Advice for College Graduates

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It’s that time of year again—when you start receiving graduation invitations in the mail. I can’t believe it has been FOUR YEARS since I graduated from college!

In the past four years, though, I’ve learned a lot that no college class every really taught me. I’ve gone to a LOT of job interviews, and discovered what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I wanted to share what I’ve learned since graduation with soon-to-be college graduates or even college Juniors. I also asked my wonderful Instagram followers what advice they have, and I’ve compiled helpful tips for both pre-graduation and post-graduation

Pre-Graduation: 

  1. Take advantage of your school’s Career Center. If you haven’t found your school’s career center yet, GO NOW. They usually offer resume critiques and mock interviews, and I cannot stress how important it is to utilize this resources. Sign up for as many mock interviews you can! They will help you when you actually go to interview for jobs. Career Center often have job boards, too, where potential employers list jobs that YOU can apply for.
  2. Create an EXCEPTIONAL resume. My favorite professor (a Sales professor name Dr Mullen) actually made me cry when she tore my resume to shreds in a matter of seconds. She was right, though; the resume I showed her was pretty awful. I want to share several tips she gave us: Don’t list your proficiency at Microsoft Office as a valuable skill on your resume. That’s a basic program that college graduates are expected to know. If you can speak fluent Spanish, THAT is a skill you’d want to list. Do limit your resume to ONLY ONE PAGE! Don’t list your hobbies just to fill up blank space. By the time you graduate, you should have plenty of info to list on your resume BESIDES your hobbies—organizations you’re a part of, volunteer projects you’ve done, etc. Do describe the responsibilities you had at previous jobs/internships in detail. If you can provide numbers, that’s even better. Did you help reach a certain dollar goal? A certain sales goal? List it on your resume!
  3. Invest in a good suit for interviews. When I was first interviewing for jobs, I wore a “business” top and slacks. I didn’t look shabby, but I didn’t look super professional, either. Purchase a suit (black, blue, or gray) and a few basic tops to wear underneath. I bought mine at Stein Mart, where it was less expensive than a department store. Dress professionally. Ladies, that means no sleeveless tops and no really high heel for interviews. Men, you need to have an ironed shirt (and wear an undershirt) and a tie. And DO NOT wear Dockers—dress shoes only. Potential employers will judge your attire, I promise. Some schools even have scholarships you can apply for that grant you $$ to buy business clothes. Through an essay competition, I actually won a Tom James custom-tailored suit in my Senior year.
  4. Apply, apply, apply! I’m serious. You can’t just apply for one or two jobs and hope that it works out. You need to be applying for anything and everything you can find related to your degree and areas of interest. Look at it a great interview practice, even if you don’t really want the job. That having been said, don’t waste anyone’s time. If the job isn’t something you’re REMOTELY interested in, don’t apply for it. And when you get called in for interviews, do your pre-work! Research these companies, have a list of questions, and be prepared to ask them! Ask about goals, about potential for promotion, about retirement plans, etc. Show these interviewers that you’re serious. Always take a business card from the person who interviews you, and send him an email within 24 hours, thanking him for his time. *Note: When you’re applying, especially if you happen to be a Marketing/Sales major like I was, be wary of “spammy” job posts. These are often glorified door-to-door sales jobs where you’ll be standing in Wal-Mart, selling Dish TV to customers.

Post-Graduation: 

  1. Establish realistic expectations for yourself. The odds that you’ll land your dream job right out of college are slim. Not impossible, just improbable. I’m sure you’ve got an idea in your head of what your ideal job is, but it takes time (years, even) to find those jobs. Don’t expect to find a 9-5, either. I don’t think those really exist anymore (unless you work in banking… like me). Don’t expect your salary to be the highest end of the estimated salary bracket at the very beginning of your career. Many companies offer yearly salary increases or performance-based raises (questions you should ask during 2nd and 3rd interviews, when you think the company is serious about hiring you). You aren’t going to be #1 in your field when you graduate college. Ultimately, all you have is a lot of book knowledge and a piece of paper saying you’re qualified for a specific field of work. It’s up to you to earn your place in the corporate world and to earn a higher salary.
  2. College is over. The End. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve seen in the corporate world who still act as if they’re in college. They go out and drink every night, often show up to work hungover, and generally seem stuck in the college phase. I recommend you snap out of that as quickly as possible. Establish good routines for sleeping, eating meals, going to the gym, etc. Act like an adult. When the weekend rolls around, go out and have a good time if you want, but remember that you’ll be expected to show up at work on Monday morning.
  3. Don’t necessarily take the first job you’re offered. I almost made this mistake, but I actually took the third job (I think) that I was offered. The other two before promised a life of high sales pressure and a LOT of travel through rural Georgia, neither of which appealed to me. Don’t feel pressured (unless you’re totally broke and on the verge of moving back in with your parents). If a job doesn’t feel right, it probably won’t be right for you.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to a certain city. Apply for jobs in several different cities, assuming you’re even remotely open to the idea of relocating. If you interview in a specific city and realize that you absolutely hate it (me with Atlanta, GA), you’ll know it’s not for you. Allow yourself to consider the possibility of moving, especially if it’s because you’ve been offered an exciting job.
  5. Don’t expect to have your whole life figured out by Graduation Day. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. I’m four years out of college, and I’m only starting to figure out what I am truly passionate about and good at now. It takes time and a lot of trial-and-error to find your place in the world, so be patient and just enjoy the ride.

For those of you who don’t know me well, this is a brief overview of of my journey into the corporate world: the summer before my Senior year of college, I interned with the Around Campus Group, where I literally drove around all day, making cold calls and selling adverting space in a college campus directory that NO ONE knew existed. It was miserable, but it taught me that I DID NOT want to do cold-calling in my full-time job; however, the fact that I spent an entire summer cold-calling was a huge selling point on  my resume. Interviewers loved to see that because it showed hard work and diligence.

A few weeks before graduating, I accepted a job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car in their Management Training Program. I was so excited and relieved to have a job as I walked across the stage, unlike many others I knew. Of course, it only took me a few months to realize that a high-pressure sales job was NOT for me, despite the fact that I have a Marketing degree with an emphasis in Sales. Nevertheless, I continued to work for ERAC for two years (during which I worked at four different locations and finally transferred to the Charleston area).  I found out exactly how hard I could push myself and how exhausting washing a car on a 100 degree summer day in Charleston while wearing a business suit could be. When I left ERAC for my job in banking, I took a significant pay-cut, but I haven’t regretted it once. And so that’s where I’m at today—a Financial Specialist for the bank that Forbes ranked #2 to work for in America. I’m happy, I have a great work-life balance, and I work 8-5, M-F, which allows me time to pursue my other passions: writing and blogging.

And those are my tips! I hope you enjoyed them, and I hope you’ll share them with someone in your life who is about to graduate or maybe even a year away from graduation. Also, I’m always happy to critique a resume if you want my opinion. 

Bye y’all, 

Emma

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4 comments

  1. I love this post!! I’m Emma’s husband and just wanted to add that it took me three years with THREE different companies before I found my passion in the construction industry. If your first job doesn’t work out, don’t think poorly of yourself!! There’s a much better job out there and you will find it.

    I will say that if you don’t like your first job, it looks best on your resume if you stay with that company for at least one year.

    Happy Job Hunting!!! Apply, Apply, Apply!!

    Liked by 1 person

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