As the calendar turns to May, graduation caps are flying and dorm rooms are slowly being emptied. Students become Alumni as they venture out into the world ready to start their career. With the radio blasting and their car windows rolled down, dreams of endless possibilities lead them back to their childhood home.
Slowly, as the weeks move on, ambition drizzles into panic. Am I really cut out to make it? Will I ever get hired?
These are questions we all face as we make the transition from college to career. However, the toughest obstacles to overcome are the ones that we create ourselves. I pinpointed 4 common pitfalls that all college grads need to be wary of.
Pitfall #1: Degree Entitlement
“My degree qualifies me for a higher-level position.”
Our entire lives we are told that if we want to move up in a company, or land a good job, we need a college degree. Parents and mentors preach the same message to us to encourage and inspire us to complete college; Get your degree so you can get a good job.
It only seems natural that once we finish the grueling 4 years (sometimes more) of coursework, we shouldn’t have to start at the bottom. We’ve worked hard, know the skillset, and deserve the position we want right away, right?
Solution: Be ready to start at the bottom
The truth is you don’t deserve that higher-level position. Sure, you have a degree in the field and may have a ton of knowledge that would make you a great candidate, but most of us have to pay our dues.
While employers may find your degree valuable, that’s not the only thing they’re looking for in an employee. They want to see your work ethic and how you act on the job. Are you reliable? Do you show up on time and produce results? Are you continuously looking for ways not only to improve yourself, but also to improve the company? Your degree is only one piece of the puzzle.
Pitfall #2: Outspending Your New Income
“I make enough money now, so I can afford this!”
I remember the feeling I got when I received my first paycheck after starting my new career. I don’t think I had ever had that much money at one time in my life (and I was a teacher, so it wasn’t even that much)!
I had gone from part time job to full time career, and I spent like I won the lottery. I got a new TV, clothes, and even charged a very nice engagement ring. It seemed like there was plenty of money rolling in! I had worked hard and I believed that my efforts deserved to be rewarded. After a couple months of irresponsible spending, I realized I was more broke than I was when I was in college.
Solution: Live the same modest lifestyle
Once I realized my spending was spiraling, I had to take a step back. There was a pile of debt in the form of student loans, a car payment, and now an engagement ring. I was doing just fine when I was on a part-time income, so I decided it was time to make a change.
My budget reverted back to my college budget. I cut my spending down to match my previous lifestyle and redirected all the extra money I was making toward debt. It was incredible how quickly I was able to pay things off! I knew I didn’t want to give Andi a ring that the bank owned, so I was set on paying it off as fast as possible.
The thing is, if I would have started right away, continuing my modest lifestyle would have been painless. If you continue to live on your low income, you’ll have so much extra money to put toward your financial goals.
Pitfall #3: Ignoring Student Loans
“My student loans are too big! I’ll never pay them off!”
Cue the ostrich effect. So many times when we are faced with a financial barrier as big as student loan debt, we stick our head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. If I can’t see it, it’s not there!
We loved it when those loan checks were coming in! Paying them back isn't as much fun. When those student loan checks come in every fall it can feel like free money. Why not treat all of your friends to a Taco Bell feast!? Unfortunately, it’s not free money, and you’ll eventually have to face the music. You pull out your calculator and punch in your minimum payments only to find out you’ll have the loan paid off in about 40 years. They weren’t kidding when they said Taco Bell stays with you.
Solution: Knock those student loans out fast!
It might take 40 years to pay off those loans if you only make the minimum payments, but who says you have to only make minimum payments? Be ready to attack those loans immediately!
The longer you wait to knock them out, the harder it becomes. Once mortgages and children are brought into the picture, you have less expendable income to delegate toward that debt. Take advantage of this transition time in your life. Continue to live frugally, work hard, and watch that debt dwindle away!
If you are graduating later in life, and mortgages and kids are already present, it’s still important to attack your debt right away! It’s hard to prepare for retirement or pay for your kid’s college if you’re still paying off your own student debt. Take that new career or promotion and direct the excess income 100% toward debt. You can always boost your lifestyle later.
Pitfall #4: Waiting for the Perfect Job
“I need a job that utilizes my degree.”
I just spent 4 years earning my degree and I’m going to use it, dammit! This is the most common mindset of post grad students. Why would we put so much money, time, and energy into getting a degree to not immediately put it to use?
Many students ignore any potential opportunities that aren’t directly related to their degree. They wait for the perfect job to come along. The problem is, this leaves them in limbo for far too long.
Solution: Get a job! Any job!
That’s right! Work other jobs while you search, even if they’re unrelated to your field. You don’t need a clear schedule to look for a job. You can job search at night and work during the day. Potential employers are typically willing to work around your current work schedule to set up an interview. If they’re not willing to accommodate your schedule, then you probably don’t want to work for them anyway!
Having a steady income while job hunting takes away the panic. You can be more selective about where you work because it gives you the opportunity to interview them. Decide if it seems like the right work environment for you. If it’s not, you can politely decline a job offer if they decide to send you one.
Remember this side job is temporary. You won’t be delivering pizzas forever. In fact, having a small job can land you your dream job faster because it makes you more marketable. It shows interviewers that you’re proactive and aren’t afraid of hard work. They don’t want to hear that you’re just sitting at your parent’s house waiting for a job!
Click here to grab my 10 job hunting tips!
Post graduation life can be scary at first. The best thing you can do is to have a plan. Know that your dream job will come, but it might not happen right away. Be patient and focus on taking those small steps toward your future.
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