Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Graduating
by Freya Drohan
As May rolls in, it brings with it big-scale annual events like the Met Gala, the Kentucky Derby, and funnily enough, World Naked Gardening Day! May is also the month that some four million students will reach the end of their studies and kiss goodbye to college life. If you’re one of those chipper students ready to confidently chase down your determined career path, we salute you. But if you’re still left scratching your head wondering what’s next as you pack up your dorm room, we feel you. Indeed, at one point in time, we were you.
Consider this a career care package from us to you — but instead of treats and handwritten notes from mom, we’re sending you some real-life truths that will hopefully help you as you navigate the working world post-graduation.
*The career ladder metaphor is outdated.
Maybe in previous generations, stepping on the first rung of your “career ladder” meant a steady and upward ascent to greatness. However these days, it is increasingly unlikely that many people’s careers will follow the typical apprentice-to-C-suite-executive highlights reel. As every industry pivots and transforms, so will most of our roles and relevance in our respective industries. In fact, these days a typical career journey looks more like a sketchy heartbeat monitor than a ladder to the top. Yet we’re slowly learning that it’s ok to fail at something or to miss a step. Indeed, it’s the learning curves you gain from those experiences that really propel you further in your career.
*Every industry is changing.
As mentioned, there’s definitely no resting on your laurels in this era. Every sector from retail to technology is evolving at a rapid pace and it’s your job to keep up. Do your homework before interviews, follow trends, identify issues, and figure out how you can tackle them. While younger generations often get a bad rap for being so consumed by modern technology, their ability to engage and connect with the world and not only commandeer changes, but predict them, is an asset to all employers.
For Teen Vogue’s Social Media Producer, Michaela O’Shaughnessy, keeping on her toes is particularly essential in her line of work.
“Working in digital media in 2018 means that you constantly have to adapt and evolve your strategies,” she told us. “Especially in social media where there is always an up-and-coming app to try or new algorithms to figure out. The best way to keep up is by educating yourself at conferences, reading tech publications, and also by trading tips with colleagues in similar roles.”
*You never stop learning.
And nor should you! If you are left feeling stagnant or unfulfilled in your role, remember that there are an abundance of part-time or evening courses at your disposal. Learning a new skill or hobby outside the office can enhance your efforts at your 9-to-5 quicker than Dolly can belt out the song.
Stuck in a creative rut? You are sure as hell not alone. A spokesperson from Course Horse whispered to us that “hundreds of new students book daily” on the site, which offers a variety of classes across major US cities. Bored at your corporate copywriting job? An outlet to encourage you to write a screenplay or creative fiction might just inspire your inner voice, helping you to see your seemingly mundane work assignments in a different light.
*A passion can become a career.
That side-hustle that you’re so obsessed with could be a viable business. Seriously. In the highly connected world that we live in, with some market research, hard work, and luck, it’s never been easier to claim the CEO role that you always dreamed of. A 2017 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report revealed that twice as many millennials are launching businesses compared to their baby boomer counterparts. They’re also going out on their own at a younger age, with the average entrepreneurial millennial starting their first business at age 27.
If the thought of building a brand from the ground up thrills you but you don’t know a balance sheet from a cash flow forecast, it’s time to get yourself a mentor. Career Contessa, a platform that helps women cultivate successful careers through one-on-one advice sessions, videos, and online courses is a good place to start. As are the mobile phone applications Shapr and Bumble Bizz — online dating can be the worst, but sourcing solid advice doesn’t have to be.
*Freelancing is a viable option.
While starting your own venture can be daunting, freelancing is an increasingly prevalent way to build your reputation as an independent contractor, while also making some Benjamins in your $pare time.
A recent study by Upwork showed that the freelance workforce is growing three times faster than any other American workforce. The current freelance workforce in the US stands at a whopping 57.3 million people. The biggest enabler here is technology, with 71% of those people saying that they find the majority of their gigs online. From our experience, apps like Fiverr and websites such as Working Not Working are key to bringing in gigs.
Prefer print? Writer and the WW Club founder Phoebe Lovatt literally *wrote.the.book* on freelancing. It’s called The Working Woman’s Handbook: Ideas, Insights, and Inspiration for a Successful Creative Career and it’s filled with tips on everything from pitching efficiently to managing your finances. Get it.
Working for yourself is rewarding, but it sure can be lonely with no one to share those water cooler moments with. As Lovatt maintains, keeping your out-of-office network strong will ensure you don’t feel left behind.
“With more and more of us working independently, it can be easy to feel lost when it comes to your career. It’s essential to assemble a team of confidantes and advisors to call on when times get tough. Establish regular co-work dates — I call them ‘Work Parties!’— with your friends, get a group chat going on iMessage, and don’t be afraid to reach out when you’re stuck or lost. Also, be sure to check with other women in your network to ensure they’re doing OK. Even a quick text or email can provide an invaluable boost.”
*Networking is essential.
While the old “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” adage might make your eyes roll (we get it) — it’s true that a human connection is the most surefire way to guarantee career leapfrogs.
Co-working spaces are a popular way for new members of the workforce to mingle with like-minded people. Take women-centric The Wing, which hosts regular events and panel discussions, and provides members with a library, conference room, snacks, and a beauty salon. Mazdack Rassi (co-founder of Milk Makeup) and Erez Shernlicht’s newly-opened Camp David in Brooklyn’s Industry City is on the same wavelength — although this communal work spot also includes a photo studio and video recording and editing suite.
We get it, though. When you’re starting out, a membership to a slick co-working joint or members club might be beyond your means. Enter Quilt. This smart venture — think of it as a communal work session but in the homes of other members — is a great way for women to connect offline in cities such as NYC, LA, and SF.
“Having a support system is a game-changer. When you’re moving cities, changing jobs, or going through a transition, it’s one of the most inspiring things to surround yourself with other passionate people that are building a life they love,” says Leigh Ware, Quilt’s Director of Marketing.
“That means putting yourself out there to meet people across industries, age groups, and backgrounds which is what we do at Quilt. When you get to hear others’ stories of struggle and success, it’s easier to keep in perspective that your career is a journey, not a staircase.”
Quilt hosts hour-long “chats,” i.e. discussions with up to ten women on thought-provoking topics. You can request your first Quilt Chat free, here.
Remember that plain-sailing career ladder of yore we talked about? Yeah. Forget that visual and forge your own journey. Pablo Picasso once said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Picasso’s career was punctuated with blue, red, cubism, and surrealism periods, and your path, too, will have its ups and downs. But for Picasso, these periods resulted in a lifetime of varied artworks that defined his ultimate success — so remember as you head out into the post-grad world that it’s the collective sum of your experiences that paint the whole beautiful picture.