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Top Five Tips for New Graduates: Real World Advice

Another graduating class is walking across the stage with their degrees and turning their tassels as new graduates. You are now equipped with the knowledge, skills, and training from your respective majors/specializations.  After celebrating such a humongous life milestone, reality slowly starts to creep in as you recognize that you are one of thousands new graduates.  You have now completed 2-4+ years of higher education to obtain a piece of paper in a field you (will hopefully) enjoy with the seal of your learning institution… now what?  The “now what” part has baffled many who have been in your shoes, including yours truly.

degreeThis is a very important time in your life, especially if you are one of the 50+ million Americans who are under the age of 30.  This is the time where you decide what direction your life goes, how you will begin to develop your career path, when you want to start a family, gain a better grasp of your life’s mission, where you would like to live (within the country and/or abroad), and other major life decisions.

I recently came across Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay’s video on TED.com titled, Why 30 is not the new 20.  Her message was a real eye-opener for myself, and it allowed me to realize that I have been viewing my 20s in the right perspective.  Your 20s are the stepping stone into adulthood, and what you accomplish or do not accomplish during this time can (and from Dr. Jay’s message, will) greatly affect your life circumstances in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

I strongly urge all new graduates to view this video as it was impactful enough on me to begin writing this article.  It revealed to me the real world advice I am about to share (that stemmed from my own experiences) with you was greatly needed, and I hope that this advice will be helpful to my fellow 20-somethings (and those young at heart who are also embarking on new career paths after obtaining their degrees).

Real World Advice #5:  Begin to save for retirement now!

When you get that first job, try your hardest to save, save, save, as much as you can.  Though you may not believe that you are earning enough to save (especially if you have student loan payments, car note and insurance, rent/mortgage, paying high gas prices, buying groceries, and trying to maintain a social life), saving what you can now will definitely benefit you later on in life.

As reported in USA Today, Millennials seem to be better at saving for the future than Baby Boomers were during this particular time in life.  One of the main reasons for this is the uncertainty of Social Security still being available for Millennials in 30-40 years when we reach the age of retirement (which is likely to rise as we are living longer).  Though those in the news article have saved a substantial amount for someone in their 20s and early 30s, this should not discourage anyone from beginning to save what you can now.  Even if you were to save $100-$300 (I am aware that this amount may not be very realistic for some of you, but continue to follow my point) every pay period, that would jump start a nice savings “nest egg” for you.  This nest egg could make the difference in how you view an unexpected layoff or having to replace the battery or tires on your vehicle.

Real World Advice #4:  Learn about the Federal Student Loan Repayment options NOW!

It amazes me how little college graduates and graduate students know about the repayment plan options offered by the Department of Education when it comes to subsidized and unsubsidized student loans.  When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2008, there were not many repayment options available outside of standard, extended, graduated, forbearance, and deferment options.  Now, because of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), there are several new repayment plan options that correlate with how much you are making (or not making) once you graduate.  These new repayment plans are:  the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, the Pay As You Earn Repayment plan, and the Income-Sensitive Repayment plan.  If you meet the income qualifications, these plans may lower your repayment balance to an amount that is more financially feasible (and most importantly, keep you from defaulting on your student loans).

Remember, it is easier to get debtors (whether it is the federal government or other collectors) to understand your financial situation BEFORE you owe them (or are late in making a payment) than when you’re on the brink of defaulting.  As with the saving tip, being financially responsible is imperative to having a good credit score, as well as to being able to afford that dream home and providing yourself and your future family with the necessities and (every now and then) luxuries in life.

Real World Advice #3:  Learn all you can on your first job, even if it is totally the opposite of what you really want to do in your career.

Some of you may find yourself accepting a job offer that is totally NOT want you had envisioned after obtaining your college or postgraduate degree.  There could be a number of reasons for this:  the position has NOTHING to do with your major/degree specialization; you are earning pennies to what is average for someone with your education and training; you have spotted the dysfunctions within the work environment (remember, every workplace has its quirks, but you quickly recognize the difference between quirks and just downright unprofessional, unethical, and self-esteem draining environment); not within your interest scope; leadership is questionable and/or nonexistent; or you just do not see yourself lasting more than 2-3 years (which may be a generous time estimate).

We have ALL been there, wondering what in the devil am I doing in this place, for “x” amount of hours, 5-7 days a week?  If this is you, then know that you are not alone.  Even if your current job is truly the pits, there is something to be learned from this experience.

For example, let’s say that you have noticed the lack of strong leadership with your supervisor or a lack of cohesion within management in regards to the way the agency/company operates.  It is hard to learn from that kind of setting while in the thick of things, but YOU CAN.  If you desire to incorporate your own business one day, then take note of what is going on with the leadership.  Where does the dysfunction exist?  Is there a lack of support between team members?  Are there communication issues?  Do people expect others to “worship” them because of the position they hold (basically, the egomaniacs)?  Is there a lack of support if there are issues/concerns – is the infamous “open door policy” nonexistent?

