Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Practical Career Advice for College Graduates

Graduation time is fast approaching and with it, the need for good, practical career advice. This time of year reminds me of my own jump into the wilderness of "real life." My 15th college reunion is taking place in a few weeks and oddly enough, in some ways I feel like the same person I was then. But I am different. I learned the following about career and financial aid choices:
  • Your first job out of college is unlikely to be the same type of work you do 15 years later. So don't fret too much about how unsatisfying it is - just do something about it when choosing your next job. If it's your dream job and you're happily still in the same field 15 years later, good for you. I know few people who are in the same job track now that they started out doing after college.
  • What you think is important in choosing a career now, will change. I used to think making good money, in order to pay off student loans and to have a nice standard of living, was a top concern. I later learned that paying off student loans more quickly, but being miserable at the same time, was not a good tradeoff. Try to objectively view your assumptions.
  • Graduate or professional school is not a good "fallback" position if you are unsure of what to do. Choosing the wrong education is a very expensive mistake to make. At least if you are going to "find yourself," do it cheaply - like staying in youth hostels. It becomes mind numbingly easy to sign loan forms. I should know, I attended private college and grad schools (and didn't regret either). But don't sign unless you are sure.
  • If you do go to grad school, don't use your financial aid to live the lifestyle you have always aspired to. In other words, don't use the maximum they will loan you unless you truly need it (and daily Starbucks lattes are not a necessity). Making education loans is a business, just like credit cards - the more money you use, the more the loan companies make. Just because you can use the maximum, doesn't mean you should.
  • Mentors you acquire along the way will have a deep and lasting impact on your career, even if you change fields - a likely possibility in this economy. A good job reference and mentor is the gift that keep on giving, even over 5 years later - a long time in today's careers. So write your thank you notes for time people spend having coffee with you, or for someone being a good boss - you will not regret it.
  • Don't get discouraged if your career and whole life picture isn't what you hoped right away. Choosing career paths over the years is a process, and an economic reality - you might as well enjoy the excitement of change. A close girlfriend of mine once said, "you can have a good man [or partner], a job you love, and be financially secure, but not all at the same time." Up until recently I found that to be true. Maybe the sun, moon and stars are in alignment from the beginning for a few lucky people, but for most of us it takes time to calibrate our lives.
Hopefully this doesn't sound too preachy, especially the caution about using money. But I'm not your parents - these come from my personal experience and listening to my friends and colleagues over the years. I'm not perfect and you won't be either, but at least I don't have any regrets about my career path and education choices.


LJ said...

This is probably some of the best advicde I've read in an employment blog: "I later learned that paying off student loans more quickly, but being miserable at the same time, was not a good tradeoff."

Far too often people forget that the real point of being an adult is to be happy and enjoy yourself. Kids get so caught up in paying off loans and chasing the big paycheck that they forget to be happy. Don't get me wrong, big paychecks can be great, but I've met plenty of people who earn meager salaries who are far happier than those earning the big bucks.

Marcia Robinson said...

I love your advice to college grads about first job. I often tell new grads that the significant jump is not often from senior year to first job, but from first job to second job.

By then they know enough about themselves and their goals to make some real choices.

BTW, I have been sharing your free career exploration tool with students for years.

I would love if you visited my college career blog and shared some insight on my postings at some point.


Louisa said...

I work as a recruiter for a Boston based staffing agency, Hollister Staffing ( and have worked with quite a few college grads over the years. This is great advice!

Anonymous said...

Great to see someone laying out commonsense advice for recent grads. It is unfortunate that most of this type of information is not so readily given to new or prospective grads while attending college or university. Almost none of these topics are even part of the curriculum at most major schools.