I graduated back in 2014. Ah, the year of “conscious uncoupling,” Pharell debuting his pilgrim-cowboy-top hat, Emma Watson reminding us that feminism is #cool, and the end of an era as “How I Met Your Mother” came to a close. It was a good a year as any to graduate, I guess, and in some ways, I was so ready to leave.
Now I’m living in Los Angeles, working in film marketing at a big, fancy movie studio, and trying to figure out what comes next. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
1. It’s okay if your post-grad path is a little meandering.
Let me tell you: Life after graduation isn’t totally easy. You second-guess yourself…a lot. You constantly feel like things are new, and unfamiliar, and confusing (because they are!). And it takes time to reconcile your ideas of what you thought your life would be like with the realities of working and actually having to define your own path.
But there are great things, too! No homework, for one. The fact that even crappy apartments on noisy streets seem like palaces when shared with your best friends, for another. You’ll have new people to meet, and an endless amount of time and freedom to do as you please with. (This last one can feel very overwhelming at times, but it does mean you’re not beholden to anyone else’s schedule. You want to quit your job and move to Alaska because you really like salmon? Go right ahead.)
I was a Film and Economics major and attended Wesleyan with the intent of going on to work in the film industry. However, when my father died unexpectedly my sophomore year, it was like someone plucked the map of life I’d been following out of my hands, flipped it around, and showed me I had been holding it upside down all along. I didn’t want to move home or even necessarily work in film by spring of senior year. But graduation day arrived, and I didn’t have any other inspiring or valid prospects, so that’s what I did.
I found my first job (at a company that makes movie trailers) through the wife of my chiropractor. The job wasn’t for me, and I was frankly miserable. I felt like a failure, and I felt doomed. I had been so worried about finding a job, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was finding a job I enjoyed and was passionate enough about to invest in.
2. Treat unfulfilling jobs as learning opportunities.
To seniors worrying about their post-grad prospects: You will find a job. You are capable, intelligent, adaptable, and many other things. It will, however, take a while for you to feel settled, secure, and at a job that you like doing. You will re-evaluate your situation constantly.
Looking back, it seems silly how much I fretted over my first job, which only lasted three months. My next job (working on a TV show) wasn’t great either, but it was much better. I began to realize that there is a fine line between being proactive and being overactive, and I gained the confidence and knowledge to make a more informed decision when jumping to my next position.
3. Networking really does pay off.
I hate to say it, but every job—even my brief stint in healthcare consulting—came from someone I knew.
“Ugh, networking,” you say.
The dreaded act of schmoozing. It’s awkward, it feels pointless, and everyone kind of tells you the same thing. Unfortunately, it really is the best defense against the big black hole of Internet application portals.
I’ll give you a tip: Network with people two to three years out of college. Yes, it’s helpful to talk to established industry professionals, and it can be incredibly intimidating to be vulnerable with someone close to your own age about needing a job and just how uncertain you are. But forget all that, and use your tech savvy skills to Facebook chat, LinkedIn connect, or Snapchat your way into coffee or brunch. Those grads are all about to get promoted or already have. That means there are entry-level positions just waiting to be filled, and people eager to look good by back-filling them.
That’s how I got the job I have now. About a year after meeting someone, I emailed her and said I was looking for a job, ideally at the same company, in the same general field, and asked her to please keep me in mind if she heard of anything. The next day she emailed me back and said her old position was opening up. Could I come in for an interview?
4. Make the best of informational interviews.
Go into each informational interview like Ms. Frizzle on a field trip. Be curious. Gather information. Don’t be afraid to get messy and make mistakes. These interviews will very rarely lead to something instantly, but they will eventually, and you’ll have time to figure it out.
5. Don’t stress out too much about finding a place to live.
Nobody’s first living situation works out or lives up to the epitome of the “Friends” standard. Find a place that meets your budget (aim for a quarter of your salary if you’re in a smaller town, and no more than half for expensive places like LA and New York), and go from there. Still, be aware that commuting sucks, and avoid it to the extent to which you can afford.
6. Some miscellaneous advice:
Myers-Briggs tests, like the one found at 16personalities.com, can be a fun way to ease your anxieties about the future, help you reorient yourself when feeling lost, and provide you with well-worded answers (if only temporary) to the inevitable “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” interview question.
You’ll make new friends, but work hard to stay in touch with the old ones.
Your parents have answers, but not all of them.
Take trips as often as you can manage.
Always answer a problem by taking positive action, and lastly, stop worrying. Enjoy Wesleyan while it lasts (may I suggest doing the Wesleyan scavenger hunt, sneaking a photo of you and your friends onto the wall of WesWings, or skinny dipping at Miller’s pond?) because you will miss it, I promise.