You’ve graduated and thought the hard part was over. Navigating the post-graduation job hunt is where the real work begins. Let me help.
You’ve finally finished college. Great! Now you’re ready to get a fun and rewarding job while paying off your student loans, saving up for a house, car, and kids – all with your hefty new salary, right?
Not so fast, killer. The reality for many recent college grads, myself included, is far more sobering. In 2013, only 27% of recent college grads actually had a job within their major. If that wasn’t bad enough, about half of all recent college grads in 2014 were working in jobs that don’t require a degree at all.
Although most experts agree that college is generally worth it in the long run, the short-term reality of working in a job you despise, making less than you can live on, and dealing with crippling debt might make it seem like you’ve been played for a fool. What’s also true is that millions of others have gotten past this hump and you will too.
Build Your Network
Hopefully, you chose your major because there are jobs – even just a few, within your field. Unless you majored in Underwater Basket Weaving or Deep Space Tornado Chasing, it’s probably possible to do the job you want. That does not mean it’ll be an easy job to get, though and you’ll probably need to use one of the most powerful career tools known to man, networking.
Networking doesn’t have to be a scary endeavor. At its heart, it’s just connecting with people who do the thing you want to do. Networking is intimidating because people are afraid they’ll make a fool of themselves (hint: you will), but what matters more than looking like a nincompoop is showing that you have the balls (or boobs) to get yourself out there.
Networking is an art form, but it doesn’t mean you have to be able to create the network equivalent of the Mona Lisa to reach your goals. A brief period of study in how to network effectively will pay off in dividends later.
Some great reads are How To Win Friends and Influence People and Getting to Yes. If you’re a bit on the introverted side, the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain has some great tips on how to harness your super powers to network with others.
Lend a Hand
Speaking of networking, a great way to get in touch with people who can help you is by volunteering. Check out places you’re interested in working for. Contact the person who has the job you want to do, and offer your services – for free.
This proves that you’re so serious about your profession that even if you can’t get a paid job just yet, you still want to gain some experience. What if you talk to potential employers and volunteer your services, only to be told that they don’t like free labor?
Fear not! Businesses and nonprofits that are even remotely related to your intended career path should also be considered. Any place you can volunteer helps make you a stronger applicant, even if it’s only tangentially related to your industry. The more you can beef up your resume, the better.
Besides building a killer resume, volunteering also has a lot of side benefits. You’re making friends and connections in new and interesting places. You never know when these contacts and the associated opportunities will come around to help you in the future.
Volunteering can also be good for your mental health. If you’re currently stuck in a crappy job where you feel unappreciated, surrounding yourself with people who are grateful for your help can be a much-needed ego boost.
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Let’s pause for a second and consider an alternate possibility. You have a clear goal in mind and you’ve been working really hard at it. The cold, hard truth, though, is that, sometimes things are beyond your control.
You can do everything right, but in the end, you will always be at the mercy of a hiring manager. Despite all of your efforts, it’s possible that you might not be able to do what you want, at least not for now.
In the event that you can’t get the job you want, you need to have alternate plans in place. This isn’t any different from the investment world, where we are taught that diversification is the best way to protect yourself from a single catastrophic event that crushes all the eggs (or, hopes and dreams) you’ve put in the same basket.
Unfortunately, some degrees seem to have a limited career path, so you need to think about what other things you could do. There are few certainties in life, but I can promise you that your bills will still be due regardless of what financial situation you find yourself in.
Your landlord and student loan company won’t give two flying turds that you can’t get the job you want, especially if you have student loans from a private lending company. Now that we have that unpleasantness over, let’s consider the positive side.
You can still move your career forward, even if it seems like the world is conspiring against you. Do you have any marketable skills that would be useful in your intended career path that few people have?
Consider what other places you could work that would allow you to grow those skills so that you can come back faster, stronger, and better when the time is right.
Every Day I’m Hustling
Unless you’ve been living in an underground bunker your whole life, chances are you’ve developed skills, talents, and hobbies that make you unique. And even if you haven’t, I’m sure there are plenty of doomsday preppers who would like to hear from you. How can you use those skills in a way that people would pay you for?
Starting a side hustle requires some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Many of us have been caught in the mindset that we have the skills for a certain job or jobs, and that’s it. In reality, you have hundreds of skills at your disposal. It just requires a mind shift to realize that you need to come up with new combinations for those skills, and charge for it.
Starting a side hustle has numerous benefits. When the world’s been giving you a big, fat No! it’s incredibly empowering to realize that you have valuable skills that people are willing to pay you for. The extra money will always be welcome and let’s not kid ourselves, you probably need it at this point.
If you play your cards right, you might even be able to throw up a middle finger to the Man and transition your side hustle into a full-time gig. If no one will say yes to you, then say yes to yourself.
For many graduates, post-graduation can be incredibly frustrating, depressing, and even soul-crushing. It’s especially difficult because by the time you’ve graduated, you’ve reached the pinnacle of a long and difficult road. By this point, you’re probably fully committed to your field because if you weren’t, it’s unlikely you’d be in the spot you are now.
The biggest tip I can give about dealing with the post-graduation transition period is to not link your identity and self-worth to your intended career. If you do this, you will head into a downwards spiral that won’t take you anyplace you want to be.
Instead, distance yourself from the idea that you are what you do for a living. Focus instead on getting the job you want, while exploring new opportunities that you might not have considered before. Be open to new experiences and ideas, and consider the possibilities that may be down the road
Above all, remember that despite how much this period of your life sucks now, it is temporary and will pass. There are future opportunities in all directions, but no matter where you end up, as long as you take some action you won’t remain where you are now.