How to find your post-grad 'jam' (literally)

Overwhelmed with the choices you believe you have after graduating from college?   

By Cindy Sweeney, associate director of career services, Love School of Business

There is a classic study in psychology known as the Jam Experiment. The jam experiment was conducted by Sheena Iyengar, then at Stanford University. She was interested in how people make choices.

In short, customers at a grocery store were presented with either six different flavors of jam or 24 different flavors of jam. The key finding was that the 24-flavor table attracted more attention from customers but only 3 percent went on to buy a jar of jam. The six-flavor table led to 30 percent of customers buying jam.

Clearly, the customers with the choice of 24 flavors were overwhelmed and couldn’t decide which flavor to choose, but those with only six jam flavors were better able to determine which one tasted best to them and then commit to buying that jam.

“What on earth does this have to do with my life?” you ask. You may be overwhelmed with the choices you believe you have after graduating from college. Reality check – there is no 24-flavor choice for a recent college grad. At best, you have a six-flavor table of jam from which to choose. The good news is that six potential choices are more than enough to find a satisfying first job.

Your first job is just that, your first job. It is not necessarily your forever job. As a matter of fact, Gen Z-ers will likely have more than a dozen jobs throughout their lifetimes. Your first job will acquaint you with getting up and getting out, whether that requires a commute or means you make coffee and sit at your dining room table (assuming you have one). You will learn a lot from this experience, and I want you to be excited about it, but you should also know that it will not be perfection. Jobs are not often perfection, that is why we call them work. This is a balance you will learn to navigate.

“The only way to figure out what to do is to do – something." Meg Jay, author of "The Defining Decade – Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now." New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012. I highly recommend this book to graduating seniors. Jay outlines the importance of deciding what you want to do in your twenties, from work to love to health. The main point is that it most definitely does matter what you do at this time of your life. The best way to “find” yourself is by trying things.

Another option for figuring out your “jam” is to take an online assessment of your personality or strengths coupled with a personal consultation offered by the Elon University’s Student Professional Development Center.

You have spent about two decades shaping who you are – a collection of experiences, interests, strengths, weaknesses, priorities, accomplishments, and hang-ups. All of these create “your story,” as we in Career Development like to call it (remember: your resume tells your story). Telling your story and knowing your jam will keep you from being paralyzed by your perceived choices. Embrace this time and go do something.