if you’re a new grad, here are some things for you

If you’re a new grad, or you’re about to be a new grad, here’s a round-up of a bunch of posts targeting you. (This round-up is also an essential part of my Being Lazy on Memorial Day plan.)

do hiring managers really care about your GPA?
It depends on what it is and what field you’re in.

just tell me your real name
This isn’t like school where you have to register with your full and complete birth name.

stop telling me that you work well independently and in groups
This isn’t a bragging point, regardless of what your school career center told you.

why is it bad to sound naive when applying for jobs?
Some forms of naivete signal to an employer that you’re going to require more hand-holding or be higher-maintenance or just be more of a pain than they’d ideally like to take on.

how did you get your first job?
If you’re feeling like no one will hire you, hear from readers how they did it.

Ignore your parents! They are forbidden from giving you advice.
Yes, the sensible few will be punished for the transgressions of their peers, but that is the price that must be paid to put a stop to this epidemic of awful parental advice.

should you go to grad school?
In some cases, yes. In many cases, no. In some cases, it can hurt you more than help you.

job search tips for new grads
Things you should be doing.

the most common job search mistakes of recent grads
Things you should not be doing.

how to be impressive at your first job
And things to do once you’re hired to be a generally impressive person.

Other advice for new grads? Have at it in the comments.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. AnotherAnon*

    1. Lifelong learning – your pursuit of knowledge shouldn’t end when you walk across the stage to get your hard-earned diploma. I believe in order to keep growing in your career – no matter whether or not you stay in the same field your entire working life – you need to seek opportunities for professional development. These include nonfiction books, journals, audios/podcasts, and online/in-person courses. You’re investing in yourself and ensuring that you’ll be growing, even if your current job seems like a dead end.

    2. The importance of a positive mindset – in my first post-college job, I was absolutely miserable for the first few years because I let a bad boss and social situation negatively impact how I viewed my work. I remained angry and resentful before finally deciding to consciously change my attitude and how I felt. It didn’t happen overnight – it took months to years – but now I see things a lot more positively and have grown significantly in my career as a result.

    3. Living below your means – you don’t want student debt and post-graduate debt to follow you for the rest of your career. Make a budget, clip coupons, and spend mindfully; get your loans paid off as quickly as possible and also start investing for retirement. I waited until I was in my mid-20s to open a Roth IRA, but I wish I had done it as soon as I got my first post-college paycheck (my job sadly did not include an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but if yours does, take advantage of it!).

    4. Goals – have them, write them, review them. Have goals for your health, your relationships, your career, etc., and don’t sell yourself short by compromising. When I was in a dark place (see #2 above), one thing that got me through was writing down at least 10 goals for the upcoming year every morning before I went to work. Consciously and subconsciously I worked to achieve most of them. And I’m still doing it every morning – for almost 850 consecutive days now.

    1. Artemesia*

      Best advice ever is the ‘live below your means’ one. We are happily and fairly lavishly retired because like little ants I put away money every year for 40 years in the workplace and we lived below our means. Now we have money to travel, live where we want to live and enjoy the cultural opportunities of our city. We didn’t stint on the things we valued most but we also didn’t buy fancy furniture, frequent new cars, expensive clothes and always made savings automatic and off the top. Not being in debt is the first step towards freedom.

    2. always anon*

      Living below your means only really works in certain situations. If someone lives in a high cost area and is getting paid a low salary, sometimes they have no choice but to put off paying loans or a 401K. It’s easy to tell people to pay off loans and save for retirement if you have extra money to squirrel away. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and eating as cheaply as possibly, it’s really hard to save that money since you’re already living below your means.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Of course, but that’s sort of the “not everyone can have sandwiches” thing in the commenting guidelines — not every piece of advice will work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for others.

      2. Artemesia*

        When I started out I made 5200 a year teaching hs and was putting a husband through law school. That was low even then. Four years later when I left to go to grad school I had 5K in the bank.

        There are certainly situations where saving is impossible but most people who don’t save don’t focus on how to live below their means.

      3. Mando Diao*

        One thing that people don’t talk about is that if you’re a woman living on your own, you’re very limited when it comes to housing that is both safe and affordable. Not everyone has a partner to split costs with, and in some areas, living with roommates doesn’t save you much money.

