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Why am I qualified to dispense this advice?
I was like the quintessential, quarter-life crisis cliche. I had no idea what to do with my life and I tried a bit of everything. I mean, check out this list of job titles I’ve held over the years: Freelance Journalist, Marketing Coordinator, International Correspondent, Matchmaker’s Apprentice, Executive Assistant, Senior Supporter Services Team Member and Manager, Digital Media Coordinator.
Personal Resume
When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree (as we all know ‘just an English BA‘ even though I was about 6 credits shy of a double major in English and Studio Art.) I was in no way prepared for the real world…whatever that meant.
Dreams of being an artist dashed, I set out to do what any recent college grad would do. I took a thousand personality tests online so I could find some direction.  Suffice to say all that did was confuse me further.
Then I took the logical next steps. I sat the LSAT, filled out a peace-core application and applied to graduate school. Something had to shake out right?
Since I didn’t really know if I could cope with living in a tent and bombed the LSAT, grad school was the clear winning choice. Plus school was familiar, safe and achievable. I proceeded to place myself into massive debt while I earned a Masters in Humanities. Ask me if I’ve ever used it. Nope. And I’m still paying it off at age 34. Basically I was delaying entry into said ‘real world.’

Do I have any regrets? No. Would I change some things if I could to make it a bit easier/ less expensive? Sure. So here is my advice to you, 22 year old self…if I could do it all over again with some minor tweaks.

Advice I would give my 22-year old-self if I could do it all again…

1. Get an Internship

If you missed out on this vital piece of advice during your college days, see if you can get one post-graduation. It’s less scary than committing to a job, especially if you’re unsure about your career path. At my first and only internship I found a mentor, made all sorts of contacts, created a portfolio of work and landed a marketing job. Bonus, it still looks good on my resume. I tended bar on weekends to supplement my income. Which brings me to my next point.
2. Lower your expectations
Tend bar, wait tables, hammer some nails for a while. Just because you have a degree does not make you too good for unskilled work. It teaches you about life, humanity, teamwork and business. When I moved to Melbourne I had to wait tables at age 29 with a graduate degree until I found an inroad to the Australian market. Do what you have to do rather than settle.  Future employers will respect the salty, hard work. It’s also a great way to support yourself if you are trying to start your own business or turn a hobby into a career.
3. Figure out what you don’t want
Look, sometimes you just have to take a job out of necessity even if you’re unsure about it (see point 2.) Sometimes learning about what you don’t want is just as important as figuring out what you do. I’m not one of those people born with a calling so I tried many different roles. Remember the golden rule: Your major does not determine your career– so don’t pigeonhole yourself. Try something out if it seems interesting. Apply for that job you feel unqualified for. Just avoid the trap of getting too comfortable in a role you don’t enjoy. This is how people get ‘stuck.’ Don’t get stuck, get a plane ticket.
4. Travel
Seriously I bet you can give me a thousand excuses about why you cannot travel- and they’re rubbish. Did you know you can make money by working overseas? You can. And you can find someone to watch your dog. And you can find a place to store your car. I should have taken a year off after college to travel. Bumming around Europe would have been far less expensive that that grad degree I’m still paying for. Stop worrying that employers will frown upon a gap year– betcha it makes you more interesting than the next candidate. You will learn far more about life on the road than in any textbook or office.  Teach English as a Second Language (ESL), or find a country like Australia that offers work and holiday visas to people under 30. Go.
5. Do Your Homework
What’s that? The whole point of being a graduate is that there is no more homework? Wrong. Get out there and talk to professionals in fields that interest you. Offer to assist them for a day or take them out for coffee. You will be amazed at what you can learn. Ask them about their day-to-day. Ask them if they like their job. Ask them if they are happy. Seek advice on how YOU can get there too. Keep your ears and your notebook open. I can’t think of a better way to get an honest snapshot of a specific career and lifestyle.
6. Reject The Pressure

Society sends a crippling message to young people regarding careers.  “A career should be fulfilling, make a difference in the world and earn you a lot of money.” It will become part of your identity so it must also make you happy. But you can’t work too much because you need balance.” Sound impossible? That’s because it is. I remember my Dad telling me that when he was young, the goal was to find a job to make money and support a family. Your job should not and does not define you as a person.  We are all more complex than that. Sometimes it’s just a job.

7. Network Like Crazy
Meet new people and talk to anyone who will listen. Get on social media, go to free events, put your resume online. Volunteer at a non-profit. Connect with career networking sites like LinkedIn.

I exchanged a few emails with Joe, Community Manager at TheLadders (an NYC based job finder) and not only is he a smart and personable guy, he was quite genuine when I asked him why the company is looking to help young people find careers:

“TheLadders wants to help young professionals be more successful in their job search because many of us can relate to the struggle of finding our first real job. I know not too long ago, I was in the same situation myself, looking to start my career after I received my diploma. When you don’t have a lot of experience searching to find the right fit, it can be hard to know where to start. The job market is very competitive and can sometimes be a little scary.”

Well said. The first step is usually the most difficult. And then you take the next one. You got this.

8. Take Risks

If you try and fail it’s better than not trying at all. Even if everything falls apart you will learn something valuable.  Don’t remain paralyzed by fear or negativity. You will not recieve your dream on a silver platter, no matter how long you wait, so you best get out there and risk it all. Here is the best article  I’ve ever read on finding your purpose. The article says you should be doing the thing that “makes you forget to eat, sleep and poop.”  I never thought anything could make me forget to eat, but writing does. Nuff said.

Take the road less traveled.

Best wishes for an inspiring and rad journey! x

Question to those of you who have been there already- What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?

Author: dawnrieniets

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7 thoughts on “8 Career Tips For College Graduates

  1. Dawn, As a college counselor, I could not have delivered this message any better. I have circulated your wisdom throughout the school with hopes that some will pay attention to what is very real. Jolly Good!

    Posted on February 17, 2015 at 3:16 pm
  2. Dawn, As a college counselor, I could not have delivered this message any better. I have circulated your wisdom throughout the school with hopes that some will pay attention to what is very real. Jolly Good!

    Posted on February 18, 2015 at 12:54 am
  3. If it's good enough for a college counselor than it's certainly good enough for me! I do my best learning through making mistakes. Thanks for sharing with your school- much appreciated. I sincerely hope it gives a few students some peace of mind and a few options.

    Posted on February 18, 2015 at 12:56 am
  4. Those are great tips on how to make your college life more fulfilling, especially the part about building yourself up right after graduation. I also believe in the idea of laying back and taking the time to release some pressure before taking the next step, especially if it had been a hectic dash to the finish. Haha! Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us. All the best!

    Valerie Casey @ College Funding Freedom

    Posted on June 22, 2015 at 8:47 pm
  5. Thanks Valerie! I agree that if you ever feel burnt out absolutely take some time off and do something mindless to reset. If you can’t afford to take a true rest, even something as simple as taking up a new hobby like meditation can help you to recharge.

    Posted on June 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm