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Sunday, April 7, 2019

LIFE AFTER COLLEGE: 4 MONTHS OUT

Hello everybody! I haven't done a post like this in a very long time... but here it is! This is part self-reflection and part advice column rolled into one. Many people still don't know that I graduated a semester early from college, so last December I had my last day of undergraduate classes. Since then, It's been a whirlwind of full time work (in a six month internship program) and learning to get into a new routine that lacks the structure of class/schoolwork. Keep reading for my biggest lessons so far!

Photo above by @calvin.kingston

Like every other soon-to-be-graduating college senior, I was EXTREMELY stressed about what would come next after school. I'm somebody who really dislikes uncertainty, especially when it comes to something so important to me like my career future. I feel like the first thing to remember is that it's natural to feel this way and it's just all a part of this major transitionary period. I'm not an expert on any of this so I figure I'll just tell you my story so far!

How did I find my current internship?
I had started to apply for internships towards the end of September, and from there I was submitting to maybe one or two job applications per week. I was getting very, very frustrated because for the longest time I wasn't getting any feedback from these companies I was applying for. It was all entry level positions, and I was starting to feel really doomed. There were times where I would feel really bummed out, but I reminded myself that you really have to apply to SO many different places and you only need one to feel like you're a good fit and give you that magical offer! I like using LinkedIn and Indeed for looking for jobs. Also, if you're not on LinkedIn yet, I really recommend you start up a profile! If you're trying to get into the professional arena, those connections are really important!

Lucky for me, my school offers a mentorship program where seniors can apply to be matched up with an alumni who can help give career advice and offer you support. I was matched with a really fantastic mentor who helped me a lot throughout the job search process. I didn't really have anyone else I could ask about applying for the right places, checking over my resume/cover letters, and connect me with the right people. It's just been fantastic having someone there to help with all that stuff, and my mentor is actually the one that helped me land my current internship!

I was open to either a full-time position or a full-time paid internship after my last semester. In many ways, I treat this semester as being my "semester off" instead of the start of my post-grad life. This is also because I won't walk in the ceremony until May and also no one has sent me my diploma yet, but that's a different story. To streamline this story along, I'll keep it short. I applied to a six-month internship position on LinkedIn at one of the largest beauty companies in the world not expecting it to go anywhere. There were already thousands of applicants and only a handful of positions open. I mentioned it to my mentor, and amazingly he knew someone at the company! He helped put me in touch with her and I was invited in for an interview. I spent so much time preparing for the interview and when the day came, I was CRAZY nervous. It went very well, and I was blessed that they offered me the role! The experience taught me most of all that connections are so important, and you don't need to be super elite to have them, but you do need to put yourself out there and be open to meeting new people.

What's it like working full-time and not having classwork to worry about?
While I do work full-time, I'm the type of person who likes keeping busy and feeling productive 24/7. One of the biggest things I had to get used to was the lack of structure I encountered with the loss of classes/classwork to worry about. I was afraid that after losing that feeling of having to learn I would lose the motivation to keep bettering myself and continue growing as a person. I love learning and didn't want to get into a flow of just coming home and watching tv every night. I established my own routine so I can keep myself in check! That includes reading in the morning and writing a daily journal in Mandarin to keep up my writing skills, then reading more when I ride the train home after work. I also have my blog to work on of course, and I do a little drawing on the side. A big help has been using a planner that I keep in my pocketbook to write down things that need to get done/plans with friends/other important dates.

What's my work routine like?
I commute into NYC everyday for my internship, and believe me, I'm always trying to stretch my dollar to the fullest capacity. One of my weaknesses is eating out, I just love it! If you also work in NYC, you'll know that one of the wisest things you can do is bring lunch from home. If I ate out during lunch everyday, I would be spending close to $65 a week (estimating that each lunch costs $13). I like to save that for times where I'm going out with co-workers, the rest of the time I'm cool with leftovers or a sandwich. I work in the beauty industry in PR, and the office I'm at people dress business casual most of the time. I want to keep up with all my stylish co-workers too, so I try and pick out my outfit the night before. It's been kind of tough in the winter because I get lazy and prioritize being warm, but now that we've entered spring there's no excuses!

I followed in my co-worker's footsteps and started keeping two pairs of shoes at work under my desk: plain black heels and plain black booties. It's so much easier to come into work wearing sneakers and just changing there, instead of having to be in heels the whole time! I find that those heels make any outfit I wear a little more elevated and polished, so I can still be in jeans but look more professional. I also keep a tube of mascara and a hairbrush at work. I arrive a little bit earlier and do some simple mascara and fix my hair up there at my desk. I personally wake up very late before work and don't like to do a lot of makeup for work, so this is perfect for me.

What are some more professional outfit tips?
Even though my workplace is more business casual and there was never an official dress code shared with me, I think it's really important to take your work attire seriously. Especially as an intern straight out of college (and not even really graduated yet haha), I want the people around me to take me seriously and know that I'm serious about my work. I find that a pair of good fitting medium-wash or black jeans and a nice top can look impressive. You also can't go wrong with a dress, usually I choose ones that are Banana Republic style- classy prints and a length that goes about mid thigh with black tights. As I mentioned before, a heeled boot can really take an outfit to the next level as far as looking very put together goes. Business casual isn't just slacks and blazers anymore, so add your personality but ask yourself if you'd be comfortable going into a meeting with whatever you're wearing!

What are some ways I can connect with my co-workers?
This is something my friends and I talk about all the time! I'm kind of quiet, and in the past I've found it difficult to build a relationship with co-workers, especially in intern positions. Usually my co-workers are a little older and just in a different stage in life, and there may not initially be clear things we have in common. It's so important though to find what you DO have in common, and make an effort to build up a rapport. Not only is it a chance to make more friends, but it's also way more fun to feel comfortable at work and have people to talk to during the day than be alone. Other interns at the place you're at are also great to connect with, because you're all in the same position! I take the professional environment seriously though, so I definitely watch what topics I bring into the office and what kind of language I use.

I find that the best way to connect with co-workers is making plans for drinks or dinner after work. That's the time when you can really chat and get to know each other! For me it's a natural progression, I love making new friends and this is just another chance for that to happen! I wouldn't plan this so much with superiors because it might be awkward, but it depends on your situation and what the vibe is. I go out with my intern friends all the time though!

What's my financial plan?
I'm three months out of college, which means I'm also halfway through my grace period on student loans. Typically, federal and private loans kick in requiring monthly payments six months after graduation. I'm fortunate in that I live at home and so I can save on rent. I'm on an intern's pay, but as I mentioned before, I'm always trying to stretch my dollar to the fullest extent. I try to keep myself on a flexible budget that lets me spend more when I'm hanging out with friends and co-workers than when I'm alone. I try not to buy lunch and eat out in general if it's just me. Each month, I'm able to keep a "spend half, save half" type of thing going on. This lets me have a little security and also manage some one time loan payments! It of course sucks and can feel intimidating looking at my loan numbers, but it's something that can't be avoided and you really want to be on top of these type of things. Create the accounts you need to make and get that bank transfer information set up! You can usually see what the monthly payments are estimated to be, and it'll give you an idea of what you will have to prepare when the grace period ends.

I'm feeling overwhelmed too, where do I even start in pursuing the career of my dreams?
Like I also mentioned in the first Q&A, I don't have any connections to the industry that I've been wanting to work in since I was in high school. I'm blessed to have gone to school in New York City because this really is one of the major world centers for the beauty industry. BUT- if you don't live in NYC or another major city, use your resources to create an opportunity for yourself! If you're interested in beauty, start up an Instagram account where you can showcase your knowledge and passion. With social media, there are tons of free ways you can gain a reputation and some credibility. I know it's corny, but DREAMS DON'T WORK UNLESS YOU DO. It's never easy having to work to achieve goals, but if it's something you're serious about then expect to put that work in! Start up a LinkedIn profile and start making connections there too. If you're in college, you most likely have a career center at your school. Book a visit and have a counselor help you perfect your resume and cover letters, that's what I did and it was a huge help. Before my visit, I was not using the right kind of language on my resume to really convey what I've achieved and compel people to take me as a serious candidate.

Also, as someone who's been in this position and many ways am still in it (since I'll be looking for full-time work soon), feel free to hit me up too for help! I have my email listed on my "Contact" page, which you can visit by clicking here. You can also reach out to me on IG too! I'm not a professional on this process but I can at least share more about what I do when looking for jobs. Don't forget to reach out to your friends and see what they're doing too. I can't tell you how many times I've asked my close friends to look over cover letters, and they've always given me some great revisions!

Lastly, don't forget that no one (ok, maybe like 0.00001% of people) comes out of college going straight into a high position job. You don't start as a boss, you have to work your way up to it and LEARN. Everybody has been there, so taking the first step into an internship/entry-level job is your starting point to a lifetime of career/personal growth!