College seniors and recent graduates are in a delicate, crucial and demanding time of their lives. They face an overwhelming number of decisions to make, paths to choose from and obstacles to overcome.
Have you ever heard someone say, "I wish I knew then what I know now?" It's time to walk away from the wishing well and check out six pieces of advice that will enlighten you and improve your experience as a college senior or recent college grad.
1. Cut the expense fat
Take an honest look at your expenses, and you are likely to find several areas where you can shave off a few dollars and still live to talk about it. A few unnecessary extras here and there can add up to a lot of cash, leaving you unable to accept lower-paying job opportunities with greater long-term potential over a less desirable position that pays more now.
Marc Hyman, partner at Pacific West Investor Services based in Santa Barbara, Calif., provides a list of nonessential expenses that could be hurting your ability to jump start a successful career.
Expense: Large car payments
Tip: Buy a Kia, Hyundai or other less expensive vehicle.
Expense: High rent
Tip: Rent or share a room first before you go out and get a large, expensive apartment.
Expense: Large cable bills
Tip: Drop premium cable channels and digital music subscriptions. Perhaps drop cable altogether and get Netflix and Hulu instead.
Expense: Gym membership
Tip: Join a Y instead. It's usually much more affordable.
Expense: $100 cell-phone plans
Tip: Get a $35-$50 cell-phone plan. Carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket and Virgin Mobile offer many reasonable plans that include texting and data.
Expense: Daily expensive coffee (example: large vanilla latte with soy)
Tip: Get a regular coffee instead.
"I have interviewed and hired a large number of recent graduates, and I am always shocked by the large amount of expenses, beyond school loans, these grads are carrying," Hyman says. "Many new grads can shave at least $500 off their monthly living expenses. This increases [their] flexibility when a lower-paying job with better prospects is available."
2. Monitor your online personality
"Many students don't realize what's online about them, and some of this content may be questionable in an employer's eyes," says Amanda Haddaway, author of "Destination Real World: Success after Graduation."
To keep your social-media presence from hurting your chances at gainful employment, Haddaway suggests following four simple tips:
- Determine what's out there about you. Search your name and see what comes up, and review your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social-media websites. Remove any inappropriate or workplace-unfriendly content.
- Be honest. If unflattering content about you has been posted online and you've tried to remove it without success, be upfront with recruiters or interviewers. Let them know the information is not a true reflection of who you are and how you would perform as an employee.
- Be careful about what you post in the future. Remember that anything posted in a public domain may remain public indefinitely and could be available to a prospective employer.
- Use free tools to monitor your online presence. If you set up a search-engine alert on your name, you will receive an email each time your name shows up in a search. This way you can do something about inappropriate content before it's too late.
"If you're still in school, now is the time to gain experience," says Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job-seeker and employer-focused organizations. "Pick up an internship, volunteer in your field and take on more leadership roles."
While an education is an invaluable asset, in order to succeed in today's market, you have to go beyond the textbooks whenever possible. "A degree isn't going to be your golden ticket to gainful employment; worthwhile experience is," Huhman says.
4. Be honest; have integrity
Brooke Allen, founder of Noshortageofwork.com, shares an interesting story:
"I was addressing a class of college seniors when someone asked, 'What do you look for in an employee?' I said, 'Integrity and the ability to do the work.' The class laughed and the student said, 'Do you mean to say that, in this day and age, anyone cares about integrity?'
"While it is relatively painless to find competent people who can do the work required for a position, it is much harder to find good people with integrity that you can count on. If you want to stand out among the others, practice being the best possible person you can be; don't lie, say what you will do, then do what you say."
5. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence -- the ability to manage emotions -- is the most important factor that will determine a student's success after graduation, says Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, an international nonprofit organization focused on developing young leaders.
"As students transition from backpack to briefcase, intelligence plays a smaller role than you may think," Elmore says. "Success in school is made up of 75 percent intelligence (IQ) and 25 percent emotional intelligence (EQ). Success in the real world is just the opposite -- 25 percent IQ and 75 percent EQ."
Learning to reduce stress quickly is a valuable EQ skill, Elmore says. "It allows you to stay balanced, focused, in control and in the moment, even in the most challenging situations."
6. Help out wherever possible
Successful people are those who work hard and go above and beyond whenever possible. No one ever got promoted or built a successful career by doing the bare minimum.
Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of "The 11 Laws of Likability" and founder of Executive Essentials, a corporate training and coaching company based in New York, suggests that recent graduates build relationships at every level of the organization and always offer to help.
"Don't narrow your focus just to colleagues at your level," Tillis says. "Pursue the relationships that feel authentic to you to expand your resources, knowledge base and support network, and offer your help. If you don't have anything to do, find something. Build your brand as someone who pitches in."
Always maintain a positive attitude as well, Tillis suggests. While you can teach technical skills, you can't teach attitude. "Approach every situation openly with a willingness to learn, and don't act as if anything is below you."