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Advice From a First-Gen Grad To Make Post-Grad Life Feel Less Intimidating

No one could have prepared me — or frankly, anyone — for departing college and entering the world as COVID-19 ran rampant back in May of 2020.

As a first-generation Latina born in the U.S., it was pretty much the worst-case scenario I had been fearing over the past few years; that despite all of my hard work, sweat and tears, I would still end up unemployed and thus, disappointing my parents.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a new grad or you’ll be walking down the stage pretty soon. I don’t say this to intensify your own doubts about the future, in fact, it is completely the opposite. My point is that you can stress and plan your next move all you want, but to be honest, the future is constantly changing, unpredictable and sure to keep you on your toes.

I graduated in the middle of a global pandemic and while that doesn’t exactly make me an expert, I do think it’s earned me the right to at least dish out some advice for new graduates. I also made a ton of mistakes before I figured out what it was I wanted to do.

Before anything, I want you to pause and recognize that you did it. You graduated! It’s a huge accomplishment that at times gets swept under the rug because we’re always jumping onto the next step. And even if you’re planning on continuing with your education, you still deserve all the pomp and circumstance that come with this milestone. So treat yourself, sleep for the whole day, grab every single thing you see at the panaderia or party; all of the above is also acceptable. You should be very proud of yourself, I am!

Now onto some advice to make post-grad less intimidating…

1. Remember that you are on your own timeline and no one else’s 

Immediately after you graduate you’re going to hear about the different route everyone will be taking in their next life chapter. Perhaps it is a new flashy job they started, a big move to another country or even news that they are starting a family. Whatever the case, it can be so easy to fall into the trap of comparison.

It does absolutely nothing for you to be jealous of someone else and put yourself down. The time you spend likening yourself to someone else is time you could have used for literally anything else that would be beneficial to your life — even watching that new Netflix show. Everyone’s journey looks different and there is no set of rules of what is right and wrong. 

2. Social media can be toxic, but it can also be a great tool to network

Try as you might, you are going to compare yourself in one way or another to your peers, it’s human! The thing that matters is how quickly you snap out of it and how you approach your next step. Instagram, Twitter and even LinkedIn are all tools to stay connected with people in the field you wish to pursue.

There are plenty of templates online that show you the way you should structure your message. Note: Instagram isn’t always the best way to reach out to a professional via DM but it is a great way to see what their job looks like on a day-to-day basis if they post about it. Sometimes they may even share job openings at their company before it is posted about on a job board. 

3. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay!

I’d love to sit here and tell you all about my fabulous career and how easy it was to get to the place I am now but it’s just not the case; and as you’ll learn, it’s not typically the case for anybody. When I graduated (virtually from a computer screen back in my childhood bedroom with my parents), I had no job, no internship, nada. Up until that point I wished to pursue a career in public relations, but after doing four unpaid internships simultaneously that following summer, the only job offer I received was one in the journalism space. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved writing, but I never saw it as being my full-time job.

After almost a year at my first job, I got an offer to work at a PR company and I thought, “Finally! I’ll get to do what I had set out to do all along.” I accepted and two weeks later left my job, only to instantly find myself in one of the most toxic and draining situations ever. I try not to have any regrets, and as horrible as this time in my life was, I learned a lot about what I like and what I don’t like when it comes to my career. 

As it turns out, my love for writing brought me right back into my career now as a journalist. I was so set on what I thought my life was supposed to look like and what my dreams during college were, that I overlooked my evolving interests. You can say it was a mistake to leave my writing job in the first place, but had I not left, I would never have emerged as confident as I was about what I wanted to do next. 

4. Regularly sharpen up your resume and come up with an elevator pitch, you never know when you’ll need it 

As I began my job search out of college, I quickly learned how fast the job market moves. A job that caught your eye and you promised yourself you’d apply to by the end of the week can be gone by the time you even open your old resume.

