Kate is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, class of 2010. While majoring in sociology at CU, she focused her studies on prisoner reform through group intervention behavior modification using the founding principles of restorative justice. After graduation in 2010, work opportunities were far and few between due to the declining economy, as such, Kate had to re-write her five-year plan which could no longer could include graduate school.
The best years of your life are winding down. Recently, you were rushing to finish an assignment you had been putting off, cramming for upcoming final exams, scrambling to finish your term paper in time, and still manage to meet your family as they arrive in town for your graduation ceremony. You’ve been prepping for ‘what comes next’. You’re supposed to know: what you want to be, how you plan to get to that goal, how to budget everything, how you’re going to get health insurance, when the enrollment period opens, how much you’re paying per paycheck, what you would need to declare on your W-4’s, and most important- how you’re going to begin paying off that incredibly large something-thousand dollar loan for the breadth of knowledge now supposedly ingrained in you. In other words, you’re an adult, independent. You’re supposed to know everything, including what’s next.
The most common question people asked me in the months leading up to and after my college graduation, was also the one that aggravated me the most: the “So, what’s next?” I remember being incredibly irked by the question that every friend, professor, advisor, classmate, family member, and neighbor had to ask. A question that looking back now, means as little as the answer I gave then.
My solid post-grad, five-year plan had just taken a seriously sharp turn. 2010 wasn’t a great year to graduate college. I foolishly missed opportunities for volunteer work, internships, and student involvement. Since, I wasn’t well-networked, and did not have a large resume of internships and volunteer work,as well as not being Someone’s child, what skills did I have to offer to the working world?
[So, How Do You Start The Road To The Real World?]
I was entry-level, unskilled, inexperienced, and seriously overwhelmed with debt. Six months out from graduation, I was expected to pay a minimum of $400/month for my student loans, $160 of which was interest alone; this meant at a steady monthly rate I’d be potentially debt free in a mere 104 years, or so. At the time, I used unemployment deferment while searching nonstop for work: online, working with my school’s career advisors, and checking newspapers and local job boards, etc.. I sent out resume, after resume, after resume. Then, I went to interview, after interview, after interview, which, I learned in the process actually made me more confident and that much more prepared for each impending job interview.
In the two-year period post-grad (which included a cross-county move to a brand new town with zero professional networking), I had worked a handful of jobs in a variety of industries and settings. This taught me a lot and allowed me to begin to pay off my loans. Four and a half years out, I am on what is either a potential career path, or just another job. In any event, I’m paying off loans, learning the ropes of the real world, and discovering what I like and don’t like about certain jobs. I’m gaining a lot of professional experience, a serious network in a global industry, and larger skill sets for a growing resume. After an excellent annual review and a hard-earned raise, I’m finally making a real dent in my student loans and other since-acquired debts. [Speaking of which: do not ever go uninsured, not even for one day between plans, because that is the day you will acquire a multi-thousand-dollar medical bill. It’s just the way life works.] So yes, I wish I had taken more advantage of my university’s amenities, internships, volunteer opportunities and clubs/groups; however, if you didn’t- it’s not the end of the world.
Here are a few things I quickly learned in my post-grad life:
• Plans change. Adjust and use the time to explore different jobs. They don’t have to be your career, but use each experience to help focus your next.
• It’s okay if you don’t end up using your degree. It’s okay if you find something else that you are passionate about. It’s also okay to still not know what you want to do with you’re life. I’m 26 and still don’t know what I want to do with mine.
• Make sure to chose jobs you enjoy. As you go through a few jobs, you’ll really learn what makes you happy, what you enjoy doing and what you really don’t. Keep lists and take notes. Those notes make great potential interview questions for what could be coming next.
• Speaking of job interviews, they are not just interviewing you; don’t forget that you are also interviewing them. Make sure you ask questions. It also shows a lot of interest in the position when you show up to an interview prepared with a list of questions specific to that position and company.
• Learn everything you can; absorb like a sponge from those you see as leaders, and learn from their example.
• Take advantage of building your LinkedIn Profile (with professional contacts, only), and work with temp and temp-to-hire agencies. Don’t limit yourself to just one agency, work with as many as you can.
• If you get the opportunity to travel, take it. Your job is not going to give you a 3-week vacation or an unpaid leave for an experience you could have taken when you were 22.
• Don’t forget to keep hobbies: read, write, run, do yoga, and explore new ones.
• Don’t forget to keep up with your friends also. You likely won’t be in school, or seeing them at the same rate you previously were- you have to work to maintain your friendships post-grad.
• Do NOT wait to until you are 26 to find your own health insurance.
• Do not let your pride get the best of you. Ask! Ask for feedback. Ask for help.
• Get an Amazon Prime account with your student email address while you still have discounted access.
• Grab a copy of What Color is Your Parachute. This book gives excellent tips for better resume writing, job searching, job interviews, and everything in between. I’ve passed my copy on to many friends and family members who have eached thanked me, after landing a great job they loved.
• Relax, and enjoy the ride. Life is short and you only get one shot; don’t wish it away, or rush through it. Don’t wish for the weekend every Monday, or you will make yourself miserable.