If any of these, and more, are some of the issues you have spotted within management, take away the key learning points.  You realize the damage these issues will have on the teamwork, work morale, and overall operations within an agency; do your best to keep the company you want to develop from going down the same path.

Do realize that your first job will not be your ONLY job, especially as Millennials are known to be the generation that will pursue several different career paths during our lifetime.  If your first job post-graduation is not what you had hoped for, remember that the skills, knowledge, and training you acquire while employed will help you establish yourself further as a professional and better prepare you for that next employment opportunity that will better suit your professional interests.

Real World Advice #2:  Being an individual is NOT a bad thing; go against the grain.

This one is key – sometimes you have to stand alone in what you want to do in order to make a difference.  This seems to be so cliche, but trust me, it is VERY true.  It is easy to get caught up in a routine:  wake up, go to work, come home, eat, chat, and watch tv, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.  What fun is that, really?  Why become a “manufactured” being?  Why not branch out and do something new and innovative?  “New and innovative” does not mean that your work has to be ground-breaking; it means that you are establishing/creating/developing/implementing something with the idea of it having a positive impact on the world, once you are no longer here.  Be reminded that being a trendsetter/originator does not occur overnight; it may be a slow process, but the work you will accomplish at the end is well worth the long hours, sleepless nights, stress, and miss spending your free time with family and friends.  One of my personal goals is when I come to the end of my life, I hope that forcing myself to be an individual and ensuring that my actions and work to empower and uplift others would have afforded me the opportunity to leave a positive mark (or in my case, tire mark) on the world.  I am aware that developing the career and life that I desire will come with sacrifices, but I am willing to endure those sacrifices if it means that my presence and determination has affected the lives those I serve in a meaningful way.

Real World Advice #1:  While job searching, figure out your real passion.

For some of you, you may be lucky to have a job lined up before you walked across that stage.  For a good majority, however, you may be on several job search engine websites applying for a plethora of jobs day in, day out.  The stress of job-searching can be hard, especially when you see your classmates and friends expressing their happiness about getting the confirmation call about the job they interviewed for on social media.  Deep down, you are happy for them, but a tiny part of you is wondering, “when is my breakthrough coming?”  Trust me, I have been there.  When I graduated with my Master’s last year, it was difficult witnessing others gaining employment while I was stuck at home putting in application after application for jobs that I really did not want, or being called for interviews for positions that paid way less for someone with the level of education I had.

Inbetween applying and going for interviews, I took the time to figure out what made my heart sing, a popular statement uttered by one of my graduate professors.  One thing that I started was my Tumblr blog; I always loved writing (and received positive remarks from professors and friends about my writing), so I thought, why not share my thoughts/ideas about the world around me to millions online?  I also began volunteering for the Presidential campaign, since I wanted to become more community-focused (I’m a Macro Social Worker through and through).  Taking the time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my degree and my overall career goals made me realize that none of the jobs I had been applying for fit within the macro social work mold I loved.

So I am urging each of you to do what I did – use your free time to develop your passions, and see where they may lead you.  Who knows, you may wind up pursuing your passion as a career choice.

I hope that my advice will help those who are nervous, anxious, and worried about the future after graduation.  The reason we worry about the future is because we do not have control over it or know what to expect.  It is only after we learn how to learn to let go and be conscious and realistic about what we can and what we cannot control, is when we will effectively release that feeling of anxiety about the unknown when it comes to our future.

Real World Advice #5: Begin to save for retirement now!

Why is it important? Last week, I had the opportunity learn from the honorable Henry Cisneros of CityView, who spoke about income, wealth, and the bottom line – our need to save for retirement. Mr. Cisneros was the keynote of a well-attended retirement symposium sponsored by the County of San Diego. He emphasized the importance of understanding the difference between earning an income (spending for necessities) and obtaining wealth (anything you have as holdings, savings, stocks, bonds, insurance, paid off items – car, house, etc). It’s a conversation; we need to have more often as social workers to empower the people we work with and to establish and safe, secure and stable “quality of life” for ourselves upon retirement. This is particularly important for people of more color (esp. Blacks and Browns) because County Tax-Collector Treasurer Dan McAllister showed some dire stats which highlighted the fact we are simply not saving and investing enough for our futures according to the 2010 Ariel Black Investor Survey that was presented by Mellody Hobson at a previous symposium. Black and Latino investment participation rates were at 68% and 66% respectively compared to Asian Americans who invested at 80% and Whites followed at 79%. I should point out this national survey focused on middle income earners, but I firmly believe we have to move beyond economic class when it comes to establishing savings, financial planning, and positively shaping our economic future. The time to save more is now. What’s next? Learn more about Planning for Retirement here and have conversations with those you engage and see what can be applied so we can secure a comfortable future.

Click the link to view Surveys re: the Savings Disparities Across cross Racial and Ethnic Groups: http://www.arielinvestments.com/landmark-surveys/

Thank you Charlene….I will make note of this to get an article out on compassion fatigue and vicarious Trauma. This is something sws encounter all the time but is often left to identify and treat themselves.

Great tips – I wish I had of read this after graduation! And please please please learn about Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. Keep yourself safe and healthy while you empathize with people.