Life After College: What To Do After Graduating

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Life after college can be an exciting, although potentially confusing, time. You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, but now you’re facing a job hunt and student loan bills. How can you put that degree to good use, and successfully go from being a student, to the next stage of your life?

Let’s dive deep into life after college, with tips and resources on how to find a job, advancing your career, pursuing higher education, balancing life, and managing finances.

Jobs After College: Career Tips

It will likely take some time, and you might not get your dream job right out of school, but eventually you should be able to graduate beyond entry level positions, and start getting to do work you love. There are some professional basics you’ll need to take care of, though. We’ll provide tips on how to find jobs, how to build your resume and write your cover letter, how to navigate interviews and internships, and how to survive your first job so you can keep moving up.

Finding a Job After College

The following sections will describe different aspects of finding a job with tips, resources, and best practices.

Job Hunting

The job hunt is the very beginning of your career. Start your search with your college, they will have career resources and maybe even a job board. Depending on the industry you wish to work in, there could be organizations with resources and job boards specifically catered for your field. Online, there are plenty of additional resources for finding jobs: Careers.org, Craigslist.com, Indeed.com, and Monster.com are just a few.

While job hunting online is convenient, there are plenty of opportunities for finding a job offline. Instead of waiting for your dream job to get posted, research the companies you want to work for in the areas you want to live. Watch their job ads, or even initiate contact with the human resources department or hiring manager. Work on building your professional network by joining a local group like the chamber of commerce or an industry-specific organization. Whatever you choose, remain active in your community and form connections with people in your industry.

Applications

Once potential jobs start coming your way, you will need to be ready for the application process. Some jobs will require you to fill out extensive online applications and forms, while simply emailing your resume and cover letter will suffice for others.

Some companies might use an applicant tracking software to streamline the application process. In this case, your application might be screened to match up the information on your resume with the needs of the job ad to determine if you are a match. Use keywords common to your industry and desired job, as well as those used specifically in the job ad throughout your resume and cover letter contextually.

You might also be asked to complete a few employment tests including cognitive or personality examinations or a background check. For some jobs, screening like background checks are required for employment eligibility. Personality tests are fairly common in job applications and usually only used to help hire the best-fitting candidate for the specific role.

Resume

Your resume displays your skills, experience, and education. While you might not have much professional or work experience at this point in your career, put anything you have done over your academic years. Did you take a part-time or summer job? Join any clubs or organizations? Pursue any personal projects? These are all examples worth mentioning on your resume. Potential employers will use this information to determine if you’re a good fit for their opening, so be sure to frame all of your experience in a way that is relevant to the job you are applying for.

Make sure your resume includes these main categories:

  • Your contact information including: your full name, your permanent address, phone number, and email address.
  • A summary describing three to four of your top skills or accomplishments that specifically apply to this job.
  • Any work experience you have so far including your employer’s name or company, city and state, your job title, dates you held the job, accomplishments, main tasks or other highlights.
  • List your education or training including your school or program name, city and state, dates attended, and the diplomas, degrees, and certifications you earned.
  • List any volunteering activities, community work, sports, teams, or clubs you participated in. Include any activities that show your skills, responsibility and commitment.
  • Professional references are also good to have on your resume, if you have a past employer or teacher who can give a professional reference for you, or write a letter to attach with your resume, this could help buffer any lack of experience. Just ask anybody for permission to be your reference before you list their name and contact information.
  • If you have military experience be sure to list that as well as well as your dates served, rank reached and branch including any training or skills you acquired.

Download a sample resume or find resume templates on Google Docs. A good resume should look clean and polished with some white space, but be sure to include the essential information listed above.

Cover Letter

The cover letter is generally a one-page summary, bio, and/or statement of interest you write to send with your resume that explains why you are applying for the job and what makes you the best fit for the position. It’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself in a memorable way. It should cover what information will be in your resume, and expand on anything that is relevant or that might come up in an interview.

CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor provides sample resumes and cover letters as well as tips, job search help, and many other resources for college grads looking to enter the workforce.

Internships

If you didn’t complete an internship while still enrolled in school, it’s not too late. A post-grad internship may even give you a better shot at landing a full-time position. If you’ve already graduated, but you’re struggling to find employment, consider looking for programs that offer internships to graduates, or reach out to your professional network for recommendations. Keep in mind that internships for graduates don’t pay very much, if anything at all, so you might need to get a part-time job on top of your internship to cover the bills.

Interview

Your interview is not only the chance for employers to evaluate you, it’s your opportunity to evaluate potential jobs and employers. You might have a phone or video interview before an in-person interview, especially if the company isn’t local. Before any interview, you should thoroughly research the company and job you are applying for, and have a few of your own questions ready. During a phone interview, just remember to listen first, then talk. Answer the question thoroughly but avoid falling off track, and end the conversation on a positive note by thanking the interviewer.

