Hi friends! Welcome to May!
In a few weeks it will officially be one year since I completed grad school, which has got me thinking about the past year. Despite having been in school for, oh, let’s say, the last 20-or-so years, I think I probably learned the most about myself during my first year out of school! I thought it might be interesting (and possibly helpful) for any near graduates to hear about my struggles during my first year out in the ‘real world’, so I drew up a little list of Do’s and Don’ts…
1. DO reward yourself – You did it! All those papers, exams, group projects (aka torture) and all those tears are now fully behind you and you have come out on the other side. Be sure not to brush off your graduation as something ordinary – it’s not. You are part of an elite community, whether you have a BS, BA, MS, MA, PhD, or other degree. Mainstream media can make it seem like every other person goes to college, but that is not true, and more importantly not everyone who goes gets their degree. So, go crazy and celebrate!
However (see no.2)….
2. …DON’T forget to have a plan – Yes, you did something amazing and you deserve a little break…emphasis on the ‘little’! Just because you graduated does not mean that this next summer doesn’t ‘count’ as a part of your real life. Fresh from graduating, you will be in a bit of a ‘student bubble’, where you forget that normal people don’t have spring break vacation, that the year doesn’t start in the fall, and that summer doesn’t mean leisurely time off. You need to start working on your career NOW (and hopefully, before you are out of school). This is the time when you have the most connections, the most momentum, and the most opportunities for finding the right job for you. Make a job application timeline, and take advantage of your professors (that’s what they are here for!), peers, career-fairs, and job-counselors available at your institution.
3. DO keep your search wide – You know the saying: the wider the net, the more fish you’ll be likely to catch. With that in mind, make sure to keep your expectations low. You’re a graduate – you are by no means expected to jump into a CEO position right off the bat! Prepare yourself to work hard, carry out tasks that are tedious, and perform to the best of your ability whether it is wiping tables or cold-calling potential clients. A first job is still a job, and you can learn just as much (if not MORE) from a job outside your desired field that may help you stand out when you finally apply to your dream job! Case in point –> my first job out of college was in a home-goods retail store (my master’s was in Public Communication and Technology, so quite the leap for me). I disliked my job, but experienced a side of customer service that I’d never learned before, and that I use daily in my current position.
4. DON’T settle. Your first job may not be what you envisioned on the day you started college. In fact, it may be completely unrelated to your degree, as I mentioned in No. 3. However, this does not mean it is the only chance you’ll ever get, or the last job you will ever have. If your first job is not completely in line with what you want to do, make a detailed plan for how to transition to where you want to be. Make yourself a timeline, and set goals to achieve to keep yourself accountable. For example, if your first job out of school is as an admin assistant and your dream is to be a graphic designer, use your downtime to continue working on your skills-set, set a specific number of jobs to apply to (and check up on) weekly, and actively participate in online forums or groups for other professionals in your field (such as on LinkedIn or something similar).
Something will come up.
5. DO something. Still not sure what you want to do with your life? Join the club! However, in my experience, figuring out what you definitely DON’T want to do can be just as, if not more, helpful to finding direction in your life. Plus, doing SOMETHING (anything!) will get you experience in a work environment, whether it is a cafe, a summer camp, a hotel lobby, a big company. etc. In any job, you’ll be exposed to other people’s positions, which is another great way to see what kinds of opportunities there are and how different people react to different work. For example, if you always thought you’d like to work outdoors and then you get a job as a camp counselor and find yourself longing to have the camp receptionist’s (indoor) job, in the cool conditioner, that might tell you that maybe an outdoors job is not quite right for you in the long term.
6. DON’T beat yourself up. It’s going to happen – you’ll find the perfect job for you, you’ll apply, wait excitedly for the next few weeks, and either get rejected or worse….never hear from the company again. In this case, it is always best to have a preemptive rejection plan. Realize that the job economy is not at it’s best, and that, while you are an elite, there are still quite a few of you applying per job, all with the same qualifications, level of experience, great interview skills, excellent cover letters, etc. The sad truth about landing a job these days is that it is 80% qualification and 20% pure luck of the draw. Either you know someone in the company, or the job falls into your lap at just the right time and you happen to be the first applicant. Whatever the case, your turn will come if you are persistent and don’t give up when the first rejection comes along.
7. DO practice.College life ≠ real-world life. The hours are different. The peers are different. The vacations are verrry different (sob). Practice for the real-world will not only help you when you have a job, but it will help you to actually land a job. Imagine that you live in Nepal and you are trying to land a job in Arizona. Due to the time difference (about 12 hours), you’d constantly be missing potential contacts or interview opportunities. You’d go to sleep just as the Arizona work force would start their day. Essentially, that is what happens when you live a collegiate life style while trying to find a real-world job. Employers have no obligation to schedule their work around you and your needs, so you need to make sure that you are awake while they are awake, asleep while they are asleep, working while they are working. Plus, once you get the job, the jet-lag/recovery time will be much smaller! This also goes for how you dress (dress for the job you want), when you eat (eat breakfast, lunch and dinner like a grown up), when you plan time to go to the gym (pretend you work from 9-5 and go either before or after those hours), how you speak to strangers (they could be potential connections!), etc. Every day is an opportunity to practice for the life you want.
8. DON’T forget about research. Ok, so you don’t officially have a job yet…in that case, make getting a job your job! Stay in the know, especially about your field. Technology is changing so fast that last year’s freshmen could easily be learning something you never heard of in all your four years studying the exact same subject. Keep on top of things, both to impress potential employers and to help keep you feeling confident about your field. Also, make sure to check out career resources for tips on interviews, navigating social media, resume/cover letter guidelines, etc. Websites like the Levo League, The Every Girl, Forbes, and LaurenConrad.com (I know, I know, but it has helpful hints!) all have interesting articles for women in the workforce, so get reading!
9. DO identify your values/goals in life. Do you want to buy a home and fancy car? Do you want to travel the globe? Are you looking for a balance of work and personal life? Take your values into serious consideration when trying to identify what career you should work toward. If you value vacation time and are the type of person who needs time to re-charge every now and then, don’t strive to become a brain surgeon. You’ll never be happy! If you are constantly go-go-go and thrive from a busy environment, don’t join an Africa-based NGO – you’ll be bored out of your mind. If you want kids someday, have a vague idea of how that could work within your desired field. Identifying what’s important to you early on can help you tailor your career choices so that you are able to get what you want out of life. Remember, your job doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be everything.
Hopefully these Do’s and Don’ts help alleviate your stress a little bit. No matter what happens, the transition from college life to real life will always be a scary and stressful time, so remembering to be kind and patient with yourself will go a long way, as will a positive attitude and a good support system. Enlist a friend in the same position to help keep you accountable in looking for work, or ask your parents to conduct phone-interviews with you for practice (thanks Mom, by the way!).
There is something out there for everyone, and, by keeping your mind open to all the possibilities available, this time should be one of wonder and awe at all the amazing things you could potentially do!