Home Self Life After College Maximizing Crunch Time: Five Tips for those about to Graduate

The following is a guest post by Matt Cheuvront. Matt is an Internet Marketing Developer/Designer and master of ceremonies over at Life Without Pants. Follow him on Twitter to keep in touch!

You’re about to enter into the “real world”. Pretty scary stuff, I know. So far you’ve had it all planned out for you – go to class, work your part time job, out to parties on Friday, Saturday, and (sometimes) Sunday night. Life’s much easier when the road is paved ahead. And now, in a couple months, you’re going to have to take a turn off the beaten path and start “figuring it out on your own”.

To say the least, it’s no easy task. Maybe you’re like I was when I approached graduation – I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life – and it terrified me. I felt like I had done all of that school and it had provided me with no real sense of direction. In fact, I feel more confused than ever.

Or maybe you DO know exactly what you want to do, but don’t know how to get there, don’t know who to talk to or how to get your foot in the door…

In either case, this is it…Crunch time. One of those defining moments that requires a lot of hustle, a lot of dedication, and some tough skin – it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows, you’re going to get denied, but you’ll also, if you stick with it, find whatever it is you’re looking for.

Here are five “tips” for those of you out there about to enter the “real world”.

Don’t jump right back into school

I am not against higher education – not at all. But what I have seen time and time again is people turn to school as an escape route – not ready or willing to see what the career world has in store for them, they decide they “have to” go back for their Masters. My plea to you is simple. Think about it. Think before you take the leap and make sure that’s the direction you want to go in. Don’t assume that more school will figure everything out for you, and don’t use it to delay working a full-time job. There’s a lot to be said for self-education and life experience.

Start a blog

You will not find a bigger advocate for starting a blog – not only from a personal standpoint, but a professional one as well. Regardless of the field you are looking to get into – a blog can be your ticket to three VERY important things: Learning, networking, & skill building. By starting a blog, you put your ideas out there, and hopefully, you maintain an open mind and surround yourself with other people who are smarter than you. Learn from them – network with other bloggers – ask questions – and work on adding skills and experience to your own “resume”. Even if you don’t think you’re a great writer or think you have nothing to say – you’d be surprised what happens when you start having faith in yourself and take even a small step out of your comfort zone.

Network with everyone, everywhere

This one is simple. If there’s a networking event in your city – go to it. Grab a friend so you don’t have to feel awkward not knowing anyone. Whether it’s a professional event or a group getting together for beers, there’s never harm in getting out there and meeting new people. Go buy yourself a box of cheap business cards (or hell – make some of your own) and hand them out. Exchange e-mails, phone numbers, blog URL’s – whatever. Knowing a lot of people from diverse backgrounds is extremely important – and you never know when someone can help you out, or point you in the right direction of someone else.

Apply for jobs you are unqualified for

You’re scouring job boards, rifling through Craigslist, and everything you see is asking for 3-7 years of experience, right? Man do I know what that feels like – it’s tough to find something that’s in line with what you want, and what you think you’re worth (even coming straight out of college). The bottom line: Don’t sell yourself short – apply for jobs you aren’t technically qualified for. If nothing else, a few HR reps will probably be impressed that you’d be so bold as to even send in your resume. “Requested Experience” isn’t set in stone, and you don’t have to limit yourself to ONLY entry-level work.

Don’t be afraid to “settle”

Settling is an ugly word, isn’t it? I can’t stand it really, but I think it makes the most sense here. You’re probably reading a lot of books and blogs, talking to a lot of people like me who have “been there” recently – and they’re telling you to shoot for the stars, and accept nothing less than the absolute best.
I’m not a dream-zapper. Quite the contrary actually – I’ll be the first one to tell you that you should go out and get exactly what you want. BUT, there are also “real life” things that come into play. You’re out on your own, you have to pay the bills, and you may be supporting other people. It’s OK to take a job that isn’t 100% ideal. It’s OK to work a position that’s essentially a “just a paycheck”. Just remember these three things:

1. Money is money – and unfortunately, it’s a necessity. Never discount a good old fashioned paycheck.
2. Attitude is everything. Approach EVERY opportunity with a positive attitude, open mind, and a desire to learn SOMETHING from your experience.
3. It isn’t forever. That job you “settled” for doesn’t have to be forever – in fact, you and I know it won’t – because eventually you WILL find that amazing job you always wanted. Maybe you’ll figure out you want to be your own boss and you’ll start a company. Take the experience for what it’s worth and do everything you can to hustle and find something better.

God Speed and good luck to you my soon-to-be real-worlders. It can be a scary place out there, but luckily, there are a lot of people out there who are more than willing to help.

