Instead of spending the Monday after college graduation preparing for my first big-kid job or recovering from the weekend’s festivities, I spent it trapped with 100 other dutiful citizens in a humid basement at the Department of Justice. Jury duty.
Happy graduation, right?
As I sat slowly fusing to my plastic chair, I couldn’t tell which was making me sweat more: the heat or the realization that I could no longer list “student” as my occupation on the voir dire card.
I looked around the room at all the other non-students–the real adults who lived in a world where you don’t get free Pizza Hut just for showing up. How did they do it? How would I do it?
It’s been a year and change since that sweltering May morning. Looking back, it’s clear that my woeful under-preparedness made an already rough road that much rougher.
Lucky for me, fate was kind. But fate also favors the prepared, which is why I’m offering the following bits of advice to incoming college seniors.
Take Advantage of Freebies
Little known fact: many universities offer a dizzying array of free software classes. Had I been informed and inclined, I could have learned the whole Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro, SAS, and Dreamweaver—just to name a few.
Spending more time in class than you already do sounds repulsive until you consider how often “HTML proficient” or “Excel wizard” show up in job descriptions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of these classes could be the most financially rewarding few hours of your entire college career.
You can craft the perfect resume and write a cover letter worthy of Keats, but if you’re casting them into some online Taleo nightmare, they’ll do you zero good.
For a shot at your dream job, you’ve got to know the right people. Period.
These “right people” are fairly easy to meet. Just be aggressive and ambitious enough to reach out to them yourself (no, my shy brothers and sisters, they will not reach out to you).
Find a professional whose industry or company piques your interest. They tend to gather at alumni events, recruitment fairs, office hours, and relatives’ holiday parties, so attend liberally.
Next, email this person to “set up a time to chat and learn more about working in Industry/Company.” When you converse, ask intelligent questions and keep your ears open.
Most of the folks you’ll talk to probably can’t hire you, but they can (and will) throw you a couple of contacts or pass your resume along. Generally speaking, professionals are glad to lend a hand to eager college kids like you.
Get Your Financial House in Order
I’ve seen money woes trip up a number of my friends, from securely employed cubicle jockeys to hand-to-mouth freelancers. In almost all cases, their problems stemmed more from a lack of information than a lack of funds.
You, college senior, should go to your bank tomorrow (or today) and learn the following:
- The balance of all your accounts.
- The amount of loan and other (credit card?) debt you have now, and what you’ll have upon graduation
- The date your loan payments start coming due
- Your credit score***
Note the asterisks.
Many young adults don’t know that a weak or nonexistent credit score means you’ll have a hard time renting an apartment or setting up utilities.
This will fully sink in once they’ve turned off your power, but I wouldn’t wait until then to take action. You’ve got a year to beef it up. Talk to a banker and get cracking.
While you’re at it, keep in mind whether you’ll need to switch banks once you graduate due to relocation or other changes. If the answer is yes, start investigating worthy institutions now.
It’s safe to assume you’ll have an interview of some sort this year. While clothes won’t land you the gig, they can be the cherry atop–or the long, black hair in–the sundae that is your interview performance.
I’ll spare you the list of approved/banned items in favor of taking Occam’s razor to the situation: buy a few well-made staple pieces and combine them appropriately to suit any interview.
For both guys and gals, I recommend a classic pair of “nice” shoes and a well-cut blazer. Pair with jeans for your interview at the groovy start-up, and then with a tie or skirt for P&G. You’ll look sharp and hire-able in either case. Plus, you’ll avoid last-minute H&M blitzes and a closet full of cheap clothes you’ll never wear again.
Use Your Student Discount
Please, take advantage of student discounts on computer software and hardware while you still can. A crashed laptop is a lousy way to make a first impression, and replacing or updating aging technology is something you won’t want to worry about on top of moving, job hunting, etc.
Your school’s IT center likely offers cheaper prices on everything from the latest version of MS Office to a new laptop–especially last year’s model, which is sometimes discounted in the spring.
It might sting financially, but start saving now (maybe drop a few grad gift hints?) and you can make it happen.
We live in the post-Tiny Furniture era. Returning to the nest after graduation isn’t a rare and terrible humiliation; it’s modern-day rite of passage.
This coming from a person who spent all of senior year fighting ferociously to avoid “boomeranging”.
Once I discovered that entry-level jobs in my desired field didn’t pay what you’d call a living wage, I realized I’d have to swallow my pride in the short term to get I wanted in the long term. And I did.
If loan payments, unemployment, or rent-that’s-too-damn-high will throw you into a financial bind come graduation, consider a stopover at Chez Mom as a great opportunity to feed the pig and plot your next move.
— Francesca Brumm is a writer who lives and works in Los Angeles.