        1. YaH*

          Truth. My last apartment was very affordable, though I would have had to move eventually due to distance once I got my current job. But I was forced into moving much sooner because I was robbed at gunpoint at my front door one evening and no one opened their doors as I screamed. I moved into a much nicer and safer area, but the rent is several hundred dollars more than my income truly permits so I’ve been living hand-to-mouth for many years now. The rent increases eat up every step increase in salary each year.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          This was my biggest problem. Few single women at my level, and less that weren’t living with a boyfriend. Still, I did find roomates on occasion, and saved like gangbusters when I could.

        3. Artemesia*

          My daughter lived on a very low salary in Wash DC for her first post college job. She did a house share with 4 other people and her rent was something like $400 a month for her own tiny room and a nice enough shared space. In my experience including with low early salaries, bouts of unemployment for one or the other of us, time spent in grad school on very low wages etc etc, and observing my kids coping with grad school and early low wages and bouts of unemployment the key to savings is deciding to save and then making decisions about spending that allow savings. There will be months when it can’t be done, but over time, some people save and others with similar resources and obligations don’t. If the first thought is ‘I’d save, but (reasons)’ then one is unlikely to be someone who ends up 50 years later with savings.

          1. AnotherAnon*

            Agreed, Artemisia. Even in the cases above where the cost of living in a relatively safe area takes up a significant amount of your budget, there are other ways you can cut costs – don’t have a home phone, don’t purchase cable or at least call up your company and negotiate a lower rate, use a prepaid phone instead of one that costs $50+ per month, clip coupons in the newspaper and/or online and match them up with sale items to have a small stock of essentials on hand, don’t eat out often, make a habit of bringing your lunch, drinks, and snacks into work rather than buying food at vending machines or going out to lunch.

            In my case, I’ve done pretty much all of these at least most of the time. I’ve logged over $23K in coupon savings (which I define as pieces of paper or store-specific online offers in excess of store sale prices that lower my bill) since August 2009 when I started grad school. Using coupons and sales, I spend about $50 a week in groceries, including plenty of fruits and vegetables that I don’t generally get coupons on. I spend $100 annually on my prepaid cell phone – not a smart phone, but an old flip phone – and I use free Google voice for most of my calls. I’ve had good success calling up my internet company and keeping my internet rate at around $30/month for the lowest possible speed, which is plenty fast for me. I always bring my lunch into work, as well as drinks and snacks; I only go out to eat a few times a year when invited out for group lunches. I rarely drink Starbucks or go out for coffee – I still have a gift card I got years ago that has credit on it. So out of my ~$20K annual salary after taxes, I’ve managed to squirrel away quite a bit.

        4. Laura*

          Absolutely. I graduated over a year ago, and I am so fortunate to have found a good roommate (totally by chance) for my first year in the “real world,” and now I have a wonderful boyfriend with whom I’ll be living starting next month. I don’t know what I’d do if not for him– my current roommate has to leave the area, so I would be SOL.

  2. Artemesia*

    All good advice and I say that as a parent who has given my kids some excellent job search and negotiation advice as has my husband — but we also know our limitations including not knowing the ins and outs of our son’s profession and not having lived through the job climate facing our daughter in her field. They know what they can ask us for help with and what we are clueless about.

    On new grads and coursework and working well independently and in groups. One way to harness both of these experiences is to translate them into actual examples. If you are light in job experience but you were involved in school projects like service-learning where you worked on a team to do a project for a community group or a small business or if you participated in academic related teams, you can draw on the specifics to show how your coursework has relevance to the job. Even something simulated e.g. creation of a marketing plan, a survey research project, press releases for a simulated program has a practical application you can draw on in your cover letter or interview.

