Career Coaching for Post-Grads: The Advice Column by Dear Diary

Updated: May 17

Have you ever considered speaking to a career coach after graduating from college? Well, today is your lucky day. As an accomplished career coach and strategist, Jill Vanak will be answering all of my burning questions as a recent post-grad.

Real talk: typically when I first meet someone on Zoom, it can be a little awkward. Small talk is always weird and it can feel like a very strange first date, yet my first experience with @jill.vanak was quite the opposite. When we first met, I automatically felt a connection with her and I remember thinking to myself, "she gets it." That is exactly why I am sharing her advice with our Dear Diary readers. If you missed my IGTV with Jill last week, you should add watching it to your to-do list this week (trust me, you won't regret it). I always thought that working with a career coach was something that you did later in life, but as a post-grad right out of college, I can honestly say I am not sure why I haven't spoken to one sooner. I am not positive, but I think career coaches are probably like good therapists, you have to shop around a little to find your perfect match. So I took the liberty of going shopping for you all and here is the best of the best, Ms. Jill Vanak, to give you career advice.


DD: Introduce yourself and what you do for our Dear Diary readers.


JV: “Hi, Dear Diary readers! My name is Jill Vanak and I’m a multi-hyphenate kind of gal….by day I work in the pharmaceutical industry developing first-in-human clinical trials for cancer patients, by early mornings I teach at a fitness studio called Solidcore (think pilates on steroids), and by night I’m a career coach and strategist. I spend my nights coaching boss women (and some men!) to own their professional development, earn more, and land the job of their dreams. I grew up a military brat, moving every 3-4 years, and although I’m not a native Philadelphian, I live in Rittenhouse Square and love me some Wawa, cheesesteaks, and the Eagles, so that pretty much makes me from Philly, right?!”


DD: Advice that you wish you had received as a post-grad?


JV: “Ah, the advice I wished I’d received as a post-grad can be boiled down to….travel more, get legitimately educated about your finances, and know that your life is NOT meant to be lived linearly. Soak up your life. Your 20s are about finding your ground as an independent being, and guess what…they’re meant to be messy. Now’s the time to explore your interests, whether that be through your job, volunteering, traveling, or connecting with people outside of your circle. Find your tribe during your 20s and surround yourself with people who don’t gossip about others, but who gossip about ideas, purpose, and big ole’ dreams. Regarding your career, Sheryl Sandberg is quoted as saying, 'careers aren’t ladders, they’re jungle gyms.' Remember that you might not be able to connect all of the pieces of the puzzle just yet, but every role/job/project you take on leads you to the next. Trust the process. Yes, you’ll have lousy jobs/roles, but that tunes you into the good stuff. Pay attention to the type of work you gravitate towards, the projects that you say 'yes' to, and the work in which you find purpose. Keep following those clues.”


“Another piece of advice I did receive and am so glad I did….if at all possible, even if just for a bit, move out of your hometown. Live on your own at least once. Trust me, sh*t gets real when you’re the only one in the house and you have to kill a bug. It’s what separates the weak from the strong. You’ll learn a ton, mainly…how to rely on yourself.”


DD: Tell us more about your approach to career coaching. Is it ever too young to start?


JV: “I love this question because the answer is no, it’s never too young to start owning your professional development and creating the life you envision! Don’t boil the ocean, but instead, start focusing on what you can do right here, right now….”


“Start by getting to know you. Journal. When you put pen to paper, science shows that this re-wires your brain. A book I give to all of my clients is What Color Is Your Parachute (2020 ed)? by Richard Bolles. It’s an absolute classic and has been around for decades, but it’s a classic for a reason. It’s an amazing resource that you should have on your bookshelf because trust me, you’ll pick it up time and time again. I urge clients to work through the exercises in the book because it’ll start to provide you with clarity about what you want, and what is important to you in your career. How often do we sit and spend time thinking about our wants, desires, and true goals? The answer: not a lot! Start investing in yourself. The more self-aware you are, the more clarity you’ll have around your career.”


“The other piece of this is learning how to set and write goals + objectives. We don’t just say 'I want to climb Mount Everest', right?! We come up with a plan, or objectives, on how to get there that include training, buying the right equipment, increasing cardio capacity, and more! Learning how to set goals and objectives is key to keeping you on track and measure your progress. Put those goals on your bathroom mirror or buy a whiteboard and put it by your desk! Put them somewhere you will visually see them every day to inspire you and remember WHY you are doing what you’re doing!”


“Another key piece of the puzzle is networking. Networking is seen as such a dirty word, but what if I flipped the script and said that 'a key piece of the puzzle is connecting with people.' Much more palatable, right? Think of it in those terms. Your jobs won’t come from indeed.com or ziprecruiter.com, but through your connections and the people, you know. Every Friday I have 30 minutes blocked on my calendar that I use to connect with an old friend, someone new within my department, or someone I’m interested in getting to know a bit more because they’re crushing it in their career. Talk to people!”


DD: A lot of post-grads feel stuck, especially right now during the pandemic, what is a tangible way to feel un-stuck?


JV: “Spoiler alert: Almost all of us feel stuck, not just new post-grads! This is normal but know that there are ways to get 'unstuck' and they all center around you and owning your purpose. I’ve listed a few of the ways I recommend to get 'unstuck'

  1. Pay attention to what you’re absorbing….we subconsciously absorb EVERYTHING around us, so ask yourself…what kind of podcasts am I listening to? What television do I watch? Who am I surrounding myself with? This matters! When I subscribed to Masterclass (an online education platform), I noticed I started to feel more inspired concerning my business…..

  2. Journal…do you see a running theme in this advice column? I used to roll my eyes when someone suggested I journal. Literally, my response would be, 'ok Karen, suuuuureeee like I have time for that' but let me tell you that brain dumping onto a piece of paper can be magic. All the good, bad, and ugly end up there, and clarity is the by-product

  3. Connect with people! I do a workshop with individuals in which we design a network map. It’s a way to see all of your connections in a visual manner. Trust me when I tell you that you know more people than you think you do! Start talking with people and be pro-active about reaching out. You’ll stumble upon fascinating nuggets of knowledge, job offers, great stories, and again…my favorite word…clarity

  4. Make LinkedIn your jawn (ok for all of you non-Philly folks….jawn basically means your thing or your jam). Once you learn the ins and outs of LinkedIn, it’s an amazing platform and it can give you a TON of ideas about how to get 'unstuck.' I find myself even now searching for profiles and seeing what titles or positions people hold. It should be a part of your digital plan!”

DD: How do you recommend post-grads present themselves on social media? (No advice is too much common sense)


JV: “Love this question and I am SO here for it...why? Well because my 91-year-old grandpa and serial killers are the only people who don't have a digital footprint. Use social media to your advantage! Have a blog? You CAN list it on your resume, and you should. Showcase your talents because the number one thing employers hire for is curiosity, an excellent attitude, and skills that show your resilience and ability to get a job completed. Instagram and Facebook (yes, I know it’s not the Gen Z thing, but let’s just talk about it) are meant to be personal, yes, but know that eyes will be on them. If you have photos of you and your friends doing bong hits and funneling beer, and you don’t want to take those photos down, then make your social media accounts private. Know that the internet is a digital footprint, so just be cognizant of public information!”


“But instead of focusing on what not to do or what not to post, let’s focus on what you should post. Get yourself a LinkedIn profile! We talked a bit about this earlier, but make a dope profile, fill out the ABOUT page (super important) and engage on the platform! LinkedIn is based on an algorithm like any other social media platform, so use it to your advantage. Comment on people’s posts, share articles about things that interest you and connect with people. This is the #1 thing you can do early on in your career. Be proactive and get after it!”


“Social media can be a huge asset to you, especially as a Gen Z’er…remember your bosses will be people like me (older millennials), Gen X’ers, and baby boomers. Showcase your knowledge of this space. Do you have a podcast? Tell me about it. You engage on Clubhouse and run rooms? Let us know!”


DD: What are tangible exercises that you recommend to your clients to help them stop comparing themselves to others?


JV: “I’d love to say that comparing ourselves to others stops, but it doesn’t. There will always be those thoughts of 'am I doing enough?' or 'why are they so much more successful than I am?' or 'should I have a baby now, everyone else is' or 'ugh I’m still single and all of my friends are married.' These thoughts are present for everyone but to varying degrees. The more you lean into your life, and your unique purpose, the more those thoughts will be just that….fleeting thoughts! The first exercise I ask people to do with this is….I ask my client to sit without distraction with a notebook and write down 3 words they would use to describe themselves. Then I ask them to write out their strengths and their weaknesses. Then (and only after they’ve done this step), I ask them to reach out to about 6 people in their circle. The more diverse the better…meaning, maybe your mom, best friend, brother, boss, college softball teammate, co-worker, et cetera….and ask them to answer those same questions about you. This exercise seems pretty simple, right?! But trust me when I tell you that so much comes from it. When you analyze the answers, first thing’s first….are you self-aware? Or do your answers deviate from what everyone else has said? Second, which of those strengths listed come quite easily to you? These are your innate gifts and talents that you should lean into. Hearing from others lets you see how unique you are, and what underlying skillsets you bring to the table. Lean into them!”


DD: How do you find your passion even at a young age?


JV: “Let me start by saying this….I’m still finding my passions! Because here’s the deal, they’ll evolve as you evolve! I found my passion after college in caring for patients at the bedside as a registered nurse. That passion evolved as I went back to graduate school so that I could learn more about how to treat these patients and provide care for them at a higher level. Now I am a part of a team that authors and runs first-in-human clinical trials that aids the same patient population by providing them early access to potentially life-saving therapies. Talk about an evolution! My passion for medicine and for caring for individuals has never left me, it’s just morphed. I like to call it shape-shifting. This has been a life-long passion, and one that has entered my life like a bat out of hell is my passion for empowering women to own their professional development. This passion was more of a rolling ball….it started small, and I didn’t know quite what to do with it, and as the ball gained more and more speed, it exploded into my life to the point where I couldn’t (not) start a business centered around women owning their power! Passion is a funny thing, but the best way to find it is to take ACTION. Passion won’t come to you by sitting on your couch. Volunteer, talk to people, and look for clues…..what does your bookshelf look like? Notice any themes…that could be a clue! What are you innately 'good' at, and what do you do now that never truly feels like work? Dig into these clues, become the detective of your own life.”


DD: Now for our final question of each interview, what now? (for you and your business)


JV: “Next for the Career Catalyst program and for my business is expansion! I currently offer a 10-week one-on-one career coaching as well as a package called 'Intensive Sessions.' These one-off sessions are for the individual who would like to hone in on a certain topic, i.e. they have a huge interview coming up and need to prep, or they’ve just accepted a job offer and need to negotiate their salary and benefits package, or those who need a full-on resume edit and audit, et cetera.”


“I’ll be starting a workshop series in March and I’m launching my website in a few weeks! Subscription-based service is in the works as well! The goal of ALL of this is to reach women and to empower them by providing them with the foundation, tools, resources, and evidence-based research that will allow them to own their development and live the professional life of their dreams.”


“Dear Diary readers, know that I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out for anything and everything career-related! Love you, keep dreaming big, and shatter those damn glass ceilings!”


Contact information:

Instagram: @jill.vanak

Facebook: Jill Vanak

Website: www.jillvanak.com [coming soon!]

Email: jvanak@gmail.com


XO