5 Career Tips for New Grads
You've worked hard for four years, or maybe even more than that. (It took me eleven years to finally get my bachelors degree, so I'm certainly not judging you!) But now that you have that degree in your hand, you're ready to take the workforce by storm!
Here are some tips I've learned over the years that can help you on your quest for gainful employment.
1. Settle...at first. But don't stagnate.
Assuming that you need to support yourself, you are probably going to have to take monotonous, unfulfilling jobs. If you've worked your way through college, you've probably already experienced this. Sometimes you'll need to take two or three jobs at a time to make ends meet. I've been there, and there's no sugar coating it: it sucks. I'm 30 and I've worked 19 jobs...and that doesn't include unpaid internships or volunteer work. Out of all those jobs, there's only one I can say with complete certainty didn't have majorly sucky elements: the one I'm in now. Incidentally, it's also the only job I've had in my desired field. (Don't be one of those folks who says "I'm holding out for a job in my field." You will starve in the meantime.)
"[Cousin Eddie] is holding out for a management position."
There are some people who can get a great job in their desired field right out of college, but that's a rare occurrence, and in my experience, they seem to have very specific degrees: engineering, teaching, medicine. If your degree is slightly more...abstract...you will probably need to put in your time at menial jobs. Make the best of it. Put it on your resume. Employers want to see loyalty. Sure, you may sweep floors or plunge toilets, but if you've been doing it consistently for a year--and have a great reference from your manager--that looks better than if you switch jobs every two months. I'm paraphrasing an old saying I heard once: "If you have to sweep floors, be the best damn floor-sweeper they've ever seen."
The most important thing to remember about settling is to NOT allow yourself to become comfortable. Before you know it, you'll open your eyes and realize that you've been slinging prescriptions at CVS for four years. Treat job searching like a second job: when you get home from work, search job boards and apply for multiple jobs. Work to improve your resume, cover letter, and interview skills. Which brings us to...
2. Never let yourself become superfluous. (ABL: Always Be Learning!)
Your college career might be over, but your learning is just beginning. Seriously. This doesn't mean that you need to jump headfirst into grad school (although that would keep Sallie-Mae at bay for a bit longer), only that you need to keep yourself up to date with any skills relevant to the position you want. Read relevant books, attend webinars and conferences, volunteer, snag an internship or enroll in a certificate course...whatever it takes to keep yourself relevant. Get comfortable with any software or technology you might be asked to use on the job, and list it on your resume.
In the same vein, always be on the lookout for needs that you can fulfill. I created my current position. I was hired as a video editor, but when I noticed that our marketing copy kept being released despite grammatical errors, I spoke up. I spoke up frequently, sending emails to my boss and supervisor that simply said "edits" and listed all the changes I would make. After a while, they realized--and I realized, too--that I actually had a valuable skill. They could hire someone else who knew how to use Premiere Pro, but finding someone with an eagle eye for spelling and grammar mistakes would be more difficult.
3. Don't leave a job until you have another one lined up.
I know the feeling of being so demeaned and undervalued that you really want to just throw your name badge in your boss' face and declare "I quit!" while stomping dramatically out the door. (Preferably, on the busiest day of the year so that they finally understand how much they actually needed you.)
But, hang in there: In job interviews, you may be expected to explain--at least to a degree--why you left your previous jobs. Not to mention, gaps in employment look terrible on a resume. I know it's soul-crushing, but stick it out. Use the bad experience as motivation to search and apply for other positions. (For reference: I sent out ten job applications per night at my last job. It took me seven months to find my current position.)
4. Use social media to your advantage.
On Twitter and LinkedIn, follow leaders in your chosen industry. (Don't have a LinkedIn account? GET ONE!) Tweet and retweet things relevant to your dream job, and use appropriate hashtags. (I use #writerlife, #amwriting, and #copyeditorproblems frequently.) Look out for AMAs (ask me anything) and submit your own questions. Do your best to be a mini-news source for topics relevant to your field--and if you blog, post links to your blog, too! But most importantly, don't tweet anything that you wouldn't want your boss (or future boss!) to see.
5. It's okay if you don't know what you want to do.
My college career was pretty aimless. I focused on teaching at first, then cosmetology, then psychology, then communications & broadcasting...my degree? It's in creative writing. Job-wise, I've worked as a transcriptionist, a photographer, a pharmacy tech...you name it. If you have multiple interests, that's fine, too. You can have multiple resumes. You can cover more than one topic on Twitter. You might--like me--be hired for one job (video editing) and quickly find that your true calling is in copyediting. If the workforce teaches us anything, it's that we're flexible people who can fit into more than one career-mold until we find the one that suits us best. Don't worry, it's out there for you, too.