  3. Elin*

    If you’re a new grad starting out in your first post-college job, I would tell you this: don’t be too anxious to please other people. Don’t worry too much about not making any “best friends” when you’re only a few weeks into the new job. Don’t beat yourself up if you see other coworkers going out to a bar together after work, and you’re headed home by yourself. It’s OK. Your job for the first couple of months is to do your job, and to observe. Find out which groups of people are entangled in gossip and office drama, and stay away from them. Be smart enough to realize when someone gets all buddy-buddy with you so that they can manipulate you into doing their work for them. Just as your boss and HR are evaluating your performance, silently evaluate them back, and ask yourself if you could see yourself being happy here for the next couple of years. If you’re lucky, you will meet a higher-up manager, and you will hit it off and naturally gravitate towards each other, and that person will become your informal mentor and will eventually give you advice on getting a promotion or even finding a better job.

  4. CR*

    Thanks for all the links, it is so helpful. I’m not a new grad but I feel like I may as well be because I’m starting a whole new career path and have very little experience in the field (other than an internship). It’s so hard to read job ad after job ad for entry level positions that require 5+ years of experience…

  5. irritable vowel*

    A corollary to the name thing – if you start out by putting the name you prefer to be called on your resume/application, but that isn’t your legal name, be sure to make that clear at some point in the interviewing and hiring process. On more than one occasion we’ve been tripped up when checking references or verifying educational credentials because we didn’t know that the candidate’s name on the application was not their full, legal name.

    1. Clever Name*

      I go by a not especially common diminutive of a fairly common name, and I’ve handled it by putting it on my resume as: Legalname “Nickname” Lastname. I’m a woman, and my mom balked at handling it this way, but I know at least 2 men who do the same (think Robert “Bobby” Jones), then I can too.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But you’d probably be just fine with Nickname Lastname. There’s no requirement that the legal name appear there if you don’t use it. (Just let people know the legal name once you get to the background check stage, as irritable vowel notes.)

    2. CAA*

      If you need to know the person’s legal name before they fill out an I-9, and this has tripped you up more than once, then shouldn’t your company provide an application form that asks for legal name, preferred name and past names used and explains that you’re using this information to verify employment and education?

      If you’re calling references provided by the applicant, as opposed to company HR departments, then I agree they ought to recognize the name that was used on the resume.

    3. SevenSixOne*

      Yes! If you go prefer to be called something other than your legal name, see if you can have your employee email/business cards/name badge/etc reflect that. If you know you’ll be changing your name shortly after you get hired, see if you can set up an email address for your current name AND your new name when you get hired so you’re not in the system with an outdated name for months after it changes.

      True story: At OldJob, I worked with a woman I knew as Betty MarriedName and exchanged IMs with “Elizabeth MaidenName” for MONTHS before I realized they were the same person!

  6. Clever Name*

    My advice to new grads is: don’t act like you’re above doing work assigned to you. Yes, sometimes you’ll be assigned the crappy grunt work, but it’s stuff that’s important and needs to be done and needs to be done well. If you show that you are unwilling to do what is asked of you (whatever that is- and I’m of course not talking about illegal or unethical stuff) why would your boss assign you higher level stuff? Employees earn the higher level/cool stuff by showing a good work ethic/ability to excel at the lower level stuff.

    1. Observer*

      And don’t think you know more than the person who “doesn’t even have a degree!” Especially if that person happens to be your supervisor.

    2. Lurker*

      Can anyone offer any pointers for handling this conundrum? I’ve always followed this advice and in multiple jobs, I end up being the go-to person for the crappy grunt work, to the exclusion of interesting/non-gross/more fulfilling assignments because, well, I’m the person who will do the jobs without a fight and there’s no time in my schedule for other (better) stuff. I’ve tried having the conversation with the powers that be and they put it back on me, as in, “But it really is a compliment that we can count on you” sort of thing. When I’ve been given more high-level tasks, I’ve always received good feedback, so work quality isn’t the issue. It seems to be more that I make it too convenient- but how do I not, without appearing like I feel above the task? Thought?

      1. Artemesia*

        How annoying that is. I too got stuck with a lot of work others didn’t want to do at various stages of my career because I didn’t push back. I found that when I wanted to do interesting things, it helped to actually identify something specific and then approach the issue with a request to do that thing. Lazy managers who exploit hard workers are lazy managers so you have to do the work of identifying a plan to put you to work doing more challenging work. And of course if this doesn’t work over time then you can be one of those people looking for a new job because you are ‘seeking new challenges.’

