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5 Things Every College Grad Should Know

By: Brian Kim - July 28, 2006

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I felt obligated to write this article to let college students know what things to look out for when they graduate so they don't get railroaded.

I will not waste your time with a long introduction, so without further ado, I present to you:

5 Things Every College Grad Should Know.

#1. A Degree Does NOT Entitle You to a Job

It’s amazing to hear recent college graduates get so worked up about not being able to find a job. Here’s their typical rant:

“I’ve worked my butt off at college. I studied every night. I got good grades. I graduated Magna Cum Laude. Why are there no jobs out there? This is a travesty! I worked my butt off and for what? So I can input data into spreadsheets at Initech? Nobody told me it would be like this. Everyone told me that if you have a degree, you’re set. What the %*%# is going on? Arrrgghhh!!!!”

First off, let me sincerely congratulate you for sticking to a major commitment and following through on it. I'm not trying to be sarcastic here. I sincerely congratulate you. I know it's hard work and I feel for you because I know exactly what you went through.

Now here comes the tough love that you know is coming.

Just because you got a degree, it doesn’t entitle you to a six figure job, with full benefits, a one month paid vacation to a company retreat, 20 floating holidays, a corner office, and a parking spot in front of the doors with your name on it.

It’s time to get your head out of the sand.

The days where all you needed was a college degree to get a job are LONG GONE.

Deep down inside, you know it’s true.

We were all told the same lie in high school. Get into a prestigious university, get a degree, and your magic high paying job will fall squarely into your lap.

The smart people are the ones who have figured out this lie early on in college, and made sure the time they spent in school would separate them from the students who were still “asleep”.

You know exactly who these smart people are. They're the ones who took the internships, the unpaid jobs, who made network contacts, and spent their days and nights gaining valuable working experience and marketable skills.

Think back to your graduation. Remember your fellow classmates graduating with you? They too got degrees. Now, think of the thousand other graduations across the nation that occurred in the same month.

They got degrees too.

What’s going to separate you from them? Why should employers hire you instead of all the other clones?

You must learn to differentiate yourself. What can you offer that these other people can’t?

It’s not enough to put your future in the hands of an educational institution. It’s time to stop blaming the world. It’s time to take personal responsibility and to have the courage to shape your future with your own hands.

#2. Find What You Love to Do

I should’ve put this at the very top, but I wanted to address the biggest issue facing recent college grads first (job entitlement).

Let’s look at the typical path of a college graduate who has not found what they love to do.

Graduated from college -> can’t find job -> get’s low paying “temporary” job just to pay the bills -> starts to become complacent and falls into routine -> struggles to get out of routine but can’t because of accumulation of debt to finance lifestyle of escaping reality and impressing people with material possessions -> effectively becomes a slave to the job as it is needed to pay the bills-> looks foward to weekend to complain about job but does nothing and gets wasted to forget troubles-> gets depressed -> struggles to find meaning in life -> maybe gets a small promotion at temporary job by employer as an incentive not to quit -> hates waking up in the morning everyday but does it anyway to pay the bills -> makes other people's lives miserable because his is -> rinse and repeat for 40 years -> lies on deathbed regretting life, wishing he could go back and change it all, and dies knowing that he can’t.

The time you have after college is THE TIME to find what you love to do. You're not burdened (I assume for the most part) with the heavy responsibilities of a mortgage, family, or dependents. You’ll most likely move back home or room with a buddy.

Use that time to find what you love to do. Don’t put it off. Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of getting a job just to get by and falling into a routine.

I’m not saying it’s bad to get a job just to get by, but if that's all you're doing, and if you don’t have a goal, plan, or passion, to shoot for, the future looks very bleak for you.

How do you find what you love to do? I've written an article on that subject that might help you out. You can read it here.

#3. Learn How to Interact With People

Learning how to interact with people is probably one of the most valuable skills you can have in your belt. This is a “street smart” skill. Sure there are books on this, but the only way you can develop this skill is by putting it into practice constantly until it becomes second nature.
This skill will come into play when you get your first job.

Learn to make a habit of greeting people with a smile. Say “thank you, please, and I appreciate it” whenever you have the chance. These small things make a huge difference. Don't be so quick to dismiss the power of appreciation and courtesy.

Make small talk, get to know your co-workers, help them when they have a problem. Eat lunch with them. Talk about the TV shows you watch when you’re at the water cooler or about the cool blogs you visit on the net – hint hint :)

Learn to be positive. Make people smile when they see you coming your way.

