Career Advice for College Grads

Hi there.

I know I usually write about running or eating, but I’m all riled up about something else today. I’m pretty passionate about finance and budgets. I know they’re not sexy (well, they sort of are), but they’re critical to living a full life and pursuing your dreams. When your finances are out of whack (much like your health) it’s hard to focus on anything else. Budget worries are the kind that keep you up at night, and until you get a firm handle on what you make, what you owe, and how you spend your money, you’re not really in control of your life.This post is rather long, and if you’re not interested in career building/finance stuff, you should skip it. I’ve a got a running post coming for you very soon. For those who are interested, here goes!

This article, published by a site I often turn to for financial advice, just doled out some rotten, in my opinion, recommendations for college grads. I’m a recent (hey 3 years is still recent!) college grad myself, and with graduation right around the corner for most college seniors, I’d like to pass along some advice of my own of my own. Please note, I am not an expert. These are just my opinions, and they apply mostly to my experience in the traditional corporate world. If you’re looking to be an astronaut or veterinarian, these may not be too helpful for you, but if you “want to work in business” I got you.

College Juniors

  • Clean up your social networks. You will be applying for internships soon. Before you know it, you’ll be applying for a real-life job. It’s time to take down the ridiculous drunken pictures and not so flattering wall posts. We’ve all been there. It may have been fun when you were a freshman or sophomore, but as you enter the second half of your college career, it’s officially time to start thinking about post graduate life. Employers who don’t know you will be judging you by the image you present to them, and these days that image includes social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Here’s what you do: delete from Facebook anything that casts you in an unflattering light. Seriously, delete it. You may think you’re slick with all your privacy settings and hiding yourself from being searched, but these companies are smarter. They’ll find you, so just delete all that junk. Save a copy to your hard drive, but take it off the internet. I’m talking any drunken or half-naked photos or pictures that depict you or your friends doing anything illegal. Take down any offensive quotes, song lyrics or wall posts (by yourself or others). Also, remove any strong opinions about religion or politics. You never know what potential employers your isolating.

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  • For Twitter, don’t tweet (and delete any previous tweet) that you wouldn’t read out loud to your grandma or say to an interviewer.

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  • Build a LinkedIn page. Post a classy picture of yourself. Upload your resume, make connections and get recommendations

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  • The time is now to think about internships. You’re going to most definitely want to have one lined up for the summer between junior and senior year if not sooner. Use all the traditional channels like LinkedIn, Monster, and your school’s internal system, but also think broader. Ask you parents and your friend’s parents if anyone in their company is looking for an intern. After exhausting all the usual sources, I landed an awesome internship through a close friend.
  • When you land this internship, learn to dress yourself. Get some professional clothes. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but pick up some black dress pants, an appropriately lengthed pencil skirt, a few button downs, some cardigans, a blazer, and modest black pumps (not hooker heels) and comfy flats.


not these. not ever these.

Senior Year

  • The article I read recommends not looking for a job, focusing on finishing your school work, and traveling post graduation. I disagree.
  • Begin looking for a job as soon as possible.  It’s an incredibly competitive job market as anyone who’s graduated in the last 5 years knows very well. You should absolutely be applying for jobs beginning no later than January of your senior year. If you’re not, you’re missing out on huge opportunities. This is the time when big companies do the bulk of their collegiate recruiting, and as a college graduate, you may not fall into their “entry-level” hiring, so you’re going to want to be in on this. I understand that finishing your degree is top priority, but you’re an adult now, so you’ve got to tackle both. I applied to every job that looked interesting and I felt like I was qualified for during my senior year. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with two respectable majors and a full time internship and was not hired by anyone until a month and a half after graduation. That’s the kind of competitive I’m talking about. Even though it was all for naught, I’m glad I threw my name in the ring. All that resume tweaking, interviewing and dealing with rejection came in very handy on the long road ahead.
  • On the resume note, get it looked at by as many eyes as possible. Solicit input from professionals at your school, colleagues at your internship, and your parents. You never know who’ll catch a misspelling or notice a formatting error. This is your one shot to make an impression on an employer; make it perfect. Work on your interviewing skills too. Attend any seminars your school offers on interviewing, and practice with friends. Be confident but not cocky, and always remember to send your interviewer a thank-you email the next day. It never hurts.

  • Do not take time off after college unless absolutely necessary. I’m not saying travel isn’t wonderful, but you can finance your own trip to Europe when you’re making big bucks at the job of your dreams. You are likely be seen as a liability to potential employers if you have an unexplained gap on your resume after graduation. Being a college graduate mostly just proves that you are educated; So are all your peers. What employers want to know is whether or not you’ve got real world corporate experience. They want to see that you know how to wake up when your alarm goes off, navigate your way to work, dress yourself appropriately, interact with various types of people and get work done. This is why college internships are critical. If you do not graduate with employment (remember, I did not), look for paid but be willing to accept unpaid internships or volunteer work to fill the void while you continue looking. I was lucky enough to hold onto my college internship after graduation but before I found my “real job” and when I interviewed for said job, they asked way more questions about the internship and my work experience than about any of  my college classes.

