Honestly, senior year for me at Virginia Tech was really, really difficult. I was in a “on again” “off again” relationship, was only taking like 2 classes a semester (because I already had enough credits to graduate) and overall was so ready to start my career. I had come back from a Summer interning in New York City and was ready to get out in the real world and THRIVE. But before I graduated, I had a ton of anxieties about what entering the “real world” was going to be like for me. I have always been a good student, I loved learning, I loved following directions, I loved getting graded – what was this new world of making money to support myself going to look like? I was scared – scared to leave my friends, the comfort of Blacksburg Virginia and honestly was terrified of graduating without having a job lined up. Now as I am 5 years out of college and well into my career, there are some definite lessons I wish I new before I graduation.
All of Your Friends Have a Job Offer and You Don’t, DO NOT stress
The majority of my friends were engineers or in the business school and had jobs lined up as early as going into senior year – that’s just the way the some fields are. If you are looking to get into more “creative” fields like journalism, public relations, social media, marketing, etc. 9 times out of 10, you will be graduating without having a job lined up. And you know what? That’s OK. When I graduated, I got another PR internship in New York because I knew that as as long as I was building my resume and in the city where I wanted to find a job, I would network my way into a position. Don’t be afraid to get an internship or fellowship after you graduate. These first few months out of school are a great time to feel out different companies, jobs and environments where you could see yourself working.
Take Time To Travel
Look, I know this is a luxury but if you have the travel bug, do it now instead of waiting. I was lucky enough where I had the opportunity to study and intern abroad in Lugano, Switzerland and think this was one of my biggest learning experiences in college. Of course you have vacation days when you start working but once you enter the workforce, it is so much harder to travel for longer periods of time. In my opinion, companies aren’t going to look down on you for taking a few months off to travel before you start looking for a job. I think it may even give you a level up to take key learnings from traveling as a way to set yourself apart (did you put all of your itineraries together, do you have beautiful videography from the trip, were you able to navigate solo etc.) Whether having to book cars or balance a budget, traveling taught me basic life skills that I immediately implemented into my first job.
Your GPA & Major Don’t Have a Huge Impact
I am a history major. I repeat, I am a history major. I am now a digital marketing specialist and blogger and have worked with clients ranging from top hospitality groups in NY, to celebrity non-profits, to Fortune 500 companies. In my experience, your major doesn’t matter when it comes to finding a job. What DOES matter is where you have interned, your ability to apply learnings from your past work experience and your interviewing skills
Again, I am specifically speaking about my career realm but I have never once been asked about my GPA in an interview.
Keep Up Relationships with Past Managers and Fellow Interns
This one is SO important. Whether it was an internship you had in high school or during a summer in college, it is so important to stay in touch with former managers and fellow interns. Even if you know you don’t want to work at that company, those relationships will help you land a job – whether they have a friend who works at your dream company or if they can write you a killer recommendation. Something I think a lot of people forget about, is to keep in touch with the people you interned with! The girls that I used to intern with are now seniors/directors at agencies, brands, etc. and are the ones that are now landing us jobs! An easy way to stay in touch and just remain top of mind? Instagram. It is such an amazing, free tool to maintain relationships and flex what you are doing in your life. But if you chose to use your IG as a professional connector, make sure your feed appropriately reflects who you are. I cannot tell you the amount of girls who have DM’d me wanting to send me their resume who have countless pictures of them drinking/smoking/etc. I am certainly not against that but if you are going to use that platform as an extension of your network, you need to be OK with a potential employer seeing that side of you.
Build Your College Network and Maintain It
People love to tap fellow college alumni (esp. at a place like VT). Virginia Tech did not have a lot of opportunities for the field that I wanted to enter, so I would quite literally search “Virginia Tech” and stalk people on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook who could potentially help me find a job. I then crafted extremely specific messages tailored to each person with a deliberate ask. I warn you – do not ask to “pick someone’s brain.” It is the bane of every overworked, stretched-for-time human’s existence. Go in with something like “I notice you work at XYZ company, do you think there is one particular skillset the company is looking for? Is there a specific campaign you have worked on that you are proud of? I am applying for a job at your company and would love this insight.”
Your First Job Will Probably Suck, Deal With It
Honestly, that’s basically the gist of it. You will work long hours, you will be underpaid (especially in the PR world), you will do meaningless tasks that make you question why you just spent 4 years of your life in college. Sure everyone has to pay their dues but what you have to think about is “do I want to be my director and have their job in the next 5 years.” If the answer is no, then it may be time to look at other opportunities.
Make The Move
If you are questioning whether to move to a new city after college, do it now. Don’t wait. It is so much easier to make the move right after you graduate and begin your career then wait 3 years and have to rebuild your whole network. Of course I would have LOVED to live at home, save money, be around people I knew but picking up and moving to NYC was the best decision I made for the trajectory of my career.
Get A Credit Card
Ok, I know this sounds weird but like get a credit card and start building your credit asap. You will need it to get an apartment so you don’t need to co-sign with your parents, if you want to lease a car, yada yada. Start building credit when you are young!
Never Accept The First Offer
My first job in New York City, I was getting paid $32K/yr. I was scrapping by. This ended up being a catalyst to really get the blog going because I quite literally could not afford any “extras” (buy clothes, get my hair done, go out to drinks) so I looked at the blog as a way to help me supplement my non-existent income. While you may not have much leverage, it is so important to negotiate your contract and never settle with the first offer. The worst the employer can do is say “no”. Whether you need to ask for mew money (research what comparable companies are paying at your level) or negotiation for overtime pay, it is important that you immediately show the company that you are willing to fight for yourself.
Know How To Say No
Looking back, I wish someone had told me this right away. If there is a task, trip, event that you do not feel comfortable working (and is outside of your job description) you must learn how to ~politely~ say no. There were so many instances right after college where I should have pushed back and I just didn’t know that I could. I was working events every single weekend (with no overtime pay), with clients who were extremely innaproprite with me and I just did not have the balls to stand up for myself. To be honest, it is something I still struggle with because I am a people pleaser but knowing that it is OK to say “No” and using your manager as an aid to help you do so is a skill you need to learn how to flex right out of the gate.
With graduation around the corner, I hope this is a tool for those who are about to enter the workforce!