3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated

24 Apr

boxheadIf you are anything like me, you’ve had a lot of fun in college, but May 11th is just around the corner and what follows is a blank space with possibly a question mark floating around. Sure, you probably should have started thinking ahead but it’s too late for that now and you’ve got to start somewhere. Embarking on the next 30 plus years of your life in the working world is a bit scary and overwhelming. So before you set out, make sure to avoid these mistakes and misconceptions that I learned the hard way.

1. People are still people. Not Robots.

Many of the buzz words surrounding the job search such as “networking” or “professionalism” bring to mind a handsome model in an immaculate suit holding a brief case and shaking someone’s hand with a perfectly white smile.  This is an intimidating concept. When I first started to don a suit I would get nervous in professional situations and felt that I had to put on a persona that wasn’t really who I was.

It helped me to eventually realize that most people you meet in those situations also have a life outside of their jobs. They have passions, hobbies, and goals outside of their career just like you do. When you can connect with someone in a suit on a level outside of your work relationship, it makes that relationship stronger, and those people are more willing to stand by you and help you because they consider you a friend.

There are definitely limits and boundaries set by a professional environment that should not be crossed, however, there is a lot more room to be a real person within those limits than most realize.

2. Don’t be a Roller Coaster Employee.

My dad works as an HR Director for a big government agency. Through recent conversations about work he said that he had to deal with another “roller coaster” employee. Naturally I asked him what he meant by the term. He went on to define it as an employee who doesn’t really do much around the office until you light a fire under their butt (his words not mine) and their productivity shoots way up for a while then drops back down until you give them another warning.

The term interested me because I told him honestly that I go through periods of working really hard and then being so burnt out that it’s hard for me to even lift my hands to the keyboard. Maybe I wasn’t getting any warnings from my boss, but the disparity was often quite large between hyper productive days and I don’t want to be here days. With an understanding smile of acknowledgement from almost 30 years of the cubicle fight, my dad said, “Well son, that’s most people, but with maturity, the disparity looks less like a roller coaster and more like ripples in a pool.”

I’m still learning to be less of a sprinter at my work and more of a long distance runner. I’ve learned to schedule meetings and appointments in the afternoons when I’m less productive. I write out to-do lists and if I don’t feel like doing one task I’ll pick another one and come back to the one that might be harder to get motivated for. I’ve learned to take short breaks to sharpen my ax occasionally throughout the day. Everyone works differently, but often times strategic planning will make you a more productive employee.

3. Make your life easier.

Use your Career Center. Once I started applying for jobs, I applied for innumerable teaching positions all over the country with little success. The interviews I did get I failed miserably. After each interview I would learn from my mistakes, do some research on the questions I bombed and try better the next time around. Over a dozen failed interviews later, hundreds of dollars in gas money and a lot of wasted time I eventually landed a teaching position at a school that must have been desperate one week before school started.

If I had used my Career Center, I would have known how to better format my resume, how to answer those tough interview questions and those little extra touches that go such a long way in the process of landing a job. This would have saved me a lot of time and effort in the long run and my mistakes would have been made at the Career Center and not at the expense of possible career opportunities.

– Dan Berkenkemper (Washington Fellowship Coordinator)

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