To that end, the job market can also be excruciatingly slow, meaning you should seize every opportunity as it comes. You also never know who you’ll bump into or how quickly you’ll be asked to interview. The more prepared you are, the less intimidating the process will be. Practice mock interview questions in the mirror and develop an elevator pitch for when the inevitable “Tell me about yourself” portion of the call comes. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be comfortable speaking about yourself. Unfortunately, your abuela can’t do this part for you. At the end of the day, you are your biggest advocate, your loudest hype man and the only person in charge of making everyone see how great you are. 

5. Have an open mind

Many people (like myself) have a way they see their life playing out post-grad, and are committed to seeing it through. Not everyone gets the dream job they had growing up because often by the time you’re elbow deep in the job hunt, you realize that it is no longer your dream job, and you actually want to pursue something else. What you studied or interned in is just one part of your life, it is not the end all be all. 

Don’t say no to opportunities that seem exciting, even if you have no prior experience. Take that risk and shake up your entire life if you need to! Despite what you might think (or what your parents say), now is the time to experiment, try, fail, learn and prosper from everything thrown your way. 

6. Rejection is redirection 

So you applied and you didn’t get the job. It sucks, but this is more than likely not to be your first rejection as you enter adulthood. You’ll get ghosted, rejected and will have moments that feel truly insulting — it’s best to just get used to it now. But the great news is that now you’re on the way to finding the role you’re supposed to have. What is meant for you will be and that is something I genuinely believe in. 

And just because the door is closed at the moment does not mean it is closed forever! The door is closed but definitely not shut. If anything, it leaves a bit of room for you to re-apply in the future with a recruiter recognizing your name and applauding your dedication and resilience. 

7. There are so many free online courses you can take to learn a new skill

Jobs aside, this is the perfect time in your life to learn something new. Never underestimate what picking up a new skill can do. It can be a conversation starter at your next social event that leads you to a new set of friends or it can quite simply just be a new hobby you keep to yourself and love. It’s exciting to learn new things and the internet is an open book to learn just about anything you want. 

In college, you’re likely to have not gotten the opportunity to study that one subject you were interested in due to fulfilling your requirements. Well luckily for you, learning is life long, it never stops unless you decide you want to. Celebrate learning how to sew or video edit. The ultimate goal for all of us should be achieving true happiness, and that comes in a variety of ways. 

8. People are willing to help you, don’t be afraid to ask

One of the best pieces of advice I was offered was that it is not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. It’s crucial to keep with you in any situation. Keep in contact with your peers, professors and even reach out to your school’s alumni. Be kind and take the time to develop and foster real relationships with everyone. If you’re struggling to get on your feet post-grad it is completely okay to reach out and ask someone for advice, an introduction or a referral. They might say no but more than likely, they’ll say yes.

And if they do say no, then they say no and you move on! Being in the Latinx community, or any community also helps as there is always a network of professionals you can find in any industry. Whether it be Latinx in media or business, there’s sure to be a community waiting for you to reach out and join. 

Every single opportunity I have received post-grad is thanks to the women who vouched for me and helped me along the way. Everyone has to start somewhere and everyone has been in the position you are in now. You’re not alone and you’re certainly not the first person to need some help. You might be in the position years from now where someone will come and ask you for help, remember those who supported you and make sure you pass it on. 

9. Make time for your family and friends

This is perhaps the most important of my advice to you all, because quality time with your friends and family is invaluable. In the end, you’ll find there’s never enough time.

I certainly never envisioned living with my parents for the following two years after I graduated, but it turned out to be an experience I’ll cherish forever. It allowed me to take a break and spend time watching shows with my mom over a bottle of wine and have homemade dishes I went without during my time away at college.

Obviously, not everyone will get two uninterrupted years of time with your family like I did thanks to COVID-19. That’s why you have to make the deliberate choice to set aside moments with your loved ones. Cherished friends will come and go and many will move all over the place, leaving your weekly hangouts to transform into once every two months (if you’re lucky). If you don’t plan ahead, you’re never going to find the time to visit, so keep that in mind. 

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