Graduating college is scary in the best of times. During a global pandemic, it’s downright terrifying.
Thanks to social distancing, you’re probably finishing up your final semester in isolation. Your classes, homework, exams, and presentations are all online. Your only interactions are what you can scrounge from Snapchat and TikTok. Grocery runs suddenly feel like a special treat.
You may not be walking across a physical stage this year, but you still need to plan for your future. In the midst of this chaos, in fact, you should be preparing for reality now more than ever.
As useful as a college degree is, it isn’t enough to succeed in the real world. Even after four years of post-secondary education, college seniors can feel unprepared to enter the job market.
Don’t be part of that statistic. Here are a few helpful tips to help get a jump on the real world:
- Make a Budget
You might know it from personal experience: Graduates from public universities hold an average of $26,900 in debt. Those who graduate from private schools are even deeper in debt, at an average of $32,600.
Numbers like that should motivate you to have a plan for your money. Even if you’re lucky enough not to have student debt, you still need to balance your income and expenses.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be difficult. To get started:
- Write down your total income for the month.
- List all of your expected expenses.
- Subtract expenses from income to equal zero.
- Track your expenses throughout the month, making adjustments if you’re off-budget.
Don’t forget the most important part: saving. Your first post-college job is probably your first opportunity to make real money.
It can be easy to treat yourself and spend too much. If you don’t have much money left over at the end of the month, consider a debit card that puts saving on autopilot — automatically rounding every purchase up to the next dollar and depositing the difference into a linked savings account.
- Put Together a Work Portfolio
In the working world, you are rewarded for what you can produce. When you look for jobs after college, hiring managers will want to see your skills in action. That’s where your work portfolio comes in.
A work portfolio is a compilation of three to ten of your best work-related projects. Those might come from your coursework, internships, or relevant hobbies — and ideally all three. Remember, too, to include your resume and contact information when you provide it to a potential employer.
Store your portfolio on a personal website. Not only will it make your work accessible to hiring managers, but it can also showcase web design skills. A website gives you the ability to quickly share the link via email, or on your social media like LinkedIn. Check out Squarespace or Wix for affordable and user-friendly website hosting and templates.
- Become Rejection-Proof
Be prepared: The average job hunter gets rejected 24 times before getting an offer.
If you want to snag a great job and keep your sanity, develop thick skin. Remember, a rejection is just an opinion. Don’t take it personally, and definitely don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dream job.
Whenever you’re rejected, ask for feedback. A recruiter might point out a mistake on your resume that you aren’t aware of. Identify common reasons for rejection, and try to shore up those areas.
- Work on Your Side Hustle
When you finish college, you might struggle to find a job. Or you might find a job quickly — but that job might make you feel passionless and drained.
A side hustle can give you a path forward and some extra income to boot. With a side project, you can get hands-on experience in your field of work without worrying about being locked into a contract.
Accessible side hustles include:
- Web development
- Get Certified
If you’re not taking certification courses, you’re missing out on affordable education and credentials that can put you over the top of other candidates. You can learn how to code, grow your marketing skills, and become familiar with the jargon of your industry.
Great online certifications can be found on:
- Udemy: Coding, writing, marketing, & personal development
- HubSpot Academy: Inbound marketing, sales, & customer service
- Google Analytics: How to use and understand Google Analytics software
- LinkedIn Learning: Business, creativity, technical skills, & marketing
- Skillshare: Animation, design, illustration, lifestyle, photo & film, business, & writing
- Keep Reading
Great content can be found online, but don’t forget about your local library. Some of the most successful people — Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, to name a few — have credited their success to constant reading.
The more books you read, the more opportunities you give yourself to learn and to feel inspired. Pick anything you want to know more about, and get cracking. No matter the area you choose, there are thousands of titles to choose from.
If you don’t have time to sit around and read, look into audiobooks. Many libraries, as well as apps like Audible, let you stream content from anywhere at any time. Listen while you’re getting a workout in, talking a walk, cooking, or commuting to work.
- Build a Network
“It’s all about who you know” is definitely true about success in the professional sphere. Up to 85% of open positions get filled through networking.
Don’t wait until you have a diploma in your hand; start networking immediately. Building a strong network is about the little things:
- Attending conferences and industry events
- Presenting yourself positively and professionally
- Helping others before asking for a hand yourself
- Saying “please” and “thank you”
- Taking the time to follow up
- Being active on LinkedIn and other networking sites.
Networking should be natural and add value to both parties. It isn’t a matter of making as many connections as possible, but rather of making a few deep connections. Over time, those connections add up to a solid network that can vouch for you or help you find a job. Use calendar analytics to track how much time you are spending on networking. If you aren’t spending at least 10% of your scheduled time building relationships then you may want to make some adjustments.
- Scrub Your Social Media
What’s the first thing a recruiter looks into when you apply? Your social media activity.
Make sure what recruiters see represents you well. That means taking down your Facebook party photos, revising any outdated profile information, and adjusting your privacy settings.
A good rule of thumb? If you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing something to your grandmother, then you probably shouldn’t show it to a hiring manager. Your social media can reflect your lifestyle and personality while still being appropriate for the workplace.
- Get Real-Life Experience
You know how every entry level job wants you to have real-world experience? That doesn’t mean you have to be paid for that experience. Go out and get an internship, join a club, volunteer, or ask to shadow a professional who you admire.
Don’t make the mistake of getting a diploma, dusting off your hands, and assuming success will come to you. A degree definitely helps, but the economy rewards hard work and real results. Be proud of what you’ve achieved, but remember that it’s a starting point, not a finish line.