I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I was graduating from college until I entered the football stadium at my university in my cap and gown. As I walked to the bleachers, I was greeted with messages from my fellow graduates on the stadium’s large Jumbotron screens. Students shared their favorite memories from the past four years, including meeting their freshman year roommates for the first time and celebrating the end of final exams with their closest friends.
While watching these clips, I was completely preoccupied with two terrifying revelations: This was the last time I would sit in the University of Michigan stadium as a student, and, in a few brief moments, I would graduate from college. So where was I to go next?
Some graduates had the option of staying in their college towns for the summer as they applied for jobs or graduate school, others relocated for entry-level positions, and many moved back home.
Whatever your situation, it’s important to make the most of the first months following graduation.
1. Take advantage of your alumni network.
As a graduate of the University of Michigan, I have one of the world’s largest alumni networks at my disposal. No matter the size of your university, take advantage of the connections these groups can offer. Do not be afraid to reach out to successful alumni working in fields that interest you. When doing so, refrain from directly asking alumni to help you find a job. Instead, ask them to share their career stories with you. What steps did they take to become the accomplished people they are today?
2. Don’t get discouraged too quickly.
Many of us will write cover letters for dozens of jobs and not receive any responses. Remember, even the accomplished professionals we admire had to start somewhere.
3. Consider graduate school.
If you’re certain that graduate school is in your future, study for standardized exams while you’re looking for a job. Several young professionals have told me that they wish they had taken the GRE or GMAT during the first months following their graduation from college. Now is the perfect time to study for standardized tests. We’re still comfortable spending hours in the library, and we know what types of study habits work for us.
4. Consider internships.
If you decide to take an unpaid internship, be sure that it’ll be worth your time. Receiving an offer to intern at a company or organization is exciting, especially if the internship is in a major city. However, relocating can be very expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer questions regarding the training and mentorship you’ll receive during your internship or how often interns are hired at the company. It may not always seem appropriate to ask this question, so be sure to gauge the tone of the interview before doing so.
5. Ask for challenging assignments.
If the work you are assigned is simple and straightforward, ask for more intellectually stimulating tasks. Your supervisor or boss will likely be impressed by your enthusiasm and will choose to trust you with more high-stakes projects.
6. Recognize what you don’t want to do.
Oftentimes, an internship or job can provide graduates with the opportunity to recognize that a certain career path is simply not right for them. While it’s important not to write off an entire field simply because your first week on the job was not what you expected, you might decide to move on if you’re not satisfied with your job after several months. Trust your intuition.
7. Teach yourself new skills.
You see a job posting for an editorial assistant position at your favorite magazine, and one of the main qualifications is proficiency in Photoshop, a skill that you don’t have. Teach yourself to use the program by reading how-to books from your local library and watching tutorials on YouTube.
8. Read for pleasure.
Now is the perfect time to catch up on your reading list. Not only will reading for pleasure make you a more creative, intelligent and well-rounded person, but it may also provide you with a great conversation starter for your next interview or networking event.
9. Stop obsessing.
Don’t let obsessing over postgraduate plans ruin friendships. It’s inevitable that you’ll discuss your job search with your fellow graduates. However, constantly discussing career anxieties will only perpetuate uneasiness among your friends—and it will put a strain on your relationships.
10. Enjoy this time of uncertainty.
Travel, try a new hobby, and just simply relax. As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo advised my graduating class, “Don’t always worry about what your next line is supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do next. There’s no script. Live your life. Be in this moment.”
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