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Farewell graduating revolutionaries

| Friday, April 22, 2016

As May approaches, graduating seniors face many revolutionary changes that will shock their presently comfortable lives — probably none quite as politically in-the-moment trendy cool as the Bernie Sanders campaign call for insurgency or as physically and chaotically rebellious as a Donald Trump mosh pit during a rally. Yet, the immersion from a Catholic Disneyland campus community environment to a rigid corporate structure or diverse multi-lifestyle urban neighborhood is both physically as well as emotionally taxing. Even if that changeover continues to be educationally based in graduate school, the character of new surroundings will evaporate Notre Dame’s unique coziness and constraints such as parietals. Every transition in life essentially relies on a three-step process that can be overcome by heeding advice from those of us who have already trekked that journey.

First, get in the game, and off the bench. We all know someone not accepted to Notre Dame out of high school but who transferred in a year later. We watch a volunteer, like current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who interned with Representative Jack Kemp — coincidentally both of whom ran nationally as GOP vice presidential candidates — work up the office structure to a successful career choice. Everyone must pay dues by beginning at the bottom as “the new one” and learn the character, culture and climate of the new surroundings. However, each of us must plot a path onto the playing arena in order to prove our value. No experience is too insignificant, too short-lived or too detached to gain a foothold.

Secondly, gravitate towards a labor of love. Everyone envies a person who claims that going to work is not a chore because it does not seem like a labor. Certainly a sports professional earning millions a year “playing” a game might have the shortest and straightest path to a successful career since the athlete is either good enough to compete or not. However, nearly all of us leave our undergraduate years with no idea what we might enjoy or want to repeat daily for decades. And that uncertainty is perfectly acceptable well into our mid-life. But good luck follows one who practices a love.

For example, the love need not be monolithic in nature, such as a religious activity from church that only attracts Catholics. During my Capitol Hill career, I recall a small group of cigar smoking staffers who crossed paths enough times to establish a fraternal bond outside their smoke-filled rooms. Ironically, several senators and representatives — including successive Speakers of the House — also sought refuge in these designated smoking areas and struck up personal friendships that the typical congressional staff member would never imagine. When keeping true to a passion, others with similar interests gravitate toward you. That common ground sometimes allows you to leave your bench and enter your dream career’s playing field.

Hazardous health risks are not the only avenues to find common interests with others. Sporting activities allow for politics, religion and racial bias to melt away into the sheer enjoyment of participating or competing. My personal passion is softball. During my first summer on Capitol Hill, I joined a softball team and volunteered to assist the softball league. Then I volunteered to coach a charity baseball game played by members of congress, which I still coach today. Knowing of my involvement, a bipartisan group of women members of congress asked me to assist them eight years ago in organizing a charity softball game to benefit breast cancer survivors. To date, we have raised more than $250,000, and I have been privileged to befriend former Representative Gabby Giffords who survived an assassination attempt but threw out the first pitch two years ago.

The third step of a transition is to appear confident even when not. Confidence results not from arrogance but from acumen. Know yourself. Study the career field and company for which you will interview. Remember to sprinkle a touch of humility in your presentation and prepare for various interview questions. The web is packed with career advice postings from which to prepare. Careers are homework assignments without deadlines, but you decide how much to study.

Know how to place yourself into a potential employer’s perfect workplace environment. Afterwards, selling yourself will be an easy task. Generically, when any process works, the employees are focused on tasks in a harmonious climate and success flows. Know how to translate that generic workflow to specifically prepare for and interpret the questions that may be asked during an interview.

When asked to describe yourself, it really means tell how you fit in that job and can enhance that organization’s efforts. When asked about weaknesses, demonstrate your self-awareness and how you overcame being a “frustrated perfectionist” and can assist office staff. If asked to tell about a time when something happened, give specific examples of problem solving and lessons learned. Sometimes questions are only designed to gauge your thought process and how you react compared to others asked the identical question.

Graduation is a time of upheaval and adventure. Best wishes with your first steps advancing a career. May your work be your love. May your lifetime be as revolutionary as you deem it. But throughout the journey, may you have fun.

“10 Good Ways to ‘Tell Me About Yourself’”:


“The Four Secrets Behind Teams That Work Together So Well That Everyone Else Is Jealous”:


“Are you answering these job interview questions incorrectly?”:



Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or email: [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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