This post is geared towards those nearing college graduation. If you know someone preparing for these sometimes-painful and certainly anxiety-inducing months, please share with them. It might help.
You are days away from graduating college and unless you have a job lined up or you are going to grad school, reality is most likely preparing to punch you in the face.
I have been there. It sucks.
After graduating college, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I spent months binge-watching The Sopranos, living off Target gift cards, and looking for work. It was brutal. I took a job selling cars, but was fired after two weeks for selling an F150 for less than it cost Ford to make it. To my defense, I offered the truest price.
Eventually, grad school started and those mind-numbing months were over, but what I learned during those dark times would come to inform future job-hunting experiences in ways I could have never recognized at the time.
In the hope of making your transition from college to career less painful than my short-lived attempt, here are five actions you can take now to dull the pain of living in your parents’ basement and/or eating microwaved ramen for a few more months.
1. Try to figure out what is going to make you happy.
Chances are, you will have some free time in the coming months. Take some of this time to consider what things make you the happiest. It is going to be impossible at 22-, 23-, or 24-years-old to come up with a truly thoughtful answer, but this is a thought exercise. Your priorities and your sources of joy will change, but beginning the job hunt with an awareness of the things that bring happiness is a solid start.
If skiing 45 days a year is critical to your happiness, you’re going to need to find a job that has that flexibility. If you want to be part of an organization that offers a public good, that means oil and gas are out of the question. If you plan on going out three nights a week –including at least one weeknight– you should consider what kinds of workplaces will let that pass without reproach and what workplaces frown upon smelling like stale cigarettes and flavored vodka.
The point here is not to find a job so you can work, but to find a job so you can work to afford and do the things in life that make you happy. That does not necessarily mean you can avoid a shitty job; it means you are starting that shitty job knowing it is what makes the happier goal possible.
2. Get a new (professional) email address.
Your school email is going to be void in 12 months and the email you created in high school is probably debilitatingly embarrassing. Get a Gmail or Outlook or iCloud or Yahoo address. These services are professional and will not work against you when included at the top of your résumé.
If possible, avoid using numbers. And full names are preferred. If the address you want is taken, try different symbols to separate your first and last names (ex. email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org).
In sum, make sure to have an email address that is professional enough that hiring managers won’t cringe when they see it.
3. Write a quality résumé then revise it.
You must have a quality résumé that clearly conveys the qualifications and professional experiences relevant to the job for which you are applying. It must be descriptive and specific to you. The words incorporated should be pertinent to the verbiage used in the job call. Keep it to one-page and include your education at the bottom. No references here; if an employer wants references, they will ask.
Before you submit, proofread both your résumé and cover letter at least three times. If you are applying for an entry-level position, the hiring manager is looking for any reason to toss out your application and save time. Misspellings, poor grammar, and typos must be avoided.
Once you have a quality résumé be prepared to tweak it for every job you apply. A general résumé is a great place to start, but it is a template. You need to submit résumés specific to their respective job calls. Much like a poorly written-résumé, a generic résumé will get tossed quickly, especially if it is part of an application for a job with specific desired qualifications and experience.
4. Create a LinkedIn profile and cultivate it.
With the résumé done, it is time to transfer that content to a LinkedIn profile. This is your opportunity to control search engine results when potential employers check you out. Having some sort of social media presence is a must. In fact, if you do not have something companies tend to process this as odd and it could work against you. LinkedIn is your way of adhering to this standard while also deflecting potential employers away from personal social media profiles.
While LinkedIn content is like résumé content, there are major differences. Use LinkedIn to further articulate previous experiences in ways you cannot on a one-page résumé. Writing from narrative or first-person perspectives is acceptable (and even desired) on LinkedIn. Do not hesitate to add your personality when building your profile.
In addition, seek out professional connections, references, and endorsements. These more forward approaches to communication are more acceptable on this platform. Get major influencers (ex. former employers or professors) to back up your skills. Add external links and documents to your LinkedIn profile, giving it life and creating a connected digital persona. Maybe you created a podcast for a senior-level class or have a nice PowerPoint presentation you built as part of a group project; include this stuff in your profile.
And like your résumé, your LinkedIn profile is not a static thing. You do not want to change it for every job to which you apply, but you do want to add new skills and experiences when they happen. You also want to connect with other professionals that you meet. This work may seem pointless at first, but the long-term positives cannot be understated. Perhaps you will be a finalist for your dream job and you happen to be LinkedIn connections with the hiring manager’s best friend. This kind of thing can very much work in your favor.
5. Identify the jobs you have a shot at and be patient.
At first, you are going to be super enthusiastic about finding a job and will apply to every job you think you have a shot at getting. With your Communication Studies degree, you will want to apply to any job that has the word “communication” in it, even if it’s a job call for an app developer. Your English degree seems like it might fit the call for a technical writer with 10+ years of experience.
This is an exciting time and you are still feeling excited about the fact you finished college. I get it. I was there.
You might soon find out most of the time and effort you put into applying was a total waste. No one is calling you back, but the rejection emails never stop. Your ego is going to take a hit and most likely, so will your motivation. When this happens, it is a good time to reassess your qualifications and measure them according to the qualifications listed in job announcements.
Humility will hurt at first, but it is going to save you time and help you be more efficient. You are going to see the word “communication,” but only apply if the job is open to entry-level employees and desires a Communication Studies (or similar) degree.
It might take months to find a job you think is a good fit and pays enough to survive. Months! Being patient and being humble are integral to surviving these months. Apply to the jobs you are qualified to get. Then wait. Along the way, you may have to take a gig at Starbucks (or God forbid, a car dealership) to pay the bills. This is okay because by this time you will have learned how to be an efficient and effective job hunter; the free time you have for applying will be used wisely. And you won’t be broke.
And stay positive. You will figure out where your strengths are and leverage them while recognizing your weaknesses and masking them. This time is brutal. I have been there. But I promise it gets better at some point.
There you have it, graduates. Congratulations on that degree. It still is a big deal.
Now, after the ceremony is over and the party has been cleaned up, you have some perspective on how to minimize the agony, futility, and frustration that will define the upcoming weeks… and probably months.