This weekend, all across the country, college students are donning caps and gowns and subjecting themselves and their friends and family to two-hour ceremonies in order to have five seconds of stage-walking glory to celebrate four or more years of hard work. I’m no mathematician, but there’s something unfair about those ratios. Fair or not, after grabbing the tease of a diploma holder (surprise, it’s empty!) and shifting the tassel over to the big boy side, it’s time to start seriously focusing on what’s next, and by “what’s next,” I don’t mean which installment of the Hangover trilogy seems like the most fun to reenact. After all the book learnin’, there’s a new brand of work to be done.
Many of us have been at this pivotal post-graduation point before, and, depending on how the subsequent years have played out, are either glad it’s behind us forever or wish we had it to do over again. As someone who experienced it not too long ago, it’s a time that’s fairly fresh in my mind, and so I have some thoughts on it that may carry weight with this weekend’s freshly-minted alumni. If there are any new grads or grads-to-be reading this thing, take these biased musings on the experience from a sample size of one for whatever you deem them worth.
-Don’t freak out or get discouraged if you don’t find a job right away. The job market is a cruel, fickle hombre, and most of your competitors have shiny new degrees just like yours. Maintaining patience is obviously much easier preached than practiced, but if you persevere and resist the temptation to fold after a month or eight of rejection, chances are something positive will eventually happen. For two months after grad school when I was trying to get a professional-level job in the library field, which is typically even tougher to crack than most others in the already tough job market, I was applying places left and right without even being called for interviews. Woe was me, but I kept applying, and when I finally did get granted an interview, I got the job.
-Don’t be too proud to take a less-than-ideal job at first, either to pay the bills while looking for The Job or to get your foot in the door for The Job. I know you put in a lot of time and money into earning your highfalutin degree, and you may feel like you should accept nothing less than an executive position with a corner office complete with en suite bathroom and business hammock, but as a wise Scotsman once, said “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll,” and you’ll likely find you’ll have to start rockin’ a little lower on the totem pole. If you’re in a financial position to be picky, by all means, go for it, but most don’t have that luxury. After I finished my undergrad degree, I took a near-minimum wage job shelving books in order to get some money coming in while I got things figured out (I had other motives here, but I’ll get to that in the next paragraph). Sure, I felt a little silly being a degree holder doing a job a high school kid could get, but not working wasn’t an option. Later on, when I was seeking a librarian job after grad school, I accepted a part-time professional position, which was great though not entirely ideal, but it shortly turned into full time work. Had I held out for the perfect job in either of the aforementioned situations, I would’ve done myself a disservice.
-Don’t be afraid to not use your new degree at all. I know, that sounds ridiculous and somewhat idiotic, but for some people, for various reasons, getting a degree and the job to which it is expressly intended to lead isn’t the end of the rainbow. In my case, I graduated with an advertising degree and quickly decided that I wanted nothing to do with advertising. What a fool, right? Did I waste four years of my life and take on crippling debt for absolutely no reason? As it turns out, no, because of a little thing called grad school. While working my part-time, pay-the-bills job shelving books, I discovered that I wanted to make a career out of library work. It required going back to school, the place from which I had just escaped, and it required more loans, of which I already had enough for my liking, but the pain seemed worth the gain. I sucked it up, rued the day I said “I’ll never take an exam again!,” and did my time in grad school. Now I’m happily employed doing something I love, rather than unhappily making a career in a field my heart’s not truly in. It may seem masochistic, but if you swing and miss on your first degree/career plan, jumping back in and trying a different educational track might be right for you. Plus, you get to defer payments on your existing student loans while you’re back in school, which I don’t need to tell you is pretty sweet.
-Take advantage of the job seeking resources available online and through helpful libraries like BPL. Whether you need help finding job openings, practicing for interviews, or building and polishing your resume and cover letter, free resources are available. If you have a Benbrook Public Library card, give these a try, and if you aren’t a card-carrying Benbrook bibliophile, contact your local library; they almost certainly have some good stuff of their own. Also, while online help abounds, if there’s a person in your life who’s in the HR world, in the field you’re interested in, is a wizard with words, or just plain knows things, have that person look over your resume and cover letter. Having knowledgeable sets of eyes look over your work is always helpful, and it has been invaluable to me as I’ve prepared to apply for jobs over the years.