By Madison Bloomquist
Young adults today often feel like they have to follow a formula to be successful. It’s like the academic version of being on a sprinting treadmill that won’t stop: Get good grades in high school. Be the president of a club, be some sort of varsity athlete, volunteer in their spare time. Crush the ACT. Figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives at age 17. Get into good colleges. Choose the one that has the best program for what they want to do. Get (close to) straight A’s, join clubs, complete a killer summer internship, graduate with honors. Have a full-time job lined up before the end of senior year.
What about time to breathe? What about exploration, allowing themselves to make mistakes, to have fun, to actually live a little. What if they don’t know what they want to do? Or they decide halfway through college (or internship, or first job) that they actually hate what they’re studying?
It happens to the best of them. That’s where Audra Emerson comes in.
Lost to found
Emerson founded CareerPrep, a local business that helps young adults find themselves and their passions when all hope seems lost. She mainly works with high schoolers, college students, and recent grads, most of whom have the same fear: What if they don’t know what they want to do with their lives? College tuition is rising at a rapid rate, and most students feel like they need to maximize their time on campus and in the workforce so they can simply afford to be there. They feel stuck and helpless, with no one to turn to.
Stakes are too high for the luxury of taking time to “find yourself.”
Emerson gets it. She went through the same winding and terrifying path when she was looking for her first job out of school. A psychology major with a child psych concentration, she came to the screeching realization halfway through college that she didn’t really want a single job in her major.
“Psychologist was one job on an assessment I took in high school,” she said of how she chose her major. “And some of my friends were doing it, so I just went with it…I can remember the exact class where I realized the realities of the job on a day-to-day basis weren’t a good fit.”
She was stuck. She was at a dead end road, with college debt looming and a sinking feeling she would feel lost forever. Even though her heart wasn’t in psychology, it wasn’t anywhere else either. But she had gotten this far, so reluctantly she decided to get her degree. With no hope of finding herself or her dream job in sight, she visited a local recruiter, who helped her find a job as an accounting assistant. Hardly the dream, but one day, the perfect job came along, almost by accident: Her recruiting company was looking for a recruiter. They wanted someone with an HR and psychology background, who was also good at sales. Emerson said she was sitting right there in her recruiter’s office, listening to people in the company say, “that perfect person for the job didn’t exist.” Until they realized she was right there, and she had the exact combination of skills they were looking for. It was the perfect match.
“We tell this story to a lot of students,” Emerson said. “One person with knowledge and insight can show you the way. When it comes together, it’s a 20 year career.”
Emerson worked on the agency side of recruiting for 12 years and loved almost every day on the job. She started when she was just 24 years old, working day and night to place hundreds of accounting and finance professionals in their dream jobs–or helping them get to their dream jobs, at least. Her recruiter was right: She was the perfect fit. She worked tirelessly to find the right jobs, and she also had the same heart-aching story as many lost young people who didn’t know where else to turn. She thrived in an environment in which she could make lasting, strong relationships with other professionals. After working in an agency for over a decade, she went into consulting for a few years, where she helped place people in large and small companies–think Ameriprise, Allianz, Target, and Room and Board, to name a few. But she knew she wanted to give back to kids like her, kids who went through the whole rat race of early adulthood and still found themselves at the same dead end.
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Combining her passions
Alongside her business partner Sara Wegmann, Emerson co-founded CareerPrep to help those students who need a little extra guidance. Often, young adults don’t know who to talk to about the lonely, scary feeling of not knowing what to do next. Their parents have a biased view on them and often unconsciously push them in one direction over another (side note: CareerPrep offers courses on how to be supportive for parents and loved ones). Even teachers and advisors typically have experience with one side of the job industry over another, so they can’t provide a clear view of more options. That’s where CareerPrep comes in: They know what several different sides of the industry look like, and they can provide tests and exercises that will help kids determine where they might fit best. They’re the perfect blend of being unbiased and professional yet relentlessly caring.
“We provide [students] the skills to get there, but they figure it out on their own,” Emerson said. “We help them become self-aware.”
Emerson knows guiding young adults (or anyone, really) to self-awareness is crucial to help them find their home in the world. They need to be able to be honest about themselves, their skills, shortcomings, and passions, before they can figure out where their place will be. To find the best fit, Emerson and Wegmann ask each students a series of questions, leading them to what they call Career Hypotheses. The questions probe students further and further about their skills, values, and interests–until they’ve gotten so deep, they don’t even know how to answer questions about themselves anymore. The answers help the CareerPrep team guide them to potential career paths and next steps. If it sounds challenging, it is. But so is living with a job you hate, so it’s worth a try.
Emerson’s job is incredibly rewarding. “There’s nothing like helping someone find a job they love,” she said. “It plays such a vital role in their personal and professional lives. I love having a hand in making them successful and setting the course they can navigate.”
She knows the time between high school, college, and the real world is tricky to maneuver, and sometimes there’s nothing people can do to find their place in life but to simply live it. That said, she’s always willing to offer a few pointers to help kids along the way.
“Start early–the first day you set foot on campus,” she said. “Start your career planning right away. Have important conversations, join clubs, take a variety of classes, think critically about what you do and don’t enjoy. Look for themes in what you enjoy. This will help drive you to self-awareness.”
Emerson did it. She did it the hard way, like so many others. But she’s here to help, to share her skills and her journey so no one else is ever alone in the process. And she might just inspire you to get out there and live a little.