Entering the Real World


Entering the Real World: A Letter to the Soon-to-be College Graduate

Dear Soon-to-be College Graduate,

You’ve been dreading that moment when you have to enter the “real world.” But alas, your life of academia is quickly approaching its end.

I know you’re experiencing a jumble of emotions. You’re excited, yet fearful of the unknown. Where will you be after graduation? You’re anxious and unsure of yourself. Has everything you’ve done for the last four years prepared you for the working life? It’s time to face the reality of your situation.

You’re looking to enter the workforce amidst an economy that you (and the majority, if not all, of America) feel cannot recover fast enough. The slow improvement of the job market means that despite the uptrend in job creation, companies are treating employees as investments now more than ever before.

What does this mean for your employment prospects? “Opportunities do exist,” says Felicia Miller, Assistant Director of Career Services at The Art Institute of Las Vegas, “but today’s college graduates have to be ready to modify their plans to accommodate the drastic changes to the job market…[like] a longer hiring process and greater competition.”

In other words, companies want to hire the most qualified candidates at the least cost to themselves. You should expect to compete with seasoned candidates for the same entry-level jobs.

At this point, you’re beginning to panic, wondering how your few (if any) work study, unpaid internships, and / or part-time jobs can even begin to compare to the years of experience of a workforce veteran. I know, because I was in your shoes not too long ago.

I am fortunate to be able to work with people who are job seeking and interviewing experts, and even more so that they’ve graciously imparted to me the wisdom they’ve gleaned from their experiences. I share with you now words I wish I’d heard coming out of college:

Let’s be real.

The likelihood of you landing your dream job -let alone a job in your field of study – fresh-out-of-college, is slim. If you apply only to those jobs with a specific job title, the number of prospects will quickly discourage you. Furthermore, if you get passed over for other candidates, you’ll start to question whether you’re really cut out for that career you’ve always wanted. So if you want to avoid feeling rejected, change your expectations.

Firstly, cast a broader net.

Rarely is the road that takes you where you want to be straight. Expand your job search to include “stepping stones.” Consider where you ultimately want to be, and think of positions and fields related to it. Nicholas Aretakis, author of No More Ramen: The 20 Something’s Real World Survival Guide, insists that doing so “will double, triple, quadruple your job prospects and your internship possibilities – and may even change the way you were thinking about your future career.”

For example, if you majored in marketing, you should consider applying to Sales or Business Development Representative jobs since marketing encompasses customer support and sales strategy. That being said, don’t apply to every single job that is even remotely related to your field because you’ll burn yourself out. Quality over quantity, my friend. Do your research (First timer? Learn how here.) first! If afterwards you can picture yourself as part of the organization, apply.

Network whenever and wherever you can.

First, talk with classmates to find out where they’re applying and generate some leads for yourself. Also, connect with teachers or supervisors in your field and show interest in learning from their expertise and speaking with their connections.

Then, check out your college’s career development center, which often has a database of alumni who are open to being contacted by soon-to-be graduates. Reach out to alums who are in your field to see where they started and where they’re at now.

You should also leverage social media to find and make connections (Social media newbie? Read this.). Join networking groups through LinkedIn and Facebook and stay current on industry news and events thorough Twitter. At the very least, you’ll get some career advice. And if you’re lucky, an interview!

Hone the old and develop new.

Employers want to hire people who like to challenge themselves and who believe in life-long learning, so show them you’re productive! Avoid taking on odd, “for the time being” jobs simply for the sake of getting paid, which conveys that you’re a “settler.” Instead, intern or volunteer for an organization that’s in or related to your field of interest. You’ll expand your skill set in ways that are applicable to your desired future career and demonstrate to your employer your passion for, and your determination to break into, the industry.

You might also want to consider brushing up on that foreign language and working abroad, especially most companies are now looking to expand globally. Future employers will assume from your multicultural experience that you’re an enthusiastic learner with an empathetic and understanding nature, characteristics that bode well for a mutually beneficial professional relationship.

There is no such thing as “real” work experience.

It’s really all about how you put it. Your extracurricular activities and your work study, unpaid internships, and / or part-time jobs, are all examples of your work ethic. But which ones best embody the skills that will most benefit the company?

Really analyze your accumulated experiences: Why did you seek out that particular activity or job? What position and responsibilities did you have? What did you learn and what skills did you develop? What interested you the most?

Now, take a look at the responsibilities of that job you hope to attain. What experiences produced answers most relevant to your future job functions? Once you’ve identified them, focus on strengthening their answers to the aforementioned questions. Cut the rest out.

Polish your resume.

As a soon-to-be graduate, you know current recruiting trends better than workforce veterans: Concise but as informative as possible.

Your resume is the place to broadcast, as much as you can in one page, the skills you’ve developed and what you’ve achieved through the most essential work experience (which you can determine using the questions above!). It’s no place to be modest.

Lastly, go bold or go home (jobless).

Someone with years of experience is often stuck in their ways. Companies are always looking at how they can progress, and you need to remind them of that.

Express your thoughts on the company and your ideas on how it can grow, and you’ll show them that by considering you as a candidate, they’re investing in their future.

Blogging Forward,