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10 Harsh Truths Every Grad Needs To Face Once Leaving College

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10 Harsh Truths Every Grad Needs To Face Once Leaving College

The speeches have been given, the mortarboards have been tossed, and the couch your BFFs crashed on for the past four years has been moved to the curb. Greetings 2014 college grads, and welcome to the rest of your lives! If this feels scary, that’s probably because it is scary: You’re outside “the bubble,” and there are hard realities out there that you’re about to face. Here are 10 of them, with real stories, real talk, and real advice from recent college grads.

1. Your diploma is just an expensive piece of paper.

You’ve worked so hard for so long, and now you’ve got… well, wait. What have you got? There’s no doubt that your college diploma is an important credential: Studies show that the lifetime earnings gap between those who have a college degree and those who don’t continues to increase. But in the end, your diploma itself isn’t that meaningful. You are what matters here: What you learned, what you’ve accomplished, and most of all, what you can do are what’s truly important. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud of your accomplishments. As UConn grad Shana says, “A degree is something someone can never take away from you. It’s a timeless piece of you that belongs to you and only you.”

2. You’ll need to repay your loans.

Remember signing those promissory notes back when you were just a little freshman? Those were IOUs — and now that you’ve graduated, it’s time to pay up. “I technically knew that I would have to pay off my loans, but I never really thought about the details of it,” remembers UC Berkeley grad Aaron. “I got calls from loan consolidation places within weeks of graduation, and I had to figure out how that works quickly because I had no idea and I needed to start paying.” Unless you go back to school — and see #6 before you commit to that plan — repayment kicks in as soon as you graduate.

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Take a deep breath, then dig in and do some research. If you have multiple student loans, consolidating them so that you make one payment is a must-do. Even after you take that step though, there’s how to repay. If you have federal loans, you have several repayment options available (your choices depend upon the exact loans you have). In most cases, you will have to choose between making lower payments now and paying more overall (lower monthly payments usually mean higher interest rates, and in some cases a longer period of repayment than the standard 10 years or less). If you have private loans, put in a phone call to your lender(s) to talk about your options. Got a job? You should check to see whether that affects your repayment options. Some companies — particularly in the public service sector — offer loan repayment assistance programs. If you work for the government or a nonprofit and plan on sticking with it, you may be eligible for the recently established Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Get the facts and crunch the numbers to figure out what you can pay, then make sure you pay it regularly (set up automatic payments if you can to avoid tarnishing your credit score with a late payment). Whatever you do, avoid student loan “debt relief” firms — you already owe a big chunk of change, so don’t lose more money by being scammed.

3. Your major doesn’t really matter.

You spent so long deciding between majoring in Sociology or Anthropology, or between International Studies and Political Science. We’re not saying your agony was for nothing — finding the right major probably helped you to earn better grades and enjoy your college experience more. Thing is though, when it comes to getting a job, employers pretty much just see that you have a BA or a BS, and that’s that. With a few exceptions, like pre-professional degrees and some of the “hard sciences,” the person evaluating your résumé isn’t likely to think of you as having training in a particular field. To him or her, a degree is a degree. Your school’s name recognition could definitely help you, but no hiring manager is saying, “Finally, we’ve found someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History!” (Sorry, art historians.)

Yes, employers will sometimes list particular majors as a criterion for an open position. In those cases — say for example, an entry-level PR job where the employer says they want someone with a degree in business, marketing, or communications — if you have a relevant degree, you may be able to use it as a proxy for work experience. But if you want that job and you have experience that might make you a fit — say you majored in English, but you also did an internship at an online marketing agency — you should still apply. Again, since bachelor’s degrees aren’t normally perceived as work experience or job training, asking for a certain major is usually flexible and can be easily outweighed by other factors. Given a few years’ solid work experience, you may not even bother putting your major on your résumé anymore.

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4. You may have a long job search ahead of you.

UC San Diego grad Rachel says, “It’s definitely easy to get discouraged with the job search process. You pretty much have to start anywhere and look everywhere you can — then hope that at some point somebody will notice you and happen to like you enough to hire you.” We may not be in the thick of a recession anymore, but competition for jobs is still fierce, and you may well be competing for even low-level positions with people who have much more work experience than you do. Shana echoes Rachel’s sentiments: “When I started getting auto-generated emails declining my applications, I just started applying everywhere. Account manager for a marketing firm? Yeah I’m qualified. Office manager? Sure! You name it, I applied for it.” Shana also signed on with a staffing agency that didn’t actually land her a job, but on the plus side she says did give her “a lot of interview experience.” Though it took her almost two years — and plenty of interviews — Shana now has a job she loves. “I worked hard to get to where I am,” she says, “and I couldn’t be happier.

5. You may not like your first job.

Yep, adding insult to injury — after all of the struggles you go through just to land a gig, there’s a decent chance you won’t actually like your job. Entry-level work isn’t often that exciting. We’re talking answering phones, doing coffee runs, filing (in the digital age, how is there still so much paper?), and other grunt work. Here’s the thing though: Everyone had to do it. If you are able to get an entry-level job in the field where you think you’d like a career, try to make the most of it no matter how much it sucks on a day-to-day basis. Remember that the people working over you paid their dues, too (and probably had to deal with even more paper). Instead of doing your assignments with a sigh and an eye-roll, try to knock your superior’s socks off with the quality of your work. The more you kick butt in your entry-level position, the more quickly you’re likely to get noticed and be able to move on to the next step in your career. Not happy with the field you’re in? Turning in a top-notch performance is more likely to get you better assignments (since you can’t put coffee runs on your résumé), help you develop more skills, and give higher-ups reasons to give you an excellent references, all of which can help you land a new job in a different field.

6. You should think twice about going back to school.

“The cliché for college graduates in the last few years is to go to law school if you don’t really know what you want to do next,” explains Zach, a University of Maryland grad. Though many college grads are thrilled at the prospect of finally being out of school, for others, it’s a daunting experience — after all, school’s what you’ve been doing for pretty much as long as you remember. Why not keep it going?

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Turns out, there are plenty of reasons. Though you don’t need to repay your undergraduate student loans as long as you’re still in school, you’re likely to rack up more debt in a graduate program. A master’s degree in the humanities or social sciences isn’t an especially helpful credential, and universities don’t usually offer grad students funding unless they are pursuing a PhD. The changing nature of higher education also means that visions of a cushy, tenured life in the ivory tower are now less realistic than ever. Unless you’re pursuing a degree with an eye toward a non-academic job (e.g., in medicine, business, or the sciences), racking up another diploma may not be the best plan. Though he had always wanted to be a professor, Zach says that the close-up view he got of “the stresses of balancing research, publishing, teaching, and bureaucracy” in his graduate program made him reconsider his goals and priorities.

7. You might wind up moving back home.

Millennials are used to hearing all kinds of terms bandied about to describe them — are new grads even Millenials, or are we still saying Gen-Y? One buzzword you’ve likely heard is “boomerang children”: Kids who leave the nest for college, but, like a boomerang, return and move back in after graduation. There’s definitely a stigma attached to having to shack up with Mom and Dad, but if you’re struggling to get a job and your parents are willing to support you, being a boomerang child may not be a bad call.

Shana remembers feeling ashamed of living at home the summer after she graduated, as she “watched many of my peers move away, buy new cars, and make contributions towards their 401k’s.” Though it was stressful to feel like she wasn’t keeping up, she now would advise grads “Don’t be so eager to move out when all your friends are moving out of town. Paying for rent sucks. Paying for groceries sucks. If your parents are letting you stay at home, stay!” Having that basic support system can give you the help you need to stick with a difficult job search, or allow you to beef up your résumé by volunteering or doing an unpaid internship. That said, you’re an adult now, so just because you’re sleeping in your childhood bedroom doesn’t mean you have license to act like a kid. Make your own bed. Wash your own laundry. Do the dishes. Remember that this is a temporary step, not a permanent lifestyle.

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8. Your values will be challenged.

“Prior to graduating from college, we were warned that college kids eventually lose their idealism and liberalism,” explains Rachel. She didn’t think this would happen to her — until it did. “Even having focused so much of my studies on social inequality, it was actually very difficult to work for a non-profit with the very people I’d been studying about,” she remembers. “Just because I had the academic and historical background did not mean I had a real-world understanding of life in underprivileged or unequal situations.” Struggling to make ends meet herself, Rachel found that as time wore on, she had “lower sensitivity” toward the people she worked with. Eventually, she left her non-profit gig for a corporate job.

Recent Columbia grad Yanyi says she’s noticed recurring themes in the conversations she has with friends about “being an adult,” the definition of which is “murky at best, but loosely includes holding down a job, paying your own bills, and owning Real Kitchen Appliances.” Yanyi explains, “What’s interesting is that people completely embrace or reject this: Dive headfirst into investment banking or struggle for a long time to identify and acquire a usually nonexistent job that will offer meaning, happiness, and gainful employment to them.” Being in the ‘real world’ is going to challenge you to take a hard look at your values. You’ll no longer confront ideas as abstract concepts being batted about in a seminar; instead, the choices you make will put your commitments and values into practice. It’s not going to be easy, but you are definitely going to learn a lot about yourself.

9. Your college grades aren’t really that valuable.

Yes, we know you worked crazy hard and pulled more than a few all-nighters to polish up that GPA. But here’s the thing: Once you’re out of school, your college grades just aren’t a big deal. So long as they aren’t utterly abysmal (like “D is for Diploma” level), your GPA isn’t likely to help or hurt you. In fact, few employers are likely to even ask about your grades, let alone want to see your transcript. While you can (and should) put your GPA on your résumé if you had at least a 3.0, even within two years of graduating you should probably take it off and focus on your work experience. Explains Aaron, “I’ve talked in job interviews about skills I learned in my classes, but people want me to prove that I really learned those things by doing them, not by asking what grade I got.”

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10. You have to get out there and create the life you want.

“If you grew up in the ‘K-12 then college’ trajectory, you’re used to having The Next Big Thing on the horizon. You’re also used to fantasizing about it and the life it’s supposed to give you,” explains Yanyi. But, she continues, “After graduation, your Next Big Thing is the rest of your life.” Sure, your parents, your friends, and society at large still have expectations for you, but it’s up to you to decide what you really want — and more importantly, you’re the one who has to make it all happen. “You can no longer delay figuring out who you want to be; every day you will make choices that actualize who you are in the world,” she continues. “You will have to stand by definitions of ‘justice’ or ‘good’ that you may not have figured out. Or maybe you have. How will you act? What mechanisms of our world will you look to move?” No more parents, no more professors: Grads, it’s up to you to get out there and make it happen.

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Last Updated on August 25, 2021

Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

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Why Personal Branding Is Important to Your Career

As a recruiter, I have met and interviewed hundreds of candidates who have no idea who they are.

Without a personal brand, candidates struggle to answer the question: “tell me about yourself—who are you?” They have no idea about who they are, what their strengths are, and how they can add value to the company. They present their CV’s believing that their CV is the key to their career success. In some ways, your CV still has its use. However, in today’s job market, you need more than a CV to stand out in a crowd.

According to Celinne Da Costa:[1]

“Personal brand is essentially your golden ticket to networking with the right people, getting hired for a dream job, or building an influential business.” She believes that “a strong personal brand allows you to stand out in an oversaturated marketplace by exposing desired audiences to your vision, skillset, and personality in a way that is strategically aligned with your career goals.”

A personal brand opens up your world to so many more career opportunities that you would never have been exposed to with just your CV.

What Is Your Personal Brand?

“Personal branding is how you distinctively market your uniqueness.” —Bernard Kelvin Clive

Today, the job market is very competitive and tough. Having a great CV will only let you go so far because everyone has a CV, but no one else has your distinct personal brand! It is your personal brand that differentiates you from everyone else and that is what people buy—you.

Your personal brand is your mark on the world. It is how people you interact with and the world see you. It is your legacy—it is more important than a business brand because your personal brand lasts forever.

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I have coached people who have very successful careers, and they come to me because they have suddenly found that they are not getting the opportunities or having the conversations that would them to their next role. They are having what I call a “career meltdown,” all because they have no personal brand.

A personal brand helps you become conscious of your differences and your uniqueness. It allows you to position yourself in a way that makes you stand out from the pack, especially among other potential job applicants.

Don’t get me wrong, having a great CV and a great LinkedIn profile is important. However, there are a few steps that you have to take to have a CV and LinkedIn profile that is aligned to who you are, the value you offer to the market, and the personal guarantee that you deliver results.

Building your personal brand is about strategically, creatively, and professionally presenting what makes you, you. Knowing who you are and the value you bring to the table enables you to be more informed, agile, and adaptable to the changing dynamic world of work. This is how you can avoid having a series of career meltdowns.

Your Personal Brand Is Essential for Your Career Success

In her article, Why Personal Branding Is More Important Than Ever, Caroline Castrillon outlines key reasons why a personal brand is essential for career success.

According to Castrillon,[2]

“One reason is that it is more popular for recruiters to use social media during the interview process. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees.”

The first thing I do as a recruiter when I want to check out a candidate or coaching client is to look them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Your digital footprint is the window that highlights to the world who you are. When you have no control over how you want to be seen, you are making a big mistake because you are leaving it up to someone else to make a judgment for you as to who you are.

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As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

In her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama writes about the importance of having a personal brand and her journey to defining her personal brand. She wrote that:

“if you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

When you have a personal brand, you are in control. You know exactly what people will say about you when you leave the room.

The magic of a personal brand is that gives you control over how you want to be seen in the world. Your confidence and self-belief enable you to leverage opportunities and make informed decisions about your career and your future. You no longer experience the frustrations of a career meltdown or being at a crossroads not knowing what to do next with your career or your life. With a personal brand, you have focus, clarity, and a strategy to move forward toward future success.

Creating your personal brand does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection. You will be expected to step outside of your comfort zone not once, but many times.

The good news is that the more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the more you will like being there. Being outside of your comfort zone is where you can test the viability of and fine-tune your personal brand.

5 Key Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand

These five steps will help you create a personal brand that will deliver you the results you desire with your career and in life.

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1. Set Your Personal Goals

What is it that you want to do in the next five years? What will your future self be doing in the next five to ten years? What is important to you? If you can answer these questions, then you are on the right path. If not, then you have to start thinking about them.

2. Create Your Unique Value Proposition

Create your unique value proposition by asking yourself these four questions:

  1. What are your personality features? What benefit do you offer people?
  2. Who are you and why do people enjoy working with you?
  3. What do you do and what do people want you to do for them? How do you solve their problems?
  4. What makes you different from others like you?

The answers to these questions will give you the information you need to create your professional story, which is the key step to creating your personal brand.

3. Write Your Professional Story

Knowing who you are, what you want, and the unique value you offer is essential to you creating your professional story. People remember stories. Your personal story incorporates your value proposition and tells people who you are and what makes you unique. This is what people will remember about you.

4. Determine Which Platforms Will Support Your Personal Brand

Decide which social media accounts and online platforms will best represent your brand and allow you to share your voice. In a professional capacity, having a LinkedIn profile and a CV that reflects your brand is key to your positioning in relation to role opportunities. People will be connecting with you because they will like the story you are telling.

5. Become Recognized for Sharing Your Knowledge and Expertise

A great way for you to promote yourself is by sharing knowledge and helping others. This is where you prove you know your stuff and you gain exposure for doing so. You can do this through social media, writing, commenting, video, joining professional groups, networking, etc. Find your own style and uniqueness and use it to attract clients, the opportunities, or the jobs you desire.

The importance of having a personal brand is not going to go away. In fact, it is the only way where you can stand out and be unique in a complex changing world of work. If you don’t have a personal brand, someone will do it for you. If you let this happen, you have no control and you may not like the story they create.

Standing out from others takes time and investment. Most people cannot make the change by themselves, and this is where engaging a personal brand coach is a viable option to consider.

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As a personal brand coach, working with my clients to create their personal brand is my passion. I love the fact that we can work together to create a personal story that defines exactly what people will say when you leave the room.

Other People’s Stories

Listening to other people’s stories is a great way to learn. In his article, 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding, Rafael Dos Santos presents the best Ted Talks where speakers share their stories about the “why,” “what,” and “how” of personal branding.((GuidedPR: 7 TED Talks About Personal Branding))

Take some time out to listen to these speakers sharing their stories and thoughts about personal branding. You will definitely learn so much about how you can start your journey of defining yourself and taking control of your professional and personal life.

Your personal brand, without a doubt, is your secret weapon to your career success. As Michelle Obama said,

“your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

So, go own your story. Go on the journey to create your personal brand that defines who you are, highlights your uniqueness, and the value you offer to the world.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Reference

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