You'll find that the skill of comfortably interacting with people will help you when it comes time to promotion. This will also protect you from the next subject.

#4. Practice CYA (You Know, Cover Your - - -)

Office politics – yes, everything you’ve heard is true. Office politics DOES exist and it is NOT pretty.

When it comes to downsizing, I’ve seen employees turn on the quiet employee in the corner like a pack of wolves and whisper to the managers that he/she must go. It’s far easier to fire the loner than to fire one of the gang. That’s why you should learn how to interact with people.

When it comes to promotion with competition, work sabotage and trash talking behind the back are rampant and pretty much expected.

When it comes to personal differences between employees and managers, managers will look for the smallest excuse to fire their employees.

But even if you are the most charming employee ever, you should still CYA.

Keep ALL emails. Back them up. Have everything in writing. If a potential problem or situation comes up, document it as fully as you can. Don’t trust your memory. If someone accuses you of something so bad that it could cost you your job (I've seen it happen), then you can calmly pull out all the information you saved and effectively CYA. Not to mention, make the accuser look like a total idiot (I've seen that happen too and it is SWEET!)

#5. Build and Maintain A New Social Network

When you graduate, you’re not going to be surrounded by your classmates and dorm buddies 24/7. You’ll most likely be living with a roommate or living with your parents and the majority of your social contact will be at work, and I don’t think your workplace is going to be filled with 22 year olds.

The only people you'll probably keep in touch with are your roommates and your frat buddies or any other close friends you made, but they will all be doing their own respective things in different places.

Building a social network is crucial. Studies have shown that having a strong social network leads to positive mental and physical health over the course of one’s life.

So start building your social network. Don't just stay at home and play video games and expect friends to magically show up at your doorstep.

Go join Toastmasters. Go to the parties, bars, bookstores, and lounges but one quick point though. Don’t just go to these places just for the sake of making friends. Make sure you have a genuine interest in the subject of the place you're going to.

For example, if you have no intention of learning how to give speeches, don’t go to Toastmasters just to make friends. You won’t have anything in common with them because the people there want to give speeches.

Go to places where you have a genuine interest and you'll meet similar people there who share your interests, which is perfect fodder for friendships.

If you go to places where there are regular meetings, it’s even easier to make friends because you see the same people who hold the same interest as you on a continual basis. Ever wonder why it was easy to make friends at school? That’s why.

If you’re apprehensive about making friends with complete strangers, let me let you in on a little secret when it comes to people and their friends.

Most people are sick and tired of their friends. We're creatures of habit. We hang out with the same people all the time, listen to the same stories, laugh at the same jokes, and complain about the same things.

Most people are bored out of their mind when it comes to their friends and they'll welcome any type of change. That’s where you come in. So don’t have any fear of making friends. Save people from boredom and complacency by inserting yourself into their lives.

The biggest misconception is that everybody has all the friends they need and that they don’t need anymore. People will always need friends.

So go make friends at work. Play social sports like basketball or tennis or softball afterwards. You'll find that people don’t have many opportunities to make friends after school, especially if they work 9-5. That 's why you see so many friendships made at work. After all, you are spending a whole lot of time there.

There will come a time when your social network will help you get through tough times and you’ll be extremely thankful that you spent the time to make it.

I’m sure there are other things that every college grad should know, but I feel that the 5 discussed here are some of the more important ones that should be made known.

So college grads: Take personal responsibility, find what you love to do, learn how to positively interact with people, always CYA, and build a strong social network. By doing these things, you'll find it to be extremely beneficial and a worthwhile investment on your part when making your brand new start.

[tags]college, college graduation, real world, career, work, students, school, university, graduation[/tags]

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34 Responses to “5 Things Every College Grad Should Know”

  1. The Sunjay Times » Life on the fast lane: decide on your direction now! Says:

    […] Brian Kim writes about some advice for fresh college grads that I found useful even for working professionals after college. Number #2 on his list tells us to find what we love to do. And I agree, life is too short to be working on something you are unhappy with. However, sometimes we need a more graphical illustration for the truth to really sink in. Here’s how Brian depicts it: Graduated from college -> can’t find job -> get’s low paying “temporary” job just to pay the bills -> starts to become complacent and falls into routine -> struggles to get out of routine but can’t because of accumulation of debt to finance lifestyle of escaping reality and impressing people with material possessions -> effectively becomes a slave to the job as it is needed to pay the bills-> gets depressed -> struggles to find meaning in life -> maybe gets a small promotion at temporary job by employer as an incentive not to quit -> hates waking up in the morning everyday but does it anyway to pay the bills -> rinse and repeat for 40 years -> lies on deathbed regretting life, wishing he could go back and change it all, and dies knowing that he can’t. […]

  2. Paul Drago Says:

    Great article.

