It’s that time of year! Universities all over the country are holding their graduation ceremonies! After 4 (or so) years, wide-eyed and eager undergraduates walk across the stage as the culminating action of all of their hard work! Pomp and Circumstance enjoys its most (really only) popular season and with the toss of a graduation cap, the future seems bright.
Your family and friends greet you excitedly after the ceremony, hand you cards full of congratulations and ask what your plans are, post-college. You don’t have anything concrete right now, but that’s ok! You’re young! You just graduated from college! You have a degree! People tell you all the time you can get a job, as long as you have a college degree!
THREE WEEKS LATER…
There are half filled boxes and garbage bags scattered all over your apartment. You have to be out at the end of the month, but you have no idea where you and your stuff might go. The remnants of last semester’s student loans are drying up and your parents really banked on you being independent now that you have a degree. In fact, they don’t have much cash to send you because they’ve decided to visit all of the National Parks in their new motorhome. #wishyourwerehere #butnotreally #getajobalready
It’s time to get your crap together! Summer vacation is a luxury you don’t get to enjoy in the “real world” of post graduation. The time for carefree road trips and going to the pool in the middle of the day is past. Stop having a pity party because being a college graduate hasn’t been everything you ever dreamed it would be (at least the first 3 weeks of it). Keep boxing things up and start looking for a job and an apartment.
Easier said than done, you say? Well, I’ve got some advice…
Start Taking Notes Now…
Being a recent college graduate myself, I understand the existential crises you’re struggling with right now. In fact, this is the second time I’ve graduated. My first degree is in History and Political Science. Ask me what I did after graduation. Go ahead ask…
I was a secretary. I was an administrative assistant. I was a substitute teacher. I was a voice studio accompanist. I was a private piano and voice teacher. I was a pharmacy technician. Seriously guys, I’ve done NOTHING in that particular field since graduation. The closest I came was subbing for a history class one time. #truestory
For many of you graduates, your first job out might not have anything to do with your degree. Does that make it a waste of time? No it does not. First, you have to eat and pay rent. You need money to do that. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Get yourself a job getting paid to do SOMETHING! Have a good attitude. Make valuable connections wherever you are. And pay your bills. None of that can be called a waste.
It was through the myriad of jobs that I had after my first degree that I eventually decided to go back for my second degree. I wish I could have gotten a masters, but most Masters of Music programs require an Undergrad in Music first. So back to the Undergrad courses I went. Being older (and quite frankly, wiser) this time around, I knew how to take advantage of my education and experiences. Here’s my first piece of advice…
If you’re reading this as a recent college graduate, it’s not necessarily too late for this one. Keep reading. It’s going to be okay.
If you’re reading this while you’re still working on your degree, lucky you!
During your coursework, you need to keep your eye out for opportunities. For me, I saw a gap in the education provided by my department and I decided to fill it with a university sanctioned and nationally backed club. I founded a student organization and wrote a grant proposal to provide our students a unique learning opportunity at a conference in San Diego. My involvement with the student organization caused the local chapter to use me as a representative there, which led to more opportunities to work with professionals in my area of interest. This was not an opportunity that any faculty member handed to me. I did the research and leg work to set up the organization with the school and national association. I spearheaded the grant writing and gathered all of the required information.
In addition to creating this opportunity for myself, I volunteered for various other projects and positions within my program, filling the need wherever I could. I knew I couldn’t expect opportunities to just fall into my lap. I needed to gain experience, so I found a way.
How does this advice help you if you’ve already graduated? You need experience, or a job, or a network? GO OUT AND FIND ONE! So you didn’t plan for your graduation. You can start planning now for your career! Take a job that might not be exactly in your field, but could put you in contact with people who could help you in the future. Get a job so you have a job to put on your resume! Do it well and your boss can be a solid reference for you in the future!
This leads to my next piece of advice…
YOU MAKE YOUR OWN SUCCESS
No one is going to walk up to you at graduation and say “Hey! Come work for my Fortune 500 company! It’s the exact job you’ve always wanted! And we’re going to pay you way more than you’re worth!” Guys, it just doesn’t happen!
I graduated at the top of my class, with oodles of experience and no one just “handed” me anything. I know what I want to do. I’ve been looking at positions with Disney for a couple of years now. I knew what the process was like. I knew about the Disney College Program. I know that after the DCP, they offer professional internships. I know that Disney likes to hire people they have experience with, and I know that if I want a performing job with Disney, I need to be in Orlando to go to auditions regularly. The roles in the Disney College Program might not be exactly what I want to do long term, but I know that it can be a vehicle to get me to where I want to end up. I don’t know people who work for Disney. I didn’t have anyone to push my resume to the top of the stack. I know I’m going to have to work my way up to where I want.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF WORK
Hard work doesn’t end just because you graduate with a college degree. Granted, your focus won’t be split between Biology, World History and your Major courses. But hard work isn’t exclusive to school. Even if you’re lucky enough to land your “dream job”, you’re still going to find a lot of things hard. Someone is going to get promoted over you. Someone who doesn’t work as hard. Someone is going to hate you. Something is going to be out of your reach. Something is going to require you to ask for help and say there’s something you don’t know. Something is going to make you question all of your life choices.
Work through it! Everything has been leading you to this moment! You’ve done your class work. You’ve worked with difficult group members. You’ve had to ask teachers questions. All of these things have given you the skills. Just don’t give up because it seems “too hard”.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO
I’m sure you’ve heard this before. And maybe you even took it into account when choosing your college major. Great!
What happens when you get out of college and your first job isn’t in your field?
You get to choose your attitude in any given situation. Learn what you can from the job. Do a good job. Show your superiors that you can make the best out of any situation. That’s only going to play to your advantage when you use those superiors as references down the road.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover you actually really enjoy a job you didn’t think was what you wanted.
Get your resume ready to go. But don’t go overboard with it. Give them the information they need. If you look on the internet, you’ll see all kinds of “creative” templates for resumes. You don’t need your own personalized font. It doesn’t need to look like a graphic design project. Make it clean. Make it organized.
And when you go to an interview, be yourself. That’s what the HR manager wants to see. That’s what your potential new boss wants to see. They want to see who YOU are and how YOU might fit into their organization. Don’t try to guess what they want. They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they didn’t see something desirable.
And if you don’t receive the offer, don’t take it personally. Remember all those people who walked across the stage with you at graduation? They’re all out pounding the pavement looking for jobs too. There’s a lot of competition. And if you’re not the one they hired, it means you weren’t the right fit. It means maybe you wouldn’t have gotten along with people there. Maybe you would have been miserable at that job.
Eat a cookie. Move on to the next application or interview.
You’ve got this! You just need to take your future into your own hands! It’s okay if your first job isn’t your dream job! It’s okay if you answer phones and get coffee for your first year after college. It’s okay as long as you’re working. It’s okay as long as you keep your long term goals in view. It’s okay as long as you don’t give up!