        1. Artemesia*

          PS This is also a deeply sexist thing in my experience. I have seen girls exploited in school to do grunt work tasks like selling milk at lunch instead of enjoying lunch with their friends because they are ‘so responsible.’ And it is often women in the workplace who get tasked with the grunt work that the men shirk because ‘you are so reliable and so good at it.’

        2. Lurker*

          That’s where I’m at now. Unfortunately, getting more interesting projects reassigned to me (that used to be mine), were explained away as “things I did well but have been deemed needed to be performed by a higher-level person now”, so since I’ve sought new challenges here and they’re not forthcoming, it’s time to seek them elsewhere. Exhausted (due to tons of hours) and bored is a really horrible combination. I want to make sure that wherever I land, I do whatever is in my control to navigate this better and *maybe* not end up with the same problem.

  7. Caledonia*

    Don’t think you know it all, because nobody does. Accept that you may well be the lowest on the totem pole – you’ve got to start somewhere. Always be looking for ways to improve yourself.

  8. BBBizAnalyst*

    My advice to new grads who are job searching is to sometimes take the advice from your university’s career center with a grain of salt. I went to a great university and some of the advice they gave to me and to current students is pretty awful and very much antiquated. For example, my career center thought it was appropriate to tell students to follow up with emails AND calls after a resume is submitted until you reach a “live” person. It shows “persistence”… No, what it does is irritates the hiring manager. And career centers, please stop telling students gimmicky resumes work! We don’t care if your resume is a puzzle that you have to put together or that it’s a map showing why we should hire you. That stuff gets tossed in a bin.

    Crappy advice, especially for people like myself who were first generation grads, are doing more damage than good in the job hunt.

  9. New Bee*

    Many of the new teachers I’ll be training this fall are new grads, and I want to print all of these and make them required reading!

    My advice would be: don’t get stuck in your way (or assume that other people will be stuck in theirs). It can be easy to pigeonhole yourself and others based on just a few instances when you first start working (e.g., “I’ll never be good at X” or “Fergus will always be Y”, but your perspective will be broadened by time and experience.

    I’d also say that advice about not burning bridges because people come back into your work sphere is so true. I’m in my third job, and one of my team leads is someone I met in my first job who moved across the country and moved back; someone who’s currently courting me for a position has known me since my first job (and directly expressed that’s why he thinks I’d be a good fit)–the list goes on, and this is in a major metropolitan area having been out of college for only 5 years and change. You really never know how your paths will cross in the future.

  10. littlemoose*

    Alison’s too humble to say it, so my additional advice is: read this site religiously. Anyone new to the work world, especially an office setting, can learn so much here about norms, expectations, handling problems, etc. By this point there’s a little voice in my head that tells me what AAM would probably say or do, and if I need guidance on something then I hit the archives. I already had a couple years of professional work under my belt when I found this site, but man, I really wish I had known about it earlier. It would have saved me a lot of face and probably some underemployment after graduation.

    1. Coco*

      Totally agree. I’ve been reading AAM for 3 years while in college, and I’m pretty sure I’ve wowed my employers with behaviors I learned here.

    2. Felicia*

      I started reading this site religiously about 4 years ago, which was about a month before I graduated university, and it made a really big difference for me. It was a struggle the first year post graduation, but it would have been way worse if I didn’t have this site.

    3. Laura*

      YES. I graduated a year ago, and this blog has been so helpful to me as I’ve navigated a tricky first year in the workforce. I can safely say that this blog helped me land my current job.

  11. Coco*

    Get to know your state’s labor laws!! My state has a handy FAQ webstie from BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industries). If I hadn’t read over that, I’d have already done some work for free and allowed other illegal stuff to happen — and I’m only 2 mo into my first paid job! Just Google “[state] labor laws” or look for the BOLI or Wages & Hours site.

  12. The Other Alice*

    Thanks, Alison! I’m graduating this year and hoping to get into a really competitive program. They take a few dozen people a year and though I applied this year (made the longlist!) I’m aware it might take a few years and my odds of getting in at all are pretty long. If anyone has any advice on building and choosing a solid back up career, I’d love to hear it.

  13. March*

    Oh, this is perfect timing! Thanks for this post Alison, definitely going to be heeding the advice given here.

