My Advice for Graduating College Students

Last week I received a request from Central College (sent out to all Alumni) seeking advice for the incoming freshman class and graduating seniors from former students. I sat thinking deeply for a minute, and then started writing down the “tips” that were jumping into my head. One after another, I jotted an idea with some notes behind it, until I had a decent list. I spent a few more days working through my thoughts, doing a little bit of research, and editing the best that I could.

My advice for graduating Central students is below. I started with a separate post for incoming students. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my tips. What did I forget? What did I miss the mark on?

Advice for graduating Central students:

1) Build your network.
Don’t be scared to reach out to anyone for help. The worst that will happen is that they’ll ignore you. You’ve heard “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” by now, and while it’s not the complete truth, there’s a large percentage of jobs that don’t make it on to the “boards” and end up being filled through referrals. The only way to be part of the referral ecosystem, is to have a robust network.

2) Don’t take a job just for the money.
If you’re passionate about something, take the job offer that’s most closely related to that passion. It’s easy to convince yourself to take the entry level job that pays a few thousand dollars more, and tell yourself you’ll be able to transfer into the functional area you are passionate about later. Don’t be so sure. Your work experience from day one out of college immediately influences what opportunities are available to you later. Someone else is going to take that lower paying job, and in a year or two could be your competition for other jobs. Taking the job that pays less allows you to learn and gain relevant experience that will pay off much bigger rewards down the road.

3) Create a financial plan for yourself.
This doesn’t take much explanation. Live small. Pay off debt. Get in a good place before you buy that house and car.

4) Find a mentor. Or two.
Similar to your advisor in college, you might want help navigating the waters of a new career. Finding someone who can give you genuine answers to difficult questions about technical and organizational behavior challenges will help you keep your sanity. A mentor can also help you build your network, because they likely have spent years building their own network and are often willing to leverage it to help you out.

5) Continue educating yourself.
Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. You don’t have to jump into formalized graduate level coursework, but find something you enjoy and explore it. When you get bored with a topic, find something else and dive into it. Tackle a new subject every week, or every month. Tie what you are learning into your work to enhance your skills, but also spend time in unrelated topics. Remember that studying outside your comfort zone helps develop lateral thinking skills that help you with innovation and problem solving.

6) Don’t doubt your capabilities compared to other graduates from bigger schools.
One of my big fears graduating Central was that I would enter the workforce and find that colleagues from bigger state schools would be able to run circles around. I feared that because they had a less liberal education, they would have a deeper knowledge of certain topics and more advanced technical skills. This is rarely the case. From my experience, the education at Central (and likely most other Iowa Conference and private schools) is more broad, yet just as deep as state counterparts. It really comes down to the person, but in most cases, I felt more prepare and capable than colleagues with state school educations.

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