I graduated from college in 2011, and I remember the intensity of all the questions coming at me like it was yesterday. What’s next? What are you going to do?
The funny thing is I didn’t want a job when I graduated. I wanted to become a full-time entrepreneur, so I spent most of my time applying for incubators and accelerators and reaching out to investors. I didn’t get the investors I wanted, but I did I get an offer to work at one of the top news stations in the country. On paper, the role was a perfect match for all my skills. Still I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed—would I ever be able to make it as an entrepreneur?—but I ended up taking the job. It was just too good to turn down.
Fast forward to today, and I am currently a full time entrepreneur as the founder of Her Agenda, the same company I started in college. I saved money and landed a spot in a top accelerator program which helped me to take the full time entrepreneurial leap. The lesson here is that this career stuff and life stuff is a journey. What you decide to do immediately after graduation will not forever define you, but it will give you super-useful skills you can parlay into your next career move.
I thought that by accepting a full-time job I was closing the door on my company and my passion, but instead I was taking a step forward in gaining valuable experience that still serves me today.
The questions you get during this pivotal time can be overwhelming, especially when you have absolutely no idea what you want to do. Do I really feel prepared to be on my own? What if I don’t know? The secret that nobody tells you: you don’t actually have to know. What you can do is put yourself into position to make the best choice.
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
You won’t have the answer all the time. It’s okay to not know. And every decision will not be forever. Take it easy and keep a realistic perspective on the long game versus the short term.
2. Even before your senior year, think beyond the bubble
Too often, I see students running around stretching themselves too thin in clubs and groups that don’t translate to the outside world. Yes, it’s great to be involved on campus to give back to your school community and build relationships with your peers, but you do not need to be the president of every college organization. Instead, spend time thinking about how you can get real world experience while you are still involved in campus life. Look into virtual internships. If you want to work in media, seek out opportunities to freelance or write for online publications outside of your school media network. When I was in school, I’d use the research I did for class to inform opinion and reported pieces for online outlets I freelanced for. It was a way to stand out and ensure that I got paid.
3. Write it out
There is true power in writing things down. Make a list of where you see yourself and create a vision board of images that match your goals. Think both logistically and boldly. How much money do you need to make to get an apartment in the city you want to live in? What skills do you have? What kind of environments do you thrive in? What is your unique value proposition? Don’t limit your responses: be honest with yourself, think about what you want and embrace what you don’t know.
4. Volunteer + leverage your networks
Even entry-level jobs require experience. It’s a fact. So volunteer as much as possible while still in college. This means doing things beyond a summer internship! I’d suggest joining a professional group and offering to put your skills to work for them. Professional groups are always putting on conferences and events and often have student chapters. If you’re looking for a place to start, the Forté Foundation has programming and a number of opportunities for college students. They offer conferences, a rising star program, a virtual campus to explore diverse careers and more. Leverage these and other volunteer opportunities to build relationships with professionals and ask about shadow days or for an office visit. It’ll help you realize what you want (and what you don’t want) in a work environment.
5. Take The GMAT
While you may not know what you want to do, the goal is to continue to increase your value as a recent grad while you work to determine your next steps. Going to business school is a way for you to broaden your career options. Not many people realize this but the data shows that women do much better on the GMAT while they’re still in school, so it doesn’t hurt to take it to give yourself more options. The extra bonus is that your GMAT score is good for five years—and most women get their MBA four years post-undergrad. Get started by registering. There’s a lot to consider on the path to getting an MBA and that’s why it’s helpful to turn to groups like the Forté Foundation that provide support throughout your career, from the time you’re just beginning to think about an MBA to years later, when you’re a seasoned executive. Forté provides financial support, advice, mentorship and networking. Even if you aren’t sure if you want an MBA, sign up to learn more about the process and evaluate the pros and cons from a place of knowledge versus a place of assumption.
6. Visit Your Campus Career Center
Your campus has a career center and likely has the resources to help you navigate this entire getting-a-job-after-graduation process. It’s like having a coach on the journey to figuring out your life. They want you to be happy and successful because successful alumni stories make the school look good as a whole!
7. Get Creative
The lazy thing to do is to reach out to people you admire to have coffee or pick their brain. The creative way to leverage your network is to engage with professionals you admire in a way that benefits you both. Are you a whiz at creating video for social media? Reach out to people whose work you like and offer them a one-hour consultation. This gives you the chance to shine and build valuable relationships. Do you like interviewing? Start a podcast where you interview professionals you admire and share it with your peers. How can you use what you have to create value to those around you while growing and learning? Whatever that is, create it, make it, record it, and put it out in the world. You may not be perfect at your work yet, but it’s essential to put a stake in the ground and get something going.
8. Practice sacrifice and discipline
Once you graduate, you won’t have the structure of the school year to guide you (or force you) to complete things by a certain date. You have to flex your discipline muscles yourself in order to get things done in a timely fashion. You’ll also have to sacrifice—a lot. Take the GMAT for example: registration costs between $150 and $250. That may seem like a lot of money, but a disciplined approach to saving will help you pay the registration cost in no time. Start to think about short-term sacrifices that will support your long-term goals: skipping brunch for a couple months in order to take a test that could help you broaden your education and launch your dream career seems totally worth it.
[This post is sponsored by the Forté Foundation. Advice and opinions are the writer’s own.]