The next step in the process is usually the in-person interview. Interview processes can vary widely depending on the size of the company and the job being filled. Just remember that this interview is also for you to determine if you want to work there, so do your homework and have questions prepared. Think of questions they may ask you based on the job and your experience so you’re more prepared to answer them on the spot. You should always dress professionally and show up five to ten minutes early.

With any interview experience, it is good form to send a “thank you” note in an email a few hours after the interview. It should be a brief email confirming your interest in the company, ability to do the job, and interest in next steps with a sincere thank you. Be sure to send it the same day, but not right after you meet.

Negotiations

Eventually, you’ll get offered your first job. Congratulations! Getting an offer is the hardest part. Many job seekers will accept the first offer that comes their way, but some prefer to weigh their options.

Early in your career, any experience is good experience, but you might choose to negotiate your pay or working conditions. If you do choose to negotiate an offer, ensure you’ve done your research first. Ask for an amount that’s appropriate to your job and your experience level and be ready to graciously accept a “no,” and accept the offer on the table, or decline entirely.

Surviving Your First Job

Your first job might not be the dream job you had hoped for in school, but it’s a start. Successfully navigating your first job is essential to gaining raises and promotions, and eventually, graduating on to other jobs with professional references.

Work is going to be different than school. You might have to wake up much earlier than you’re used to, and start dressing professionally regularly. Here are a few tips for surviving your first job, and avoiding novice mistakes in the workplace.

Wardrobe

Not every job is going to expect business-professional attire, but some will, and you’ll want to be aware of these expectations before you start. Get to know the brand of the company through their site, social media profiles, and job ads. Go ahead and ask the hiring manager or the person who has been coordinating your offer and onboarding process. It pays to ask what the dress code is before your first interview; then you can gauge what other people in the office are wearing, and be that much better prepared for your first day.

Time Management

You’ve probably had a lot of practice managing your time with classes, school work, extracurricular activities, and social activities in the last few years. But working a 9-5, or other structured schedule, can pose a unique challenge to new grads. In fact, many working adults struggle with time management, but there’s no shortage of time management tips to leverage.

Some find time tracking apps helpful, while others need pen and paper to write lists throughout the day. To survive your first job and move on to bigger and better roles, it is essential to show up to work on time, keep your breaks on schedule, and meet deadlines diligently. Tardiness and no-shows are much harder to explain away or make up in the workplace than in school.

Stress

Feeling stressed about new employment is common, especially in your first job. Just remember that sometimes uncomfortable growth is good, but that it’s also encouraged to ask for help. Never stress over a task for so long that it’s past due. Ask questions early so you can get work completed in a timely manner. Either your direct manager or co-workers should be willing to offer help, and after a while, you will get more comfortable in your new role and become more independent.

Outside of your new job, remember to reach out to your friends and family for support. New life transitions can strain personal relationships and stress from new jobs can make it even worse. Remember to maintain your personal care by exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep. Spend time with your loved ones and give yourself enough time to relax and recharge before Monday rolls back around.

Graduating Beyond Entry-Level Positions

Ideally, you would graduate from college and get an entry-level job at a company you want to work for in the industry you studied. That’s not always the case, but it’s not a bad deal either. Entry-level positions can be a great way to try out industries related to your degree while gaining valuable work experience. Your dream job might even require some experience in a different but related field. You may discover alternative positions, employers, and opportunities you hadn’t considered or known about prior to graduation, and which end up being a better fit than your former “dream job.”

Entry-level work is where many people start careers after school. This is nearly always a necessary stepping stone to a greater position. A simple entry-level position can be a catalyst to the rest of your career, as long as you know how to make the most of it and move on at the right time.

Make the Most of It

Your entry-level position is not likely to resemble your ideal job. But to make the most of the experience, you’ll need to find a way to bring the same enthusiasm and energy you would have for your dream job. Rachel Bitte, a chief people officer at Jobvite says your mindset matters when your starting any job, and people can tell if you don’t want to be there. You never know what you’re going to learn in any position, so if you can’t get excited for the position, try imagining the possibilities it could lead to. Bringing an attitude of entitlement, impatience, or resentment to work is not going to get you where you want to be faster — more likely, it will hold you back.

Know When It’s Time to Move On

If you’re making the most of your job, the days are going to fly by, and entry-level doesn’t usually last forever. You should be applying for promotions that interest you, and always be keeping an eye on the job ads for interesting opportunities. While you don’t want to jump ship too soon and risk job hopping, you should know when you’ve outgrown your position and it’s time to move on. Always keep your resume and LinkedIn profile polished, just in case the right opportunity pops up.

Continuing Education

Now that we’ve covered jobs after college, let’s look at another aspect of life after graduation: continuing education. Depending on the occupations you choose, you will need to pursue continuing education or training if you want to earn raises and promotions. Should you pursue grad school right after graduation or gain a few years of work experience first? Are professional certifications a good alternative to another degree? We’ll discuss below.