  3. Brian Kim Says:

    Thanks Paul. I appreciate it.

    btw, that’s a nice blog you got going.

  4. alec Says:

    Great article, and as a recent college graduate, all I would add is ‘don’t get desparate and take a job you know you won’t like or help your career’ and ‘expect to wait a good amount of time before taking a job’ (it’s like dating!).

  5. Brian Kim Says:

    Alec,

    Thanks for the comments and great advice. I agree as well.

  6. myshele Says:

    Thanks for the tips — the one critique I’d make is that most people nowadays don’t get temporary jobs to finance expensive lifestyles, but to pay back their student loans (often while living with their parents). There’s not much choice involved, because the system is set up to turn us into consumer-drones as quickly as possible. Unless you’re independently wealthy), it’s incredibly difficult to do what you love in the years after college…. But that’s no reason to lose hope! I think one of the pitfalls of our fast-paced society is that we expect everything to happen immediately. You’re not going to find your dream job right away, but you have to keep your goals in mind, so when those random little chances come along to get one step closer, you’ll be ready.

  7. Brian Kim Says:

    Myshele,

    Student loans can be burdensome. I also agree with what you say about how the system is set up to turn us into consumer-drones. That’s where self control and discipline comes in. I really think more than half the things we buy, we truly don’t need.

    To be honest, I think that what you are saying about it being incredibly difficult to do what you love to do after college is a very limiting belief. I don’t mean to come across as harsh or rude or anything. I know where you are coming from. However, like you said, it’s no reason to lose hope at all. Some may find it more quickly than others. It all depends on you.

    Thank you very much for your comments.

  8. j-rock Says:

    What a great article - it really makes a lot of sense. I really agree with the bit at the end about socializing. I have found that since finishing school that without having people around in the same way really has an impact on my life. To counter that I have been doing much of what is described above, going out to the bar, playing softball with work and trying to do more things that require interaction with people. These things have helped me to build up a new social network that I really like being a part of. I think your advice should be taken by everyone, young and old.

  9. Brian Kim Says:

    J-rock,

    Thank you for your comments and for sharing your experience. I’m glad you took the time and energy to build a new social network and that you really like being a part of it. I hope that your experience will move others to do the same.

    Thanks again.

  10. anton kusuma Says:

    great…what a fabulous article it is. i agree that in the comunnity we have to able to position our selves in a very massive different habits although it is hard but i am sure that it will bring us benefits. I am sure that this article will be very useful for those who are going to be fresh college graduate (like my self). personally i would thank the author to share his article (which is great). once again thank you.

  11. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Anton,

    Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

    Congratulations on graduation! I hope this article helps guide you in the days ahead ;)

    Brian

  12. Meera Says:

    This is THE article that most kids at my college should read. They think that they can rely on their intelligence for the rest of their lives as if it is some magical power. Truth be told, you have to have good social skills as well. Thanks for putting this up.

  13. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Meera,

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving your thoughts. I’m glad you had a chance to read it while still in college and I’m glad you think this is THE article that kids at your college should read as well. Please feel free to tell those kids about it ;)

    Thanks again for dropping by. I’m glad college students are having a chance to read this while in school.

  14. credit card guide Says:

    These things are really important for graduates. Why do not you add the item about personal finance, as you have done it in your “Five things that should be taught in every school”. I think when students gratuate college, they face adult life with financial difficulties. And they can forget what they have learnt at school. I believe children can be taught about personal finance both at school and college.

  15. Tjomsland Says:

    P.S. And, let’s not forget WRITTEN “GOAL SETTING”.

  16. Brian Kim Says:

    Credit Card,

    Thanks for dropping by. You make a good point about adding personal finance to this list. I guess that’s why I decided to include it in that other article I wrote http://briankim.net/blog/2007/03/top-5-things-that-should-be-taught-in-every-school/ that you were referring to.

    Tjomsland,

    That’s another good one. With all these great suggestions, I think I’ll have to make a second edition of this article ;)

  17. College Candy » What NOT To Do After College! Says:

    […] In my attempt to avoid this depressing future, I have been doing some research on how to successfully make the transition to adulthood. I found an extremely helpful piece called 5 Things Every College Grad Should Know, and feel it may help some of you out who are in a similar situation. […]

  18. Davion R. Lewis Says:

    This was a terrific article. As a recent college grad myself, I can certainly identify with almost everything that was being discussed. Fortunately for me, I was able to avoid some of the pitfalls as discussed by Mr. Kim. On the other hand whenever I talk with my contemporaries who graduated with me, most of them really do seem to have an entitlement attitude. I think however that this attitude extends beyond finding a job and that for the most part; my generation has an entitlement attitude regarding life! Something to be discussed at a later time; of course, I too had this attitude but have come to realize that it will only lead to failure. The harsh reality is that no one owes me anything and that I am going to have to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve any goals that I may have. What college grads need to realize is that the same attitude which was used to finish your degree should be the same attitude used to finding a job i.e. doing your homework before interviewing, going to career workshops, networking, being disciplined and patient, dressing the part etc. Furthermore they need to realize that you are only one of large group of young adults who graduate on a yearly basis. Believe me when I say that a B.A or B.S degree is very common these days and so you have to set yourself apart from the competition. This was a well needed article and I am forwarding it to just about everyone I know.

  19. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Davion,

    Thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

    I’m glad you were able to avoid some of the pitfalls litsed in the article.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that this generation seems to have an entitlement attitude regarding life and I think it’s because this generation is the first to have their needs fully met, and then some.

    Your attitude right now is VERY refreshing to hear to say the least. Stick to it. It will take you far.

    And thank you very much for fowarding the article to everyone you know. I appreciate it and I’m sure they will too.

    Thanks again for your kind words and your thoughts!

  20. jesu Says:

    what a meaningful article! thanks to the writer.

  21. Brian Kim Says:

    Jesu,

    Thanks for the kind words. You’re very welcome!

  22. Berkeley2007 Says:

    This is very very valuable advice for new grads like me! One thing I would encourage is to take some time after you graduate to really plan out how you are going to spend that valuable time straight from college - whether it’s taking a corporate job or volunteering for Teach for America or taking a low paying job at first to build upon the skillset that will allow you to get your dream job in the future — having a goal is absolutely essential!

    Another thing I would say is that often new grads feel that they have to take the first corporate job they get, work for some years, get married, blah blah, because that is the established societal tradition, so I would tell folks not to let other folks dictate how you live your life. There is no ideal course of action to take. Do what is right for you; that is the ideal. After you graduate from college it’s time to think and live for yourself and enjoy!

  23. john Says:

    well said! well said!

  24. Thomas Says:

    This is a very depressing article to read for me since you are right a college degree does not guarantee a job so I am that guy almost finishing college and sometimes this fact discourages me from fully throwing myself in schoolwork because I don’t know if it will payoff. And it is depressing in this world it is usually “who you know, not what you know.” Some students I’ve known had graduated from college with 4.0 and still can’t find jobs because of their personality (quiet, smart, but the person everybody leaves alone in the corner and doesn’t trust). I think next time you should write an article saying that college degree DOES GUARANTEE you a job, even though it isn’t true, and cite examples since college students reading this will be excited and their belief will become their reality.

  25. Krysta Says:

    This post is very helpful. I wish I read this before I graduated college and became immensely frustrated with the job market. I just want to give you kudus for giving college graduates a reality check.

  26. Transitioning into Post-College Life « Entry Level Living Says:

    […] 1. It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do right after you graduate. The biggest mistake you can make is going to grad school or picking up a job that doesn’t suit you because you feel like you need to have something to do once you get your degree. The debt and frustration simply aren’t worth it. Instead take inventory of your interests and start setting goals from there. As Brian Kim suggests: The time you have after college is THE TIME to find what you love to do. You are not burdened (I assume for the most part) with the heavy responsibilities of a mortgage, family, or dependents. You’ll most likely move back home or room with a buddy. He also has some great tips on figuring out what your passions are and putting them into tangible goals. […]

  27. Dream Jobs Dialog » Blog Archive » How to Find Out What You’re Meant to Do Says:

    […] Source:  Brian Kim’s excellent article on 5 Things Every College Grad Should Know […]

  28. Brian Kim Says:

    Berkely2007,

    Excellent advice indeed! And congratulations on your graduation. Here’s to the start of a new chapter in your life.

    John,

    I appreciate the kind words. Thank you!

    Thomas,

    There’s always two sides to a coin indeed. However, I believe it’s prudent to warn students that they need more than just a degree to get a job. I don’t think it would be right to have them think that’s a degree is all they need.

    Krysta,

    Thank you for the kudos. I appreciate it! I’m sure a lot of people out there share the same sentiments as you. Personally, I wish I’ve read a lot of things before I graduated college to prepare me but you just have to live and learn. Live and learn.

  29. Lupe Says:

    I enjoyed this:

    Graduated from college -> can’t find job -> get’s low paying “temporary” job just to pay the bills -> starts to become complacent and falls into routine -> struggles to get out of routine but can’t because of accumulation of debt to finance lifestyle of escaping reality and impressing people with material possessions -> effectively becomes a slave to the job as it is needed to pay the bills-> looks foward to weekend to complain about job but does nothing and gets wasted to forget troubles-> gets depressed -> struggles to find meaning in life -> maybe gets a small promotion at temporary job by employer as an incentive not to quit -> hates waking up in the morning everyday but does it anyway to pay the bills -> makes other people’s lives miserable because his is -> rinse and repeat for 40 years -> lies on deathbed regretting life, wishing he could go back and change it all, and dies knowing that he can’t.

    That was very enlightening.

    Wouldn’t it be better for someone to just start a blog without attending formal school, whether it’s high school or college? While working minimum wage on the side to get food.

  30. What are FIVE things college grads should know? « Kateets’s Blog Says:

    […] are FIVE things college grads should know? Jump to Comments Now after four to five years of hard work, early classes, dreaded midterms, you are finally aboutto be awarded that one thing you’ve worked so hard for your entire college career (or at least you should have), your college degree. However, the work doesn’t just stop there. Just because you’ve received that diploma and completed an undergraduate major and possibly minor, doesn’t automatically earn you your dream job, or any job for that matter. There are other things grads need to understand and acquire post-college when jumping out into the working world. You can no longer choose to take a class PASS/NO PASS. Your new work incentive: WORK or GET FIRED – especially in this economy. Here are five things every college grad should know as outlined by Brian Kim: […]

  31. Reader Success Story: If You Met Her 10 Years Ago, You Would’ve Thought She Was On a Sad and Painful Path of Despair » The Definitive Self Improvement Blog - BrianKim.net Says:

    […] 5 Things Every College Grad Should Know […]

  32. marcus Says:

    I see this same rant all of the time. “A college degree doesn’t entitle graduates to a 6 figure income. Network”. No crap. However, maybe it’s EARNED graduates the right to expect a survival wage, which is rarely possible while carrying a burden of huge student loan payments, increasing cost of rent, food, gas, and other necessities. Forget entertainment or marriage or children. Simply just paying the minimums on their student loans, many grads net hourly wage will come out to being less than minimum wage. However, all of this is assuming you’ll find a job in the first place. Most graduates have to compete with 40-50 year olds for jobs in McDonalds where I live, let alone in any field which requires a degree.

    I personally come from a poor city in a poor depopulated reigon of the country. My “networking” consists of knowing people who can offer me odd jobs. “Networking” is a great idea for people who can afford to take a non-paying internship and magically pay for housing, gas, food, rent, and everything else. This is just more mindless dribble from someone who assumes too much. Not all graduates are spoiled brats sitting on piles of mommy and daddys money who are looking for a “fun” job. Some just don’t want to work in factories or in customer service all of their lives, but often do anyway but just with the added burden of a student loan payment.

    This “entitlement” rant is especially wonderfull when it comes from a generation of people who are “entitled” to a retirement check that is paid for on the backs of the generation they call lazy. I’m not placing blame, and I assume responsability for my own life, but I get tired of these rants of “advice” that assume you have free money pouring out of your pockets, which is apparently the requirment for moving up in life. Money begets money, poverty begets poverty. It’s the American Dream.

  33. Brian Kim Says:

    Marcus,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I really appreciate it.

  34. Liz Says:

    Brian- I just found your site today and have to tell you that it will be one I check back to often so keep up the great articles.

    This article in particular made me nod and then laugh.

    I have a huge family- lots and lots of brothers and sisters of whom are at least 7 years younger then myself and now that I’m a “grown-up” I find myself giving them the same advice. Especially the “CYA topic” not to say that the rest arent important..its just that my siblings seem to think they are indestructable…

    At any rate thanks for the great post, good laugh, and bringing back some memories.

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