9 lessons for college seniors in the post-Covid world
Prepared or not, come June you will be graduating. Whether you plan your future or you sit back to enjoy your last months of freedom; whether you secure a job or choose to travel; whether you procrastinate or lead with confidence – the time will inevitably pass. No matter your course of action, graduation will come, and with it the rest of your life.
If you thought that sounded like a valedictorian speech, you’re right! Time to embrace that inspiration and anxiety and passion and do something with it – ideally before graduation day.
The thing is, transitioning from college to corporate has never been painless, even before Covid. But with some help it doesn’t have to be so anxiety-provoking. I’ve compiled nine lessons – broken into things you can do and things you can believe – to help guide you through the next few months.
Steps you can take to prepare yourself:
1. Apply for internships
Internships don’t have to be in your area of specialization – they don’t even have to be particularly applicable to your degree. What you’re trying to do is hone in on what you like and expose yourself to different paths. I did two internships, one in digital marketing and one in real estate/sales – and you might notice that I am neither a marketer nor a real estate agent. But that’s not the point. The point is I learned a lot about myself, developed my skills, and added to my resume.
2. Join career programs
These programs will allow you to meet prospective employers and live in different cities (if you choose to move for a program, as I did). More than anything they’ll give you hands-on experience with different types of work.
3. Go to career fairs
I graduated from a small Roman Catholic Liberal Arts school without any idea what to do with my degree, let alone with my life. So believe me when I say I know how difficult it is to think beyond your academic track’s horizons – but career fairs can help. I actually found Proven Recruiting at my university career fair, and I’ve been here for 3+ years!
4. Devote time to getting to know yourself
The #1 favor you can do for yourself is dedicating time and energy to figuring out what you like. Are you self-driven? Do you thrive on a team? Do you prefer creative fields, or do you do better with a set task? What kind of management style best motivates you? The content of your job matters a lot less than the parameters of your work, and how well those parameters match your needs.
5. Take control of your thoughts, beliefs, goals
Think critically about your goals: are they really what you want, or are you just adhering to societal expectations?
Once you’ve “gotten to know yourself” – yes, I am fully aware of how wishy washy that sounds – you can start creating expectations and habits that move you closer to the person you want to be. These are the tools that helped me get closer to the life I wanted:
- Your school already offers many resources and infrastructure to help you out. Join organizations, seek the aid of guidance counsellors, befriend teachers, find mentors, etc.
- Consider studying abroad to gain experience and learn more about what you want to do/where you want to live. I studied abroad twice and I still point to these experiences as shaping my professional and personal ambitions.
6. Show that you’re taking initiative (even if you don’t have a job lined up)
It might sound time-consuming and unnecessary, but employers love to see this kind of thing on your resume. Get certified for specific skillsets relevant to your dream job, do volunteer work, build a portfolio – whatever you do, showcase your drive and dedication.
Beliefs you can internalize to gain perspective and confidence:
7. Your first job will not determine your career path or future success
Of course your first job won’t be perfect.
Of course it’ll take time for your career to develop.
Of course an early speed bump won’t ruin future opportunities.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Next fall, no one will tell you what to do. Likely for the first time in your life, you’ll be making decisions outside of the cyclical school calendar that you’ve been a part of since the age of five. And while this realization may be scary at times, it’s also freeing. You get to make your own missteps, find your own path. You get to improve and change and learn on your own timetable.
Like it or not, come May/June your college career will be coming to an end. All you can do is use the months you have left to try your best to figure things out, and trust in the fact that your first job will not determine your future.
8. Uncheck all the boxes
New grads have notoriously low self-esteem. I remember repeatedly asking myself – what am I supposed to do? Do I fit in any box? How can I be what employers want?
The thing is, managers don’t actually want someone who simply ‘checks all the boxes.’ I know this for a fact because I am now a recruiter, and I spend my days speaking with just such managers. What they want are innovative, proactive people who are not afraid to take risks or put their necks on the line. Managers appreciate courage and bravery and they want to benefit from your fresh mind. You, as a new grad, have something unique to offer that (the right) employers will appreciate.
Here are a few tips to stand out:
a) Be a human. Especially with Covid, the whole world is moving toward a virtual existence. The more human you can be, the more you’ll appeal to peoples’ humanity. Add personality, ask questions, and have confidence in your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to be you.
b) Ask for help. I wish I did this more! As students, we underestimate how much people want to help us succeed. Leverage your alma mater, or your fraternity/sorority, or whatever clubs you’ve joined. Asking for help might seem cringe-inducing, but it pays dividends.
I recommend doing some research, finding people in your field you admire, and reaching out via LinkedIn or email. A simple “Hi [Name], hope you’re well. I’ve admired your work at X and was wondering if you had 10 minutes to chat – I’m looking to follow a similar career path. If not, don’t worry about it at all. Hope to hear from you!” should work. If they don’t respond, follow up requesting 2-3 people they recommend you speak with. I guarantee most people will be impressed with your initiative.
9. Your career isn’t a race.
Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing what to do at age 20, 22, 25…possibly ever. That’s part of life. There’s no one way to do it, and the only thing you can control are your own reactions.
If you have a job lined up before you graduate – great! If not – that’s normal too! Even before Covid, the timeline varied greatly. Don’t be discouraged, but do consider taking an ‘interim’ job if you can’t land your ideal role right away. Paradoxically, it is far easier to find work once you are already employed.
As a final piece of advice, I’ll say this – don’t rush your life, but also don’t meet it unprepared. Do as much as you can to make things easy for yourself. Plan in advance, think deeply about your goals, and do what’s necessary to build a life you are proud of.
I’m always available to talk about your experience and options! There are infinite possibilities – you just have to figure out what you want most. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk!