Life after college can be one of the most stressful times of a young professional’s life. College prepares you for all kinds of things (like how to cram for finals and go out five nights in a row) but it doesn’t prepare you for a lot of things. Unless you decide to continue lurking in your college town or live at home, you’ll find the real world can be a tad harsh. I found this out the hard way in my first year out of college. Whether it’s low paying internships, being the no-nothing recent grad, living frugally, traveling cross country, personal branding, there’s a LOT I learned (and experienced) in this hectic year.
The value of your degree is what you make it
Unless you’re in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and math), college is what it is – A stepping stone. A way in to the door. When that degree is in your hands you should have already had several internships. You should have already been an active member of several student organizations. You should have made some lifelong friends. You should have even made many mistakes – whether it’s drinking too much or dropping one too many classes. The point of college is to remember as many nights as you specifically made an effort not to remember. If you still remember the Weighted Average Cost of Capital formula from Finance then your priorities were elsewhere.
Create a personal brand
This is a new economy and that calls for new techniques. An old fashioned resume no longer cuts it. While portfolios have been around for designers and writers forever, this is a relatively new thing for the average person. Create an online portfolio that not only has an online version of your resume but has creative methods of showing off your work. I took screenshots of the email campaigns I made with statistics of success, screenshots of relatively amateurish flyers that are used to supplement overall campaigns and embedded Youtube videos that I helped make for promotions. Make it fun, make it personal. Also, why not include a blog?
You’re brand is you. You’re your brand. You don’t need to hire a branding agency to create one. You just need some desire to get your thoughts and accomplishments out there for others to see. Also, a portfolio helps sift out the bullshitters from the non-bullshitters. There’s a more eloquent way of putting that but I can’t think of it.
You HAVE to go digital
We live in a world where you need to be digitally savvy to get by. Learn graphic design using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. By acquiring basic knowledge about Content Management Systems like WordPress, you can create a pretty awesome website. Create amateur videos using a newfound knowledge of video editing. Master Excel and any programs related to your career. The ability to create code through HTML is becoming necessary in many fields now. Keep learning!
In 2012, I learned (in no particular order): B2B LinkedIn marketing, Twitter marketing, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Dreamweaver, Final Cut Pro X, WordPress CMS, Google Analytics, Adwords, Omniture, Constant Contact, MailChimp, HTML and improved my photoshopping skillz, yo. I also learned that the real-life version of hell is the California DMV and that it only took seeing snow once to never want to see it again.
Don’t sit on job boards all day
While being plugged in can be great – you don’t want to be sitting indoors all day. Don’t sit online and spend all day job searching. Most jobs aren’t filled through these job boards and they are merely demoralizing to fill out. Connect with family and friends. Connect with the friends of your friends. Connect with the friends of your friend’s friends. Hit the bar and converse with others. There is no shame in using your resources to your advantage.
What happens when you get someone’s attention? Show how you can help them. It’s a give, not a take scenario! Job boards are nothing more than having the best designed resume of the bunch. If you reach out to people you actually know then you will infinitely better off.
Have you ever wanted to work all the way across the country? Do it. Now is the time to make it happen in your early 20’s. I wanted to get out of Florida so I moved to DC to work for awhile. I didn’t like it so I moved to Southern California and am trying to my luck here. Have fun with life, it’s an adventure. You probably don’t have many obligations to take care of at this age. Deal with your debt, save up a little and make a go at it.
One thing I never considered in school was the value that your expertise can bring to someone. Everyone can be an expert at something so why not make some money at it? When you’re not hustling and investing in yourself, find the time to work on some consulting side work. Offer your talent at a non-profit and create some proven success. The fact that you’re constantly honing your skills will always put you ahead of the ones that don’t.
Set a time plan for each day
Always have a plan for the next day. While you probably have a 9-to-5 job, you want to always have something going on before and after that as well. The gym is crucial and might be better done before work. After work you have to cram some of that consulting work on top of everything. Go have some drinks with others and network a bit. I suggest to skip owning a television whatsoever. Netflix has everything you need for entertainment in the world. I use a checklist written in chicken scratch that allows me to quickly check off tasks that need to be done.
Life after college is a time to experiment. Wait, that was what college was for? You get the point. It is NEVER too late to learn a trade or skill after college. Being 23 means you optimistically have 60 years to go. I’d prefer to use those years bettering myself rather than relaxing off the interest of a degree.