After I eagerly collected my degree and wandered my way off my college campus and into the “real world,” I remember feeling a weird mix of all sorts of emotions.
I was excited and relieved, sure. But, I also felt a little lost.
My life — which had previously been neatly punctuated by semesters and breaks — stretched out in front of me in a way that seemed endless. I was no longer hustling just to make it through a particularly tough class for one short semester. Instead, I needed to figure out how to navigate the rest of my life and career.
Even reflecting on it now stirs up those anxious and nauseous backflips that frequently sprung up in the pit of my stomach.
If you’re a recent graduate yourself, I’m sure you can relate to feeling somewhat rudderless. Leaving the bubble of your college life behind can be a brutal awakening, and it’s often tough to know where to get started.
Fortunately, there’s no need to panic and debate going back to school for the rest of your life quite yet. We’ve pulled together some must-know tips (with links back to some of our other, in-depth articles!) to help you figure out the important things you should do in your first year as a post-grad.
1. Identify some goals.
Because you no longer have those built-in milestones of semesters, exam periods, and lengthy breaks from school (sigh… breaks), it’s smart to figure out some other ways you’ll bring some structure to your post-grad life.
One of the best ways to do this is to set some goals from yourself. Whether they’re career-related, financial, personal, or something different entirely, taking some time to think through the direction you want your life to head in will help you feel a little less aimless when you’re fresh out of school.
I recommend actually writing these objectives down, assigning desired timelines, and then keeping them somewhere safe so you can always refer back to the things you’re working toward. Use this guide to help yourself set goals that will keep you motivated and inspired.
2. Define your value.
Here’s another thing I remember struggling with right of college: Figuring out what I brought to the table.
I’d scroll through endless job listings and think to myself, “All I’ve been for my entire life is a student — there’s nothing I can use to stand out from all of the other applicants out there.”
No matter how much self-doubt can manage to take hold, I assure you that’s not true — you have valuable skills and qualities that an employer would be glad to have. You just need to do some thinking and figure out exactly what they are.
Get started by following these five steps to build your personal brand. That will help you zone in on some messaging that you can use while doing everything from creating your resume to building a portfolio, if necessary.
With that foundation in place, you can use these other ways to stand out in the job search.
3. Brush up your resume and cover letter.
Of course, if you didn’t walk across that graduation stage with a job already lined up, one of the first things you’ll want to get started with is securing employment for yourself.
You won’t be able to do that without creating a resume and cover letter. Groan, right? Don’t worry — it doesn’t need to be overly complicated, particularly if you’ve already sat down and figured out what you bring to the table and what you’re looking for in a job.
When it comes to your resume, just make sure to follow these tips and avoid these mistakes. Concerned about your lack of experience as a recent grad? This advice can help you pull what you do have into an impressive and impactful document.
4. Learn how to network (and do it as often as possible).
Oh, networking. It can be cringe-worthy at times. But, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s necessary — whether you’re trying to land your first job or simply want to solidify your reputation as a young professional.
Learning how to network the right way is one of the best things you can do for yourself in your post-grad life. Not only will it help you meet some new people (and potentially even make some friends!), but it will also supply you with a beneficial web of contacts you can lean on when you need to.
So, where do you get started? Check out some of these less common places to network — that don’t involve stick-on name tags and watered-down wine. Then, use these tips to present yourself with confidence (even if your palms are secretly sweating).
As a new grad, it’s also worth setting up some informational interviews to connect with people you admire and learn more about certain industries and positions. Finally, it can also be helpful to seek out a mentor who can help guide you through this big adjustment and the early stages of your career.
5. Set a budget.
You knew money had to come up eventually, right? It’s an important part of your new life in the “real world,” and it’s important that you know how to manage it properly.
The best way to start is to set a monthly budget to follow. These steps can help you create a budget that will work best for you and your current financial situation. And, if you’re looking some ways to make managing your finances convenient and easily accessible, these apps are sure to help.
And, while money can be tight in your post-grad life (thanks a lot, student loans), it’s also important that you get into the practice of putting away at least a little bit each month.
This advice can help you maximize whatever savings you do have, while these tips can help you pinch pennies in a number of creative places. Finally, it’s also worth familiarizing yourself with retirement savings and figuring out how you can begin to put some dollars away for your later years right now (trust us, it’s important!).
I know firsthand that life after college can feel overwhelming at best. While all of these tips are sure to be helpful as you get up and running in the “real world,” one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to stay positive and enjoy the journey.
Things might feel stressful and filled with uncertainty right now. But, rest assured, someday you’ll look back on this period in your life with a lot of fondness.