Wash. U. Alum Shows 20-Somethings How to Land That Perfect Job

By all accounts, entering the job market sucks if you're a twentysomething these days. For young graduates, "Oh the places you go" too often refers to parents' basements and temp agencies. Happily, a new book published this week by Washington University alum Laura Dodd offers a roadmap for young people struggling to find a job they can actually enjoy.

Dig This Gig: Find Your Dream Job -- or Invent It, which Dodd wrote while she was in her mid-20s, profiles several young people who beat the odds to find their career track in often quirky, sometimes counter-intuitive ways. Dodd mixes in testimonials from successful professionals like Dan Rather and Jeffrey Sachs who explain what they did in their younger years to put their careers on track.

Dodd, who grew up in New Orleans and now lives in New York, will travel back to her old St. Louis stomping grounds on April 26 and 27 to offer book signings and chat with the local media.

Following is a Q&A with the author.

Daily RFT: What's the synopsis of the book?

Dodd: It's a collection of profiles of twentysomethings in eight different job sectors across country, like health care, government, green jobs and do-good jobs, along with what I call a "derailed gigs" chapter, which profiles four people who've been laid off, which is all too real these days. Each chapter includes a mentor, or an industry leader, to explain what it was like when he or she was a twentysomething. For example, [New Yorker contributor and Columbia Journalism School Dean] Nick Lemann talks about being the youngest reporter at The Washington Post and living out of his car. Seeing these people when they were in their twenties while they were making mistakes makes them a little more human.

Q: Why did you decide to write it?

A: Very simple. This is the book I wish I had when I got out of college. There were plenty of career books out there, but none of them really talked to us. They all had sound bites and anonymous tips, but I was more interested in stories, which is how I learn things. Instead of telling people how to pursue a career path, I wanted to show them. So, this book shows you how people have landed jobs like organic worker, screenwriter or genetic counselor.

Q: What's a genetic counselor?

A: You'll have to read the book!

Q: How did you do your research?

A: I started out by e-mailing 100 of my nearest and dearest friends, as well as a bunch of people I hadn't heard from in a while. And suddenly I was getting e-mails from all over the country -- about 200 responses. They said they wanted a career book showing them how to land cool jobs, instead of a stuffy finger-wagging book. I also found out that the best jobs don't all have to be in L.A., New York or D.C.

Q: What are the top three things people should know about digging their gig?

A: First, you should be thinking outside the box and considering industries you've never thought of before. There's so much more out there than lawyers, doctors and accountants. For every company offering you a service, there are hundreds of people who work there by using their own angle.

Number two, you've got to follow up. Many people brush that off, but employers are busy, and they'll forget about you. If you're not in the top 50 in my inbox, it means I've probably forgotten about your email. It took me six months to get an interview with Jeffrey Sachs.

Third, if your job feels challenging, it means you're on to something. For me, this book was challenging, intellectually and emotionally. Those very low moments can really fuel you.

Q: Why did you choose Wash. U.?

A: I actually transferred from the University of the South to play volleyball at Wash. U., which has an amazing program. I was a starter before I made the decision to go abroad to Christchurch, New Zealand. And after that I had a great experience as a KSDK intern. I kept in touch with them, which is one of the reasons I'm coming back to St. Louis later this month.

Q: What are your favorite memories of the city?

A: This sounds so lame, so please don't judge me. I just loved walking around Loop. And doing homework at the local coffee shops.

Q: Your memories are of doing homework? A true Wash. U. student!

A: Did I really just say that? Wow, that's pathetic.

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