman and sophomore year are all about exploration and exposing yourself to as many opportunities as possible.  It is completely okay not to have next summer’s plans lined up by Thanksgiving - we have the Spring Career Fair for that exact purpose.

That said, explain to your friends and relatives that there are a variety of ways to spend your summer. You can take classes (either at Stanford or closer to home), do research, or find part-time work or formal internships. Check out Handshake or our BEAM Fellows program for a start to this search.

Another concern might be the dreaded, but very common, question: “So what are you going to major in?”.

Here are a few pointers on how to respond:

  1. If you have no idea, buy yourself time.  Start with “I’m working on a lot of my general education requirements right now; I have until the end of my second year to declare a major”. That gives you some wiggle room but still shows you’re making progress toward your degree, whatever it ends up being.

  1. If you have an idea of what you’re interested in, but are afraid that it might not align with your relatives and friends’ expectations, do a little bit of research.

    1. Check out Stanford Alumni Mentoring, LinkedIn, or the Stanford Alumni directory to see what other Stanford grads with your major have gone on to do.  Don’t be afraid to name-drop: “Condoleeza Rice started in music, then moved to international relations.”

  • If your family is concerned about money, investigate some solid career paths for your major - you can usually find these through the different Stanford majors websites.  

Above all else, remember that one or two questions don’t negate all the accomplishments you’ve already made on campus. Regardless of what your future plans are, summers and majors do not define careers. No matter what you do, you’ll be building broadly applicable skills and knowledge.

JUNIORS/SENIORS

So you’ve declared your major and maybe have an internship or two under your belt. Graduation looms on the horizon and the inevitable inquiry of “What are you going to do after Stanford?” draws closer. If you’ve already got something lined up, go ahead and share!  If not, this can be a potentially uncomfortable convo. So, here are a few talking points you can lean on to help get you through:

“I’m in the process of looking.” Mention informational interviews you’ve had, Stanford alums you’ve reached out to, any recruiters you’ve been in contact with, or industry people you’ve met with. If you haven’t

Tell your family you’re meeting with a career coach. If you have an appointment scheduled, great! If not, head over to Handshake and make an appointment for after the break.

Let your family know that there are plenty of upcoming events and programs, including career fairs and smaller, more intimate networking events for you to pursue leads. Again, check Handshake for what’s on the horizon.

However you explain your next steps to your family remember this: you made it this far!  You were talented enough to get into Stanford and make it through. You’re definitely smart enough to figure out what to do once your diploma’s in hand.

FIRST-GENERATION STUDENTS

If you’re a first-generation student, one of the comments you might get upon coming home is how “different” you now are.  You might find yourself code-switching as you try to fit back in with family and friends. You might even feel guilty about having the privilege of going to Stanford.  The conversation about your future can feel tense as people ask you about whether you plan on leaving home behind, whether for the summer or after graduation.

Regardless of what you’re studying (or thinking about studying), communicate with your relatives.  Sometimes your family or friends might not ask about your future plans because they don’t know all of the language surrounding higher education, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.  Invite them to be your brainstorm partner.

  • Tell your family about the coursework you have planned for winter - the classes you’re excited about, the ones you’re deciding between - and see what they have to say.

  • Tell your family how they can support you after the break - what will you need from them going into finals? Or will you be busier and have less time to touch base? Be open in these conversations.

  • It can be hard because everyone back home is so proud and you don’t want them to think that you’re failing or struggling, even if you are.  It’s okay to ask for help, whether that comes from back home or from new support networks on campus.

When talking about your potential major:

  • Talk about the classes, alumni interactions, or industry introductions you’ve made!

Finally, it might be helpful to check out some of these resources.  to help you find opportunities:


 

We hope this guide was helpful and we wish you the best of luck with your conversations over the break. BEAM is here for you to sort out your next steps so come by and see us when you get back. Happy holidays!