Jazz music. You either like it, or you hate it. Most people who hate it claim that they can’t make sense of the random, “squawking” notes they hear, but this could not be farther from the truth! A closer listen would reveal that there is nothing random about jazz and that each musical line, however disjointed it may sound at first, is one long, carefully crafted expression based on years of training, listening skills and artistry. Jazz musicians hear chords as a landscape that they are asked to navigate with a well-crafted, improvised melody line. They use their training to listen to the chords; the ones they just left behind and the chords which have yet to be, and they react accordingly to make a melody line that is all their own; that’s improv.

The same can be said about a student freshly thrown into the job market. At first it all feels like random stabs in the dark; applying for what seems like a million positions, writing a million cover letters, and a million thank you notes, but we eventually learn to listen to the job landscape, pursue our talents, use them in new ways and begin crafting a career path which will hopefully look something like a beautiful melody line we spent our lives creating.

Jazz musicians learn to memorize traditional chord progressions and scales so that they can combine these all in a new creative, improvisatory way. One of my musical mentors once told me something which changed my life as a musician and a business person: “There are only twelve notes in a scale. You can’t reinvent that wheel, but you can rearrange those notes to make a melody in your own voice.” Now I find myself every day listening and anticipating the chords and needs in my work, and creating my own “musical line.” As students, you’ve studied “typical” framework of your classes and their core concepts, but once you graduate, I challenge you to use this knowledge and even to go beyond the classroom skills you’ve learned, to find new and creative ways to pool your talents to craft your work career, whatever it may be, in your own voice.

Part of what makes jazz so enjoyable is the suspense created when a true master stretches a melody line so far out from where it began that it seems like the ear will never come back, yet in the next breath effortlessly bridges us back to the comfort of what our ears know. The world’s most successful people, regardless of industry, have ALWAYS stretched boundaries of society’s traditions and concepts to forge bold new pathways in their voice and to meet the needs of the problems that they see. How do they do this? They know their skills. They know their language. And they know how to “listen” to what has happened before and look ahead to “hear” and anticipate the growing holes in the market, adapting their skills to these needs.

What chords will you hear and what needs will you answer? How far out will you stretch your gifts and skills? The world of work and careers is full of sounds that seem like jazz “squawks,” but take the time to hear the chords of the skills you’ve learned here at Loyola and listen for what’s coming next and you’ll undoubtedly hear a landscape that will embrace your skills and navigate you through a rich career path. If you want to learn more about all of the possibilities and doors your skill set can open, please visit the Career Development Center website or visit us on the 2nd Floor of the Danna Center.

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