Plan the work, work the plan

27 March 2023
Chad Ellsworth
Chad Ellsworth, Associate Director

As the month of March heralds the official arrival of the Spring season (despite the presence of large snow banks on my front yard), one cannot help but feel like Summer is just around the corner. For some of us, it may mean lining up home projects, planning vacations, or signing up children for summer activities and camps (in my household, a combination of all three). 

But, for Carleton students, the beginning of the spring term can bring increased urgency to the question, “What are your plans for the summer?” or for our senior students, “What are you going to do after graduation?” At a time when we’re seeing more and more students launching their job or internship searches “just-in-time,” it’s important to help them navigate the pressure and stress of those searches with positive and productive habits.

Finding a job or internship is a big project, but it’s also a series of small, doable steps repeated over time.

I’m a big fan of the “Ted Lasso” series on Apple TV+. If you’re not familiar with the show, it follows an American football coach who becomes coach of a fictional English Premier League Club. One of the verbal gems that Coach Lasso offers in two different episodes is the reminder, “bird by bird,” a reference to the title of Anne Lamott’s 1994 book “on writing and life” of the same name. The title is a reference to a beautiful moment between Lamott’s father and brother.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ (Lamott, 1994).”

When your goal is a big and unwieldy one, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. However, by breaking that same goal into smaller, more manageable tasks, you can build enthusiasm and momentum by experiencing more wins along the way, as well as feel a sense of accomplishment as you make progress toward the larger goal.

How can you help your student implement this strategy with their goal of securing a job or internship this summer?

The job and internship search process can be a “grind.” Students face the prospect of spending hour after hour searching websites, cold-emailing contacts, and revising application after application. It’s easy to see how overwhelming the process can become.

Ask your student: 

  • What does a reasonable commitment to the search process look like for them? 
  • What kinds of opportunities are of interest to you? If you’re not sure, look at what other Carls have done for internships or full-time opportunities.
  • How much time can they devote to searching websites for opportunities? 
  • How many networking requests would they like to send? 
  • How many applications do they plan to submit each week? 

Here is a quick overview of a job or internship search strategy I frequently recommend because it gives students some daily variety, while also building and nurturing professional relationships, which are by far the most powerful tool in their search:

Most importantly, once students meet the reasonable goal they set for that day, I encourage them to feel 100% comfortable stopping for the day. 

There is always pressure to do more, but the quality of their interactions and relationships, not to mention the quality of their application materials, matter far more than the quantity of those things. 

“Bird by bird,” students will see tangible progress in identifying, pursuing, and securing a plan for the summer, while giving them the grace and space to catch their breath and feel capable and confident in the process. Plan the work, then work the plan.