Grad School

Choosing to enter graduate school and earn your master’s degree is a big decision many make to advance their lives academically, professionally, and personally. You might choose to enter grad school right after graduation because it’s an easier transition to continue an academic schedule and lifestyle. Alternatively, you could test the waters in the workforce, get a few years of experience, figure out where you want to pursue a career and then go back to grad school.

But juggling a work schedule and grad school is tough and forces many to choose one or the other. The decision should not be taken lightly. But if you are serious about attending, here are some resources to help you prepare for grad school:

Is Graduate School Right for You?

Why do you want to go to grad school? Does your dream job require it? Will it earn you a higher pay rate? Knowing your career goals will help you pick the right program for you and whether or not it’s the right choice for you.

Choosing a Program

Finding the right graduate program for you depends on many factors: location, program reputation, financing, and your personal goals. First, decide what kind of graduate degree you want, i.e.  a Ph.D. or Masters. Are you more interested in working in research or a professional career? Do you plan to pursue a doctorate? The answers to these questions will help you find the right program.

Online vs. In-Campus

Grad school students finally have the option to study either online, in-person on campus, or through a combination of classes. This has offered the flexibility needed for many professionals to pursue the further education they always wanted. Depending on the needs of your profession, you may be required to take some courses in-campus over remotely. But online education can offer so much more than flexibility, including independence and potential savings.

Professional Certifications

Professional certifications can offer a more flexible, and short-term, option to obtaining further education. But there are a lot of programs out there offering their own certifications on a number of different topics and disciplines. How do you know which certifications are worth your time?

Glassdoor reached out to recruiters and HR professionals to find out which professional certifications will actually impress employers. They found that while most certifications can help your resume stand out above the rest, not all are created equal. If you want to make a real impact by investing in professional certifications, look for certifications specific to your role like content marketing, human resources, sales, project management, or software.

Money After Graduation: Post-Grad Personal Finance Considerations

For most college graduates, finances are a big change to face. Suddenly, those far off student loan payment are not so distant. Here is some advice we can offer on how to handle your budget to tackle student loans and avoid credit card debt.

Budgeting After Graduation

If you haven’t already, starting a budget and managing your finances can make a big difference in your quality of life after school. Your finances are going to look a lot different not only with a new job but new bills as well. Here are a few simple tips to get your budget started without a hassle:

  • The first step is to simply start by writing down all of your monthly expenses and income to figure out how much is coming in and how much is going out. This can be done on a piece of paper or with any of the budgeting apps out there.
  • Plan ahead for living expenses you might not have had while you were in school. From rent and utilities in a new house to transportation to and from your new job, it can take you by surprise if you’re not prepared.
  • Account for your upcoming student loan payments.
  • Don’t forget to put a little savings away for an emergency fund, and even retirement.
  • Establish a schedule to ensure all of your bills are paid on time every month.
  • Start tracking your credit score with one of the free credit score report and monitoring services, like credit Karma.
  • Live within your means and avoid depending on credit cards.
  • Set long-term goals for savings, your credit score, or student loan repayment.
  • Start couponing and finding deals on high-price items.

Paying Off College Loans

Financial aid and savings accounts can help pay for college cut college loans are usually an essential aspect of the equation. But now that you’re a graduate, it’s time to start paying for your college loans. The process for repaying your loans will depend on the loan terms you agreed to and the type of loan.

You likely have a federal student loan because they feature many benefits over private loans like, income-driven repayment plans, fixed interest rates, no credit checks, and no need for a co-signer. Federal student loans are often more accessible to independent students or those who are applying for aid without their parents. Regardless of the loan type, it’s time to start paying it back.

Most loans don’t require payment until after you leave college. Your lender will provide you with a loan-repayment plan explaining your due date, amount due, and number of payments required to repay the loan. Your repayment plan will also tell you where to make your payments either online or sent to your lender.

Be sure to focus on paying off your loan aggressively, the sooner the better. Even if you hit financial hardships, your loan cannot be cancelled or cleared. It will always be there collecting interest. Try to build an emergency savings while paying your full loan amount every month in order to prevent any lapse in payments. You should always contact your loan provider if you’re struggling to make your payments.

Credit Cards

If you didn’t already start building your credit score in college, you might consider applying for a line of credit now. But you’ve already likely graduated with a mound of student loan debt, so you don’t need to go adding onto that with high-interest credit card debt. A good credit score will be important when you apply for a car loan or mortgage. To build your credit score, it’s best to work at it safely and slowly.

Get approved for a small line of credit or get signed up as an authorized user on a parent’s card. Avoid ever using at or more than 30 percent of your line of credit, and ensure to pay off the premium every month before your due date. Interest rates on credit cards are high, especially if you don’t have a good credit score, and irresponsible spending could mean years of paying off debt.

Life after college is a new door opening for you. Take advantage of this time and thrive in all of the opportunities that come your way. We hope this guide has helped you successfully navigate a transitional time in your life.