I remember it like it was yesterday, heading back to my college dorm with my friend Ed after taking our last final exam in our senior year. He looked at me and said, “Did you ever think this day would come? I mean, it’s the last day of school. Ever.”
I started to think about it, and he continued, “I mean, when we were little kids or in high school, you were always excited about the last day of school and summer starting, but in the back of your mind, you knew you’d be right back in school again in a few months. But this is it. Now we have to get actual jobs. We’re never going to have a last day of school again. Ever.”
So with that depressing scenario, my recent college graduates, what should you do now?
- Backpack across Europe
OK, so maybe “Backpacking across Europe” is clichéd and should be replaced with “Take a low-impact sustainable eco-tour to Mt. Kilimanjaro,” but the destination really doesn’t matter.
Some of your friends already had jobs lined up by the time they walked across the stage at graduation (things are actually looking up, with employers expected to hire 10.2% more graduates this year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers).
But if you’re heading into July without a job, I’m going to go ahead and give you permission to delay the real world just a moment longer to take one last road trip. Three reasons:
1. It might be your last chance. (For a while at least.) It’s a sad fact of life that you will probably begin your first job with only 2 weeks vacation. What’s worse, even 3, 5, or 10 years down the road, unless you stay at the same employer, there’s a chance that you’ll still only get 2 weeks vacation. Don’t complain to your backpacking buddies in France (minimum 5 weeks vacation) or new friends in Tanzania (28 days), it’s an American thing.
2. You’ll gain life experience. If everyone you’re competing against for jobs has the same degree, the same grades, and the same 2 internships, doing something unique and adventurous might just give you an edge. I guarantee there’ll be a life lesson learned in Africa that will trump anything you could gain in an unrelated summer job in your hometown mall. Use it to your advantage.
3. You probably won’t be missing much. As the dog days of August approach, many executives head for the beach. What that means is any momentum for hiring can slow down as well. Use part of your summer to recharge your batteries, get all the items on this list in place, then hit the ground running on Labor Day.
- Adjust your finances
The spiraling cost of an education is burdening graduates in a massive way. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average debt for grads in 2011 was $23,300. You might be looking for a job for months, and it could be years before you’re earning a significant income.
Now is the time to take a hard look at your financial situation and develop good habits. Where can you cut costs? Do you have high interest rates on your credit cards? Can you really afford that new car? Does it make sense to live with your parents to start out? Make smart decisions now and you’ll be in a better position later.
- Tell your social media sites to grow up
The path to your dream job might begin with a resume and end with an in-person interview, but it also goes through the web. Up to 75% of hiring managers will do a web search on candidates, so you better manage your brand from top to bottom.
Make sure your Facebook photo is presentable, and lock down any privacy settings to prevent your future boss from seeing what they shouldn’t. The same goes for profiles on YouTube, Twitter, and other sites. Better yet, go ahead and remove those Tequila-inspired candids from your Cabo trip altogether. You’re not in college anymore.
- Invest in your personal brand
For a few hundred dollars, you can set yourself apart from the pack by paying close attention to these important details:
Resume: For $99, new website Loft Resumes can give your CV a large dose of flair. This might be a better idea for a creative advertising job than for an accounting assistant, so adjust accordingly.
Headshots: The number of places you’re required to upload a photo of yourself – from professional sites like LinkedIn to profiles on Airbnb, Meetup, or dating sites – keeps increasing. That hilarious one-handed self-shot from your iPhone isn’t going to cut it anymore. At worst, ask a photographer friend to help you out, and ideally, for a few hundred dollars you can have a pro take several casual and professional photos.
Clothing: The rule of thumb here is quality over quantity. You don’t need to rush out and drop thousands of dollars on half a dozen suits for interviews, but the one or two you do have should be current and tailored to fit. Then, adjust your style accordingly. Your look will differ if you’re meeting with the head of HR at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company vs. a co-founder of a web startup over coffee.
Web presence: We already know companies are going to Google you. The question is, what will they find? For just $12 a year you can secure your own domain name and set up a free homepage using a site such as About.Me or Flavors.me. To prove it, I created a tutorial for grads called GetYourNameToday.com that will get you on the web with a personalized domain in 7 minutes.
- Go back to class
OK, so no one wants to go to summer school. But if your Religious Studies or Anthropology major left you lacking in some of the new media skills needed to survive in the digital age, it’s time to get out of the pool and get back to work.
Desirable skills include web design, WordPress and blogging, video editing, and mobile development. Even if you don’t take a class in person, there are plenty of online video tutorials available, meaning you can learn remotely from your laptop – at the beach.
Do you (or a recent college graduate you know) have questions, or other advice you’d like to offer? Share them in the Comments.