  14. Elizabeth West*

    I would add, don’t be discouraged if you don’t land your dream job or life doesn’t suddenly start handing you roses when you leave school. It takes time to get to where you want to be. Even if you think other people are getting there faster, it’s not a race. You only have to worry about what YOU’RE doing, not what they’re doing.

    Let me repeat that—IT IS NOT A RACE.

  15. Lucy*

    “works well independently and in groups”: This phrase is ubiquitous in job ads. Perhaps not in the ones AAM has/is vetted/vetting for, but I’ve seen it very often in job ads ranging from startups to established corporations to academic institutions and non-profits. It’s extremely common. Perhaps cover letter writers are parroting what they see … everywhere.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, the problem is that just announcing it isn’t compelling. If you want to demonstrate that, you’ve got to use accomplishments that show it. Otherwise it’s just like announcing “I’m super polished!” or “I have initiative!” You need to show it if you want it to be a compelling, believable part of your qualifications.

      (Although even then, for most jobs it’s kind of like taking the time to demonstrate that you’re punctual; it’s like a baseline, not something that will make you stand out.)

      1. Mazie*

        I was asked it in an interview last week! As in “can you work both independently and with groups?” Luckily when I answered I backed it up with examples but ug, it was annoying.

        1. Artemesia*

          Yeah this is where the story about the team project you spearheaded in the community comes in handy.

    2. At Work!*

      That was something we were taught in school… it felt odd to list “Work well independently and in groups” as well as listing the dreaded “punctual”, “quick learner”, “responsible”, “dependable” or even including an objective at the top where you say “seeking employment”.

      Most of this stuff only applies to kids in high school that have nothing to fill in their resume, it feels like a joke for an adult to use these on a resume because it is assumed that you are all these things. The only time I ever mention them are in my cover letter when describing myself and my experience (and always put them in context).

      Sadly I only removed this stuff last year (2 years after my college grad) when I realized how foolish it looked.

  16. Mando Diao*

    I would advise accepting any job that falls under the “office” blanket banner. New grads don’t always want to take a $10/hr position stuffing envelopes, but IMO anything that lands you in an office is a great starting point for working your way up. I’m in my 30s and I know a lot of people who are looking to get out of manual labor work, but they have this weird resistance toward jobs that don’t paint a direct path toward management but would nonetheless make them familiar with office norms.

    Be open to working at a small business for two or three years, but don’t get stuck there if you don’t have to. At a small business, there are lots of ways to expand your own job description and create ways to get experience in new things.

  17. Mazie*

    If you’re new grad that isn’t tied down (ie partner/elderly parents/etc): be willing to move!

    1. Laura*

      YES. So many of my college peers refuse to leave the safety of their home state because it’s considered to be a highly desirable place to live. Well… there are no jobs there, and the cost of living is astronomical. I got out as soon as I could.

  18. Mx*

    I’m no longer a new grad, but I definitely will be checking out a few of these, thanks!!

    (Particularly the ‘should you go to grad school’, as I’m approaching my late 20s and feeling like I’ve gone as far as I can without a boost/recalibration)

    1. Mando Diao*

      My master’s degree has been better for netting me a comfortable lifestyle rather than an objectively higher salary, if that makes sense. I had a music degree that wasn’t doing much for me, and when I applied to get another BA in a more office-friendly major, I was told that I qualified for the English master’s program. I figured I might as well go that route. So do I recommend it? Do you feel that your BA is as useless as I thought mine was? Do you feel like your current credentials are shutting you out of stable full-time work? Can you see yourself being reasonably able to pay off the debt?

      OR…is being well-educated a major part of your personal identity? That’s a perfectly valid reason for seeking out higher education, but I think you need to be honest about why you’re taking out your loans if it’s for this reason, because you’re not always going to be able to claim that the degree is necessary for your chosen field.

