7 Post-College Dilemmas Resolved

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As my cousin is winding down his last few months at UCLA, I’ve found myself thinking again to those post-college dilemmas that seemed so confusing then and seem so simple now. Hindsight has an amazing way of reminding you that everything that’s a big deal now will likely not be later and that we’re always growing and learning.

So this is my public note to give CB something to chew on as he enters the world of work for a year before grad school. 7 quick solutions to jumpstart the next leg of the journey, from my career to yours:

1. What if I can’t find a job in my field?

A college degree is your boarding pass; it buys you a seat to get where you need to go. More than anything, it proves you were capable of supporting yourself somehow, learning something, reading and collaborating a lot, and seeing it through til the degree is conferred. Few of us English majors (that’s me) or History majors (that’s him) find our first paychecks coming from the exact place we expected it would. When I left college, my options were nonprofit work where I could write grants and run development programs (as much as I love nonprofit work, I’m quite sure the economic downturn would have left me without a job a year or two in), marketing (never my deal), or education (thank goodness I landed here–this was always supposed to be my home).

It’s all about transferrable skills and finding an outlet for your passion that also pays the bills.

2. What if I’m unsure about grad school?

I’ve had friends go straight here, take time in between, or go straight to work and never look back. In my opinion, grad school is great if you can get it paid for by the program or have a particular interest that keeps you up at night. If it’s just “what’s next” in your educational journey, all your friends are doing it, or you don’t love the idea of throwing your resume in the giant pool out there right now, don’t use grad school as an excuse to extend your comfort zone another year or two. There’s a lot to be said for getting out there to work, validate what you’ve learned against real business challenges, and learn how to collaborate and build things outside of the walls of academia. Grad school isn’t going to go away, so unless you’re particularly invested in it, consider coming back to it when you’ll have more life and work experience to contribute to the dynamic.

3. What am I going to do?

This all depends on you–what worked well for me was to triangulate: the skill set I’d just honed in college, the growth job markets, and my desired contribution. For example, I knew I liked writing, my major, and at the time, there were lots of marketing and education jobs where writing was a core skill. These quickly became focal points for me because I could write copy, write educational materials, write press releases, etc. That’s where my desired contribution became a tie-breaker: I wanted to make the world a better place, because that’s what happens when you graduate from an idealistic major such as English. It made education my easy choice over marketing.

4. What do I need to do to set myself apart?

Today’s student is miles ahead with a LinkedIn profile, a clean social media feed, and a dedication to content creation that showcases your personality, your drive, and your ambition. Employers want to know you before they know you–why you over everyone else? What makes you special? What unique worldview do you bring to their operations that will accelerate what you can do together? Consider setting up a LinkedIn profile with your work and academic experience, a Twitter feed where you curate news of interest to those in your chosen major or industry, and a blog or YouTube channel where you’re creating content others can consume.

CB’s a history major, so he might create short visual study guides for different periods or 2-minute tip summaries of his favorite thinkers and why they’re significant to his journey through history. Sound like a lot of work? It is–it’s a lot of work that shows that a) you’re a person who can do a lot of work b) you want to give back c) you’re seeking your community or tribe d) you’re a thinking, proactive student who’s ready to transition to the working world. It’s much, much easier to hire people who show initiative!

5. What do I do to prepare for job hunting?

This could be a post all by itself, but in brief:

a. Make a simple LinkedIn profile you can use to apply to jobs. Download a version of it as a resume you can share.

b. Network with professors or internship coordinators for tips on open positions and job hunting in general.

c. Have a reliable cell phone number set up and answer when an odd number calls. If your phone drops service in that one corner of your dorm, needless to say, don’t leave it in that corner. The goal is to answer when people call, unless you’re in a crowded or noisy spot where the first impression you’ll leave will be, “Hey, I can’t hear you.”

d. In case you miss a call, make sure you have a professional message set up, such as: “This is CB. I’m sorry I missed your call but look forward to returning it. Please leave your name and number. Have a great day!”

e. Get a professional set of clothes you can use for interviewing, even if it’s just one good outfit. Show up with your phone on silent and in your bag or briefcase so you’re not distracted. Practice a firm, confident hand shake and looking folks in the eye.

f. You’re just out of school–don’t inflate your experience. You’re interviewing because the interviewer is interested in you as you are. Don’t try to sound like Donald Trump with the wisdom of many years of job experience–acknowledge that you’re new and turn it to your advantage. What are you good at that the company doesn’t yet have enough of?

6. How do I negotiate an offer?

Everything’s negotiable. That’s lesson number one. This is a tight job market, sure, but that doesn’t mean the first offer is it. Decide up front what matters most to you–salary, educational benefits, vacation time, flexible working schedules or locations, etc. This is your important chip. Negotiate elements around this–for example, if you absolutely need 50k to start, you might be willing to give on vacation to find extra salary. Or if it’s most important to you that you could go to grad school on the company’s dime, perhaps you’re willing to come in a little lower in salary or take a job in the office rather than telecommuting.

Protect your ultimate goal, and help your negotiation partner get you to a yes. At the same time, greed isn’t your friend here–this is your first real job, so expect a starter salary with starter benefits commensurate with your experience and qualifications. I got the same starter offers at first too. You start somewhere, and then you work to move up.

7. How do I adjust to being out of school?

Stay busy! This isn’t the time to move home and rekindle a romance with the XBox for a few months while you send out a resume here and there. Set a goal to send out 2-3 resumes a day. Focus on your triangulation of skills, growth markets, and passion to find the companies that are doing what you want to do. Look within your network for connections to that company. Create your content.

Keep reading, learning, and growing–you may think your journey has just ended, but in reality, it’s just begun!

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