24 replies to this post
  1. Thank you, the section on settling. It’s just what I needed to hear. Sometimes it’s difficult to see those around you doing all these great things, while you are still trying to find work you love. On one hand you really need a job to stay afloat, but at the same time you don’t want to settle for a certain job because it’s not glamorous.

    • Thanks Michelle – Writing this – that was the most important point I wanted to get across. “Settling” is an ugly idea to think about – but it’s also reality. Sure we’d all like to graduate from college and end up with the job of our dreams, but that pursuit of ultimate happiness takes hard work, perseverance, and time. Don’t be afraid to take a small step back in doing something a little less than glamorous as you work TOWARD your dream. Thanks for the comment!

      • Matt, Thank you for bringing up “settling.” Too many young professionals believe that their job will be perfect. The truth is it WON’T be even close to perfect. You need to pay your bills. You need to get realistic.

        You also need to remember that everything happens for a reaseon. I can name 100 reasons why the jobs I took and the guys I’ve dated who I “settled” for led me to a great place now. Everything has a reason in your life, and usually it’s a very unexpected one.

        • All of those things you mentioned help define who you are. Nothing at all to be ashamed up. As long as you keep an open mind and are willing to learn from every experience, “settling” can be the perfect step in the right direction.

  2. I thought I was doing everything right in college: Dean’s list, internships, study abroad, volunteered, etc. My issue was that I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get my foot in the door as you mentioned above.

    Here’s what I did:

    1) I refused to go back to school (I couldn’t read another book)
    2) I networked with every alum I could find, letting them know about my situation, what I was looking for and if they would let me learn from them.
    3) I applied for every possible job I could find (Looking back, this might have been a waste of effort b/c I was mass applying to a lot of things I was even close to being interested in. Probably should have taken a more strategic approach).
    4) All of a sudden everything came together and I was flying all over the United States for job interviews, I thought it was pretty incredible…so I started a blog to document this “journey”.
    5) I took a job in sales in the industry I wanted (advertising) in order to learn more about it, develop some necessary skills and get a paycheck.

    You’re article has a real world application, I know, it worked for me. Thanks for sharing this with everyone!

    • Tyler-

      Good for you! If you were one of my mentees I’d tell you to network like hell before you went back to school.

      It sounds like you have a very positive attitude, were willing to take a risk, and were open-minded. How do you like the job now?

      I agree that mass-applying to jobs is a waste of time. What I think is cool in your case is that you made finding a job your job- and it worked! Congrats!

      Nicole

      • Mass-applying does suck but Tyler ol buddy, I’ve been there myself. 8 months ago I moved to Chicago with nothing lined up here – and applied for EVERYTHING you could think of – even a Management position at Noodles & Company (hey, free noodles!) So I’ve seen varied ends of the spectrum where as now, being recently laid off, I couldn’t be happier, and I’ve positioned myself so (hopefully) I never have to scour Craiglist again. Great to hear your story and thanks for the comment!

  3. Brilliant article Matt!

    I believe the “don’t jump right back into school” is a critical point. I know many that went this route as a “life deferred” plan. I agree that such a strategy is not necessary helpful. Yes, continued education (formal or otherwise) is an absolute, but not without the context of life. Seth Godin even agrees – saying that an MBA isn’t worth it, that real-world experience (ESPECIALLY given the rise and influence of social media/networking) is more helpful and less debilitating (debt-wise).

    The “apply for jobs you’re unqualified for” is vital too. How can you advance and prosper (in anything) if you’re not constantly exploring the boundaries of what’s possible. Complacency and apathy are diseases.

    Congratulations to all graduates!! Now go forth, have fun, and conquer your world! :)

    Cheers!
    Matt

    • Matt + Matt-

      To me, applying for jobs you aren’t completley qualified for is critical. Be realistic about this (if it says 10 years and you just graduated college, don’t bother). But if it says 3 years of experience and you just graduated, defintiely go for it. You must play to win.

      Also, remember that these hiring managers and companies are made of REAL PEOPLE! Most likely they are looking for a fit in terms of personality, work-ethic and ability to learn rather than how many YEARS of experience you have.

      I think the game is changing quite a bit in that regard. I’m living proof as I am one of the least experienced people in my department in terms of years, but my banking/finance experience, attitude and ability to take on extra projects and get things done quickly appealed to them. I got hired among a sea of 15-20 year veterans.

      Nicole

      • Depending on the field, many job listings are not accurate as to what the employer actually wants (especially in web development/design). Employers often just list every buzzword under the sun with some crazy amount of years of experience, but people who meet those qualifications usually aren’t the only people they’ll speak with.

        If you feel you’re fit for a job, go ahead and apply. You literally have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is you’ll get hired.

        • Tim good point. They ARE in business! Which means if an employer can hire someone with 10 years of experience, and pay them at a rate of someone with 5 years experience, they will probably do it! If they can get a rockstar with 5 years of experience both parties win.

          • Great points guys. The people doing the hiring are REAL LIVE people with personalities and feelings – simply being a good fit with a companies culture CAN trump a lack of experience. Don’t let “required experience” scare you off from pursuing something you know you can do.

  4. Great post, Matt. One thing I found myself thinking, even after I got my first job and really liked it, is how awesome other people’s lives are. Getting engaged, being accepted into grad school, moving to fabulous cities, and I was just out on my own, in a brand new place, knowing no one.

    I feel like all your points focus on being happy wherever you are, and just knowing there’s a light at the end of the end of the tunnel (even if your tunnel is pretty damn bright in the first place, like mine). Don’t compare yourself to what other people are doing…just pursue your own goals and aspirations, because everyone else’s are different.

    • Megan-

      OMG I can completley relate. When I first graduated I lived with my parents in the suburbs for about a year to save money. I worked at a job I didn’t love and I certainly didn’t have a big salary. I would go on Facebook and see people who lived downtown, traveled for work, and worked at Big 4 accounting firms. I wanted their lives!

      My Mom always told me to “bloom where you are planted” and honestly, I’m so glad I did have that year at home to save money. Once I moved to the city I realized that it was SO expensive and hectic. That debt was a likely part of my life, and that working in the loop wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

      Everyone’s story peaks at different times. Enjoy the moment! Thanks for sharing.

      Nicole

    • Thanks for your comment – I’d take the time to tell you how absolutely insane/awesome/crazy the past 12 months have been, but I’ll spare you the details. Just know that there are going to be many MANY ups and many downs. But you have the right attitude. Focus on YOU and what YOU’RE doing instead of comparing yourself to everyone around you. Cheers!

  5. Matt, I’m not clear on your point about applying for jobs for which I’m not qualified. There are a lot of people out there writing that the “shotgun approach” of applying to anything and everything that shows up on a job board is a poor strategy. It sounds like you’re suggesting going ahead and doing just that, even for jobs in which I technically don’t meet the minimum requirements?

    • Not at all what I mean Rob. You have to be smart about this. I’m not suggesting applying for everything and everything (been there – huge waste of time – but a learning experience nonetheless). If you technically cannot do what the job is asking – it’s pointless to apply. But if you have minimal experience, while a job posting asks for 3-5 years, and you know you CAN do the job (and do it well) – you should (of course) send in a resume. My point was that you shouldn’t be intimidated by a job “requirement”. Know your worth and own it. Hope that clarifies…

  6. Matt,

    I’m about 10 years out of college, but looking back I didn’t do most of what have said here. Fortunately, times have changed and almost everything here is so easy to do. If there’s any one piece of advice I would give to college seniors, it’s the same advice I gave to MBA students “NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.”

    The part about settling is one that I have a hard time getting my head around. I took a paycheck and I quit my job in two weeks. Granted, I’m out of grad school and not undergrad so settling is not something I’m as willing to do. Out of undergrad it’s likely you will have to settle. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself up to get out of a situation you hate and a blog is a perfect way to get started on that path.

    • I hear you man. Settling is an ugly word – I wish we could get rid of it altogether. My point is that it’s OK to take something less than ideal in pursuit of your dreams – just make sure, instead of sitting around and complaining about it, you’re actually trying to better your situation.

      It seems like around the web so many people will tell you that settling is for suckers. That you should do everything you want today. I love the attitude, but there are still bills to pay, still obligations to support. I’m an idealist, but also a realist, and know that everything isn’t going to happen overnight, but that I’m doing everything I can to live out my passions and work toward them.

  7. Hey Matt (and Nicole),

    Though I agree that people shouldn’t jump right in to graduate school, it CAN work. It worked for me! Maybe the difference is that I did it in China. There’s nothing like being away from North America, and submerged in another culture, to get all the noise out of your head. You know, things like what kind of job you “should” have, and how much money you “should” make.

    Of course, I guess I am taking your advice after all…I’m heading back to Toronto in a few months without finishing the degree (International Relations just doesn’t do it for me.) The great thing about it, though, is that I had the time and space to think about what I really want for myself…and I’m heading home early to start making it happen!

    All the best,

    Heather

    • I have to get myself overseas. At least to visit, and I’d love to live there for a bit. I feel like experiencing another culture and really immersing yourself in it does wonders for perspective (as I’m sure you can attest to).

      You have a great attitude and it sounds like you have a solid plan ahead of you. Good luck to you!

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