      1. learningToCode*

        Not OP, but wanted to thank you for saying the verbage I need for the next 1-2+ years of my career and personal life. I start a Master’s program next week… because I value being well-educated, and online resources for big data haven’t been cutting it. I’ve been teaching myself basics of programming languages via programs like Codeschool, but there isn’t something like that for big data. It may not end up being a career path I go down, but I think “being well-educated a major part of personal identity” :)

    2. Artemesia*

      A lot of people get a masters with the idea that this will hand them a new job and role; I have seen this often. A masters CAN be a tool to advance, but there is a lot of heavy lifting to make that happen. Mostly it makes people ‘over qualified’ and under experienced and indebted. Be very careful in choosing a program with a real track record and make sure it has an internship program or some other components that really help bridge into employment.

    3. Laura*

      I think the pervasive issue with our generation is that graduate degrees are now the “thing” to do… even at the expense of taking out massive student loans (again). Unless money isn’t an issue for you, or if you can PROVE that your graduate degree will get you a very high salary, it’s often worth waiting. Especially because there are so many employers who will subsidize tuition.

      1. Anon Moose*

        Erm. There aren’t THAT many employers who subsidize tuition, depending on your field. Great if you can get it, but even if you wait there’s not a guarantee that kind of job with that kind of benefits will be available.

  19. Bibliovore*

    • Be high-handed or disrespectful to a member of the support staff
    • Complain about your present job or anyone you’ve worked with
    • Talk about how hard it has been to get a job
    • Criticize the school, the building, the educational philosophy
    • Seem unaware of curriculum, state standards, or current issues in information literacy
    • Say you don’t know how to teach different learners or students with special needs
    • Can’t name a new or recently read children’s book
    • Can’t express enthusiasm for teaching
    • No eye contact, weak handshake
    • Reek of cologne or perfume or cigarette smoke
    • Talk about politics
    • Say you’ll never be able to stay after school
    • Say you don’t have time to read
    • Use foul language
    • Show up late
    • Bring a friend to the interview
    • Show up unprepared
    • Don’t follow directions
    • Leave your phone out, answer your cell phone or text during the conversation

  20. a*

    Thank you for this post. I’m a junior in university and I’m pretty nervous about job prospects. I’ve already had several minimum-wage, service-type jobs, but I still feel clueless when it comes to searching for something more than that. My GPA is a lot lower than I’d like it to be, due to a rough freshman year, and when I talk to other people in my classes it seems like they all have better grades and better experience than me.

    1. Artemesia*

      You can’t do anything about grades now (and frankly rarely does it much matter). You can do something about experience and about framing the experience you have. If you have had several jobs then you have something to work with. And perhaps you did some things during college where you developed skills useful for the workplace.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      My freshman/soph years were so rough I flunked out – well, dropped below the required C average. Two years of junior college got me back into my original school, and while the grades didn’t transfer, I did drag that original just-below-C to a decent B. (This is a place where I wish I’d known about separating out major and overall GPA, because I had an A average for my major – I just didn’t have any classes in my major my first year due to a bureaucratic screwup.)

      So for the first few jobs where they looked at GPA, I used that experience to show that I’d gotten more out of college than just coursework.

      Does your college have any job placement service? That’s another thing that mine had that I had no clue about.

  21. AnotherAlison*

    I had a new grad assigned to me as a “peer advisee” last summer. (This didn’t work out well because we were too far apart in levels to be peers. I hadn’t done her role in 9 years.) Anyway. She left this year. She never wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but her parents psuhed her into it. Advice: Don’t take a job or pursue a career for someone else. It will never work for you long-term.

  22. IHaveAUselessPhD*

    If you’re considering a PhD, read this first. It’s funny becuase it’s so true.

    Know that universities admit more students than will be able to get jobs. In the humanities, particularly, they rely on students to teach courses. Lots drop out, but still more graduate than can get faculty jobs. Then there’s a glut of people with PhDs, not all of which get faculty jobs, and so many of them end up with low paid jobs as adjuncts.

    In science and math a PhD may help you get a high-paying job in software or finance if the faculty route doesn’t work out, but this may not be the career you dreamed up when applying into astrophysics.

    1. Lady Kelvin*

      Can I add that you should only get a PhD if the career you want absolutely positively no-excuses needs a PhD. Otherwise you will spend 4-6 years of your life neck deep in a very narrow topic under inordinate amounts of stress that can (and probably will) impact your personal relationships with friends, family, and significant others, your health (both mental and physical) