Graduating from college is weird. For many, at least for me, it was the first time in my life I couldn’t call myself a student. So who am I? What do I call myself? Unemployed, for one…
There I was, scratching my head, wondering how I was supposed to translate all these years of education into being an adult and getting a real job. Did I miss something?
If you’re feeling this way too, you’re not alone. Every recent grad has felt this to some degree or another. And, no, you didn’t miss the lesson on adulting – there isn’t one. It’s up to you to pay attention to the thousands of small lessons hidden in everyday life. So, as my graduation gift to you, here are five timeless lessons to help you get started.
1) It’s OK to Feel a Little Lost
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have ideas of what that might look like, but everyday I’m learning new things about myself and, as a result, my outlook on the future is always changing. No matter where you are in your career, you’ll always be “figuring it out,” to some extent. Whatever “end goal” you’re chasing will constantly evolve based on your experiences and the ways they shape you both personally and professionally.
So, relax. You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up to land your first job. And your first job won’t lock you into a lifetime of whatever it is you choose to pursue. That said, be thoughtful and take your time. Taking the extra month or two to explore career opportunities that “click” is far more important than jumping into the first job you’re offered because you’re “supposed to have a job already.” Please! I beg you! Thank me later.
2) Know What You Don’t Want
You may not know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life quite yet, but you can probably think of many things you know you don’t want to do. Think back to that frustrating group project or the crappy internship. Why did they suck so much?
You don’t like the things you don’t like because they conflict with the things you do like. This knowledge is a really useful tool — use the things that aren’t you to learn about the things that are.
At the very least, your world of possibilities will shrink, which in return, will make choosing your initial path feel a lot less daunting. Trust me.
3) Not All That Glitters Is Gold
When I was job searching, I sought out flexible hours, in-office yoga, beer, and ping pong. Even though I don’t play ping pong, or drink beer, really. I was fabricating a “dream job” based on perks and truly believed that if I was in the right type of environment, the job itself wouldn’t matter as much. If you’re having these thoughts and chasing sexy workplaces, I guarantee you’re overlooking some really great opportunities. Even after putting all of the flashy things first, my first job out of college landed me in a grey cube, surrounded by grey cubes. It wasn’t quite what I envisioned, but I learned A LOT and was introduced to a career path that I may not have found otherwise.
Yes, the work environment is important, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The goal is to find work you’ll love, like-minded coworkers, and a culture that reflects your values. Beer on tap is just a bonus.
4) Interviewing Goes Both Ways
When you walk into an interview, you should think of yourself as both the interviewee and the interviewer. If you don’t play both roles in that room, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. The hiring team knows the job and they want to see if you fit what they’re looking for. You know you and should endeavor to figure out if this job fits what you’re looking for. Get it?
So, where to start? Try picturing yourself in the job. What’s missing or unclear? Ask questions in the interview that will help you to get a clearer picture of how you might fit into the role and the team. Next, you’ll want to think about your values, interests, career goals, etc. What do those look like? What questions can you ask to make sure they’re in sync with the job, the company, and the people there.
You’ll spend over 2,000 hours a year in this place, with these people, doing this work. Do what you can during the interview process to make sure it’s where you want to be.
5) Always Say Thank You
Sending thank you notes might feel antiquated, but it’s actually really important and, in my opinion, 100% non-negotiable. No matter how well or how poorly the interview went, anyone who shared their time with you deserves a personalized thank you, in writing. This means gathering the email addresses of each person you met with or going old school and handwriting individual notes. Handwritten letters are crème de la crème, but only if they’re legible. I repeat, only if they are legible. If your handwriting needs some work or you’re in a time crunch, stick to email (most of us do and that’s totally fine).
Now for the letters themselves. Remember when I said they should be personalized? This is also super important. Nothing screams “lazy” louder than sending the same note to each person you met. You had different conversations and experiences with each person, so be sure to express that. People like to feel special and a personalized note is a great way to do that.
If you haven’t discovered this already, relationships are one of the most valuable currencies in business and life. Play your (thank you) cards right, and the relationships you build now will pay dividends later in your career.
Hopefully these tips resonate with you. Because honestly, from one recent grad to another, this is the letter I needed (but never got) after graduation. Even now, two years out and 100% still figuring it out, I run through these tips all the time. So, RELAX. You’ve got this. You’re gonna do great.