Where did the time go? That’s the question every recent college graduate is asking. Whether you breezed through in a couple of years or used a fifth year for a victory lap, college comes to a close with little warning.
We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but there’s a lot about life after college you’re going to have to learn fairly quickly. Here are nine key skills you’re going to need.
1. The Ability to Sell Yourself
If there’s one skill you absolutely have to master in the real world, it’s the ability to sell yourself. You’ve spent the past four to eight years building a resume; now it’s time to market yourself in a way that’s attractive to employers. Simply handing out your resumes isn’t enough.
“As marketers, we’re selling brands to consumers, hoping the brand we’ve built, the way we’ve positioned it, and what we’ve said about it will convince consumers to throw it in their shopping cart, ask a friend about it, or engage with it online,” says Sharon Napier, CEO of a large advertising agency. “As a job applicant, you’re selling your personal brand to an employer, hoping they’ll entrust you with the role.”
After college, you’ll be forced to identify and perfect your particular brand. Then you’ll need to present it to employers and peers in a manner that’s engaging and effective. College may enable you to build your resume, but the real world expects you to humanize it in a relatable way.
2. Making Friends in an Unstructured Environment
Whether you know it or not, your life has been pretty structured up to this point. With family, school, clubs, sports, and other activities, you’ve typically been in a controlled environment that provides (or imposes) accountability and direction.
College may have felt like total freedom, but you were still wrapped in certain security blankets. Now that you’ve finished, you’re completely independent for the first time ever.
If you move to a new city, you’ll experience this absence of structure vividly in your social life. In the past, making friends was natural. Throughout your adolescence, they were typically classmates, teammates, and family.
Now, with all of those structures removed, you’ll have to make friends without familiar aids. Extroverts will find this challenge exciting, while introverts will have to push themselves.
3. Cooking Healthy Foods
According to Educator, a leader in online tutoring and supplemental teaching, schools fail to teach a number of things about the real world. Given convenient meal plans and vending machine snacks, most students graduate with few or no cooking skills.
This can be dangerous, especially with regard to health and budgeting. In order to maintain a solid diet and avoid overspending, it’s imperative that you expand your cooking talents beyond spaghetti, soup, and ramen.
“The simplest way is to just pick up a recipe book and get started,” says Educator’s website. You really don’t have to spend a lot of time perfecting your cooking skills. Becoming familiar with right ingredients and knowing how to follow a basic recipe will enable you to expand your diet with healthy choices.
4. Knowing When to Say Yes and No
Yes and no. These two simple words will define your first few years after college. Knowing when to say each of them, you’ll live a much more enjoyable and reasonable life.
Let’s start with “yes,” since this is the easier one. When you move to a new city or seek out new situations, it’s a very healthy word. By saying yes, you’ll open yourself to unique experiences and new friendships. Saying yes won’t always place you in comfortable situations, but that’s where personal growth occurs.
On the other hand, you also need to understand the value in saying “no.” While it may have been easy to catch a midnight movie premiere on a weeknight when you were in college, it’s no longer a smart choice when you have work in the morning. Saying no to things that are fun is a skill you’ll have to develop.
The key is to balance your responses. You don’t want to become known as someone who always turns down opportunities, but it’s also vital not to overextend yourself. Some downtime after work is not just good, but necessary.
5. Spending Less Than You Make
We live in a world where it’s incredibly easy to spend beyond your means. With credit cards, loans, and deferred payments available at the drop of a hat, it’s way too tempting to spend money you don’t actually have. So it’s imperative for you learn how to save.
In addition to curbing your spending habits and setting aside money each month in a dedicated savings account, you should take full advantage of any retirement plans your employer makes available. This is especially true if there’s a 401(k) option with employer match.
“By not taking advantage of it, you’re essentially leaving free money on the table and giving yourself a pay cut,” says Robert Farrington of The College Investor. “The younger you are when you start, the more powerful compounding interest works for you. By starting at 22 vs. 30, you could add hundreds of thousands of dollars more to your retirement account.”
6. Pushing Through the Mundane
When you graduate from college with a degree in a specific field, it’s not unusual to entertain the unrealistic notion that landing your dream job will be the inevitable next step. Unfortunately, it may not even be the second, third, or fourth step.
You need to understand your place in your industry. When you’re a recent college graduate with very little work experience, it’s very unlikely you’ll land a job that will satisfy all your hopes and dreams. In fact, you’ll probably find your job a little boring, even frustrating.
Try to retain perspective when you find yourself in a boring job. Remember, this is your first full-time job and you may be starting at the bottom. Everything is uphill from here!
You aren’t entitled to a six-figure job in a plush corner office just because you have a college degree. Most of the other people in your office have one, too. Keep your head down, work hard, and push through the mundane. You’ll eventually be rewarded with a career that begins to grow.
7. Limiting Your Party Lifestyle
Parties and drinking may have been a big part of your social life in college, but that will need to change. That isn’t to say you can’t enjoy a party on the weekend or have an alcoholic beverage after work, but moderation is the key here.
Not only do hangovers become steadily worse during the years after college, but showing up to work hung over is no longer as charming as it once was. And let’s be honest, was it ever really that charming? asks one Forbes.com contributor.
“Sure, you used to be able to roll out of bed, go to a class or two, and head home to sleep it off, but working a 9-to-5 with a hangover is a whole different story.” Limit yourself to one drink on weeknights, and never drink to excess…even on the weekend.
You have a professional image to maintain, and the last thing you can afford is to tarnish your name so early in your career.
8. Getting Enough Exercise
After graduation, stress usually becomes a bigger issue. It’s no longer something you face only when you have a pending exam you forgot about. Stress constantly lurks in the background.
One thing you can do to reduce it is develop an exercise routine. Whether you take a jog in the morning before work, lift weights at the gym during your lunch, or attend an evening yoga class, exercise can be a critical factor in reducing stress and staying healthy.
If you find it difficult to fit exercise into your busy daily routine, here are eight suggestions from Muscle & Fitness. Remember, it’s all about the level of intensity and type of workout. An intense 20-minute workout is often better than a mellow hour-long one.
9. Weighing the Pros and Cons
After college, you’ll face a number of challenges. In fact, you’ll probably make more important decisions in your 20s than in any other decade of your life. From selecting a city to live in and choosing a career path to buying a house and finding a spouse, a lot can happen during these crucial years.
The ability to make smart, calculated decisions is an essential skill. You’ll need to perfect your ability to block out distractions, and weigh the pros and cons of every major move. The sooner you’re able to do this, the better the results are likely to be.
Welcome to the Real World
College teaches you a lot of valuable lessons, but it doesn’t fully prepare you for the real world. There are a number of skills you’ll need to learn after graduating.
Don’t stress, though; you’ll face them naturally as they occur. But try to spend some time evaluating where you are and how you plan to accomplish your goals.
Life as an adult is exciting, and you’ll learn as you go!