After Graduation/When You Get the Job

  • The article advises again was to travel, apply for jobs in the fall with a goal to be working by the spring, look for jobs outside of you college/home town and live at home until a predetermined date.
  • As for travel, see my advice above.
  • I say begin looking right away and be willing to start as soon as possible. With the current job market, most employers will not be willing to hold an entry level position for months. They are looking to fill a spot right away, so part of being an ideal candidate means being ready to start very quickly.
  • I agree with being open to opportunities in different cities especially if you have a very specific field you’re looking to enter. Just be aware that this may require you to travel (even pay for flights) to job interviews for positions you may not get. Be sure this is something you want enough. Also, keep in mind that many employers will not finance your move to a new city. Moving is expensive. It shouldn’t be a deterrent to the job of your dreams, but it is something to consider.
  • My parents live out of state. I can’t speak to the pros or cons of moving back home from my own experience, but I can offer a little advice. While living at home may not be glamorous, it is usually the soundest financial decision when you are a new graduate. If your situation allows you to move back home, I think you should do it. Rather than setting a specific date to be out, I say set some financial goals. Maybe you want to pay off 30, 50 or 100% of your student loans before you start paying rent. Maybe you want to save $5,000. Pick a goal, make a plan, do it!
  • You should definitely start building an emergency fund while you’re not paying rent. Most experts suggest a minimum of three months of living expenses (projected for when you’re living on your own) which include student loan payments, car payments, anticipated rent and utilities costs, food and other bills that must be paid whether you’re getting an income or not.

Ready to Move Out/On Your Own

  • Set your goals and stick with them, and you’ll be reading to strike out on your own soon. Determine where you want to live based on where you work and what areas you like. Consider cost of living and commuting costs. Will you need a car? Will you be able to keep a car? Do some research  (even checking Craiglist counts) before you start looking for a place so you know what average rent for your area should be. Make sure you get a good deal, and always live within your means. If you can’t afford it, you can’t live there no matter how nice it is. Consider taking on roommates, but be sure they’re people you feel like you can peacefully coexist with. If you’ve got a 9-5, and they’re party animals, it may not work. If they live like slobs, and you’re neat, they’re not for you.
  • Make a budget. Track your spending, write down all your monthly obligations, and figure out what you can spend where. Be sure to include personal savings and pay yourself first. Set up a direct deposit from your checking to your savings to build up your emergency fund and some personal savings. That way, you’re not short changing yourself down the road for something you don’t need today.
  • Contribute to any retirement fund your company offers. This usually means 401ks or your company’s equivalent. If they will match your contributions (or match part of them) up to a certain amount, strive to contribute that amount. If your company does not offer a 401k or equivalent, set up a Roth IRA, and get used to contributing. You do want to retire someday, right?


  • Live within your means. It’s so important I’m stating it twice. Seriously, if you don’t spend what you don’t have, you’ll never go into debt. Going into debt is much easier than climbing out, so don’t do it. Resist the urge to upgrade your lifestyle to match that of the people you work with. Save up for some nice things now and then, but having expensive shoes or a designer purse will not make you more well liked or a better asset to your company.
  • Get a mentor. Many companies offer a mentoring program for college graduates. Join up! If yourcompany does not do this, after a few months, try and approach someone (preferably someone you don’t directly report to) who you admire and feel comfortable talking with. Ask this person to lunch, and come prepared with thoughtful questions about your organization and your personal career path. I guarantee he or she will be able to provide valuable insight and advice you would not get on your own. My mentor made my first year so much more enjoyable. I felt like I really understood the workings of the organization better. Don’t be nag. Try not to bug them more than once a month, but if they offer suggestions, always follow through.
So, that’s my very long winded advice from someone only slightly older and wiser. Take it with a grain of salt, but believe me when I tell you that getting your career and financial life in order is every bit as important as eating right, sleeping well and exercising. I love this stuff, so if you’ve got any questions, let me know or shoot me an email at ibrokemyumbrella (at) gmail (dot) com.

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3 thoughts on “Career Advice for College Grads

  1. I am with you 100% on all of these points. I have been out of college for 5 years now (eeek) and I think these are valid points. I also want to tell people to pay off the debt as soon as they can, that and oh please please live at home as long as you possibly can and SAVE money!

  2. Pingback: How I made my budget « I Broke my Umbrella

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