Congratulations, Graduates! Five Essential Tips for What Lies Ahead

Denise Dudley, founder SkillPath Seminars

So, here’s the scene. It’s graduation day, and you’ve somehow managed to pass all the right courses, in the right order, and at the right time. And now they’re telling you that you can sprint across the stage and snatch your diploma—before they figure out you forgot to hand in that one final assignment! Job well done.

But what’s next? What happens after the ceremony is finished, the photos are taken, the after-grad parties are over, you’ve said goodbye to all your best buds, and you’re headed for—well, just what are you headed for?

Believe me: no matter what you’re thinking, it’s going to be a whole lot different than you’re imagining. Life will change, big time, in almost every respect. So here are a few post-graduation tips for surviving (and thriving!) during your first year out there in Careerland. (And BTW, congrats!)

  1. Be prepared for nosy people asking nosy questions. Trust me on this one. You’re going to hear, “So, what are your plans…?” about ten million times over, from your Uncle Marvin and Aunt Matilda, from your neighbors back home, from the high school algebra teacher you just ran into at the DMV—until you want to scream bloody murder and kick someone in the shins (which might become an option you’ll eventually choose). And then, here comes the best part: many of these same people are going to jump right in and start giving you all sorts of career advice. Some of it may be good advice. A lot of it will not. So what can you do? You develop a sentence or two, something short and simple, that you memorize and have at the ready—same idea as carrying around garlic in case you encounter a vampire. You bring your sentence out only when you need it, and you use it to defend yourself against the unwanted advice-givers. Here are a couple samples: “Thanks so much for that suggestion; for now, I’m going to pursue XYZ and see how that goes.” Or, “I’m currently working on my career plans, which I’ll be eager to share with you as soon as they’re fully developed.” Remember, you are the architect of your own future, and in order to get where you want to go, you may need to assert your right to make your own decisions. I’ve seen way too many young graduates derailed from their career paths by other people’s (often well-meaning) meddling. Make sure you remain in control of your life.
  2. Do a final brush-up before you jettison those textbooks. After you’ve been in your career for fifteen-or-so years, no one will expect you to instantly know the proper format for a press release, or which little editing squiggles mean what. (That’s what style guides and similar resources are for—later on, you’ll look that stuff up.) But when you first get out there, you’re going to be expected to behave and perform like a freshly minted communications graduate. Many companies will have you take grammar, usage, punctuation, and writing tests before you even get your foot in the door. And once your foot (plus the rest of you) makes it in, co-workers will start asking you all sorts of things. You will suddenly become their de facto, go-to resource guide. People will assume you’re an excellent public speaker and you’ll have to give the quarterly department presentation. You’ll be asked to write up the promo flyer for the next company potluck and blindfolded Frisbee contest. They will hand you all the social media accounts and run. You might even be invited, early on, to represent the company at certain community functions. And if you don’t know your stuff, you’re going to look like a dork, or worse. So do a quick review of all that you’ve learned and make sure you’re comfortable making presentations, you know how to interact appropriately and professionally with the media, and that you really do know when to use “who” versus “whom.” At least for now, because you will be asked.
  3. Be patient and chant “Ommm.” We live in a world of instant gratification. Google searches. Keurig coffeemakers. Amazon shopping. Expedia travel. Siri queries. Starbucks. McDonald’s. VOD. ATMs. We want what we want, and we want it now. But often, that’s not the way it works out there in Careerland. You’ve undoubtedly already read a zillion articles on millennials not being good at delayed gratification—well, as a psychologist, I’m here to tell you that no one is! At least not automatically and naturally. However, it’s monumentally important that we develop the discipline to keep things in perspective, especially when it comes to our career advancement. Like it or not, it may take months, years, and possibly even decades (yes, I am not exaggerating) to advance to where you want to go. You may have to write press releases ‘til the cows come home before someone even notices you and thinks you might be worthy of another assignment. You might spend months locked in a back office, doing media research for a project that never actually makes it out the door—only to have to start again, on an equally doomed project. But guess what? That’s just the way it is. To the best of your ability, take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy the journey, delayed as it may seem. As long as you’re being paid a fair salary, you’re being treated as a valued human being, and you’re reasonably challenged, motivated, and happy, my best advice is to press onward. Make sure your work performance is absolutely stellar, and you’ll eventually get there. Patience really is a virtue.
  4. Keep your costs low so that you can keep your options open. It’s your first career job. You’re finally earning a decent paycheck, and you’re almost giddy with the excitement and power of being in charge. But don’t forget that you also have rent, bills, taxes, and possibly student loans to contend with. So before you rush out and lease that new Subaru WRX, take a good hard look at your budget. Do some calculating, and then do some more. Make sure that you’re living well within your means, and that you’re planning for the future—including unforeseen bumps in the road. I’ve seen this happen way too many times: a recent graduate begins a new career, and because it’s all so exciting to be a young professional, he or she goes out and finds the coolest loft apartment imaginable. But that loft apartment needs furniture, and it can’t be just any furniture, for heaven’s sake—it’s gotta be Ikea. And the kitchen needs dishes—how about a trip to Anthropologie? And next, and then…you get the picture. So here’s the danger: even though you did your homework before you took the job, there’s a possibility that you may need to make a change—for a myriad of reasons, none of which are your fault, and none of which you’ll necessarily anticipate. Maybe your immediate supervisor ends up being a tyrannical jerk, maybe the company you’re working for turns out to be unethical, maybe the corporate culture isn’t a good fit, or maybe you’ll discover that you sincerely hate being a Corporate Meeting Planner. Whatever the reason, if you’re strapped with financial responsibilities at or beyond your means, you won’t have the wiggle room you might need to initiate a change. Instead, take it slowly. See what happens in that first year. Make sure you feel settled in and confident before taking on a lot of financial debt. You’ll breathe much easier if you know you have some options.
  5. Channel Mary Poppins. In other words, stay positive! I end almost every article I write (and talk I give) with this advice—because I can’t help repeating myself. It’s the most important thing I can tell you, and it’s the most important thing you can learn. And learn it you can—a positive attitude is completely acquirable, as long as you’re willing to work on substituting positive thoughts for negative ones. Doing so becomes easier over time, and it’s automatically self-reinforcing. I know for a fact—and research backs this up over and over again—that a positive attitude is the most valuable asset you can possess. It becomes your source of energy when you’re tired or discouraged, motivation when you’re charting your course, and inspiration when you’re looking around and wondering what life is all about. People with positive attitudes accomplish more, are promoted more quickly, are better able to bounce back from disappointment, are healthier, live longer, are better liked, and enjoy happier lives. So embrace the positives in your life (they’re all around you, I promise), cultivate your own positive attitude, and soar!

About the Author:  Denise Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Dudley holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator’s license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She’s also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, and a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon & Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.”  Dudley speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, business writing, career readiness, and personal relationships. Dudley thrives on people, animals, and lively audiences! 

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