Growing up, all children are required to attend school. Each year, from kindergarten until the senior year of high school, children know what they will be doing. Somewhere in between, a decision is made to attend college, and the pattern continues: attend classes until graduation. This pattern leaves little room to imagine what life will be like once this pattern terminates. Life after school, for some, can be a bit of a trial-and-error period. For me—and many other peers I know—this was definitely the case.
Unlike the classroom, the next chapter of life does not come equipped with a syllabus or a supply list. Earning a diploma or a degree is half the battle; success is determined by how you manage yourself afterward. I hope to provide some guidance from my personal experience and the experiences of colleagues and peers to help you achieve a high level of success.
There are several key areas I find to be very important: finding a job, professional development, finances, and giving back. Of course, there are many more aspects of life that will determine success, but those things will vary depending on the person.
From my personal experience, finding a job did not become extremely important until after my parents moved out of the country my junior year of college. At the point of their departure, I realized that my option to go home and figure things out after college was no longer available. I quickly changed my way of thinking: I started thinking how I could set myself up for success and have a job lined up as soon as I graduated from school. Fortunately for me, I had over a year to figure things out. I went back to school after the summer and began putting my plan into action. I became very good friends with our department’s professional development professor and the school’s career development counselor. Between the two of these individuals, I was able to understand how to develop a recruiter-worthy resume. I also learned which companies were recruiting from the school. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” With these weapons on my side, I was prepared for battle.
My short-term goal was to line up an internship for the summer. Our school hosted a career fair each semester; the companies came prepared to offer both internships and full-time opportunities. Prior to the school’s career fair that fall, I researched the companies that would be in attendance and prepared a list of companies that I most wanted to speak with. I wanted to at least speak to the companies on my list, but I stuck around long enough to speak with each company in attendance. The weeks following the career fair, I set up a number of interviews. The school’s career development counselor suggested a great book, 60 Seconds and You’re Hired!, which I suggest everyone read. It helped me prepare myself for the interviews. My interviews went very well, and I had a list of companies to choose from for that summer.
I completed a summer internship program in Jacksonville, Florida, at a financial management and advisory firm. It was a wonderful experience, I was able to gain valuable skills, but most importantly, I understood the professional environment. Fortunately, I was offered a full-time opportunity with the company. Although I was very appreciative of this offer, I wanted to have options. That fall, I returned to the career fair with more knowledge, additional skills on my resume, and the best negotiating point: a full-time offer in hand. Again, I was able to set up a number of interviews; fortunately, I was blessed with a few offers to choose from.
I decided on a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis. I started my career as an IT analyst, earned additional skills, and made valuable friendships; unfortunately, I did not like Indianapolis and decided I wanted to move. Again, I began searching for jobs. I reached out to my network of peers and started applying to jobs. I had a few interviews and received a couple of job offers. I decided on an offer in Chantilly, Virginia, as a systems engineer at a company known for aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology. Since this move, I’ve made a few more career changes, and I am now a Salesforce.com consultant at a small consulting company. With each move, I realized how important networking and managing work relationships can be to your career. Never burn any bridges—that colleague you don’t like working with today could be your foot in the door at a company you want to work with tomorrow. Your career may not entail as many changes as mine, but even within a single organization, networking and relationships are just as important.
I had to learn how to manage my finances while making these career changes. While attending school, I had financial responsibilities: such as rent, utilities, gas, and food. My income was limited to my financial aid, a part-time job, and parental allowance. Amazingly, I was able to manage my responsibilities adequately with very little income. In my initial offers for employment, the salary was far greater than the little money I had been receiving. You may think that it was easy to manage this new income because I was accustomed to working with less. As they say, “More money, more problems.” For some reason, when you have more money, you attract larger responsibilities. Thankfully, I did not purchase a new car nor did I rent the most lavish apartment. I researched the debt-to-income ratio and understood the amount of money that I should spend with my new income. I looked for an apartment that was well within my means. After a few years out of college, I was able to completely diminish my student loan debt and not accrue additional consumer debt. My most important lesson was not to live up to my income and to retain my college lifestyle, and I would not overextend myself.
Now that I’m older, I understand the importance of starting on the road to success at a young age. As with anything, when you achieve a goal, you have to acknowledge those who have helped you achieve those goals. It’s difficult to get anywhere in life without help. In most cases, you can’t repay those who have helped you, but you can pay it forward. If we all took a moment to help at least one individual, we’d all be in a better world. My dream is that this book will reach at least one person so that the lessons I have learned can help that one person reach success with less struggle. I can’t promise the answers to all the questions, but I hope to provide at least a study guide that can help you ace the test. If you only take one thing from this book, take this scripture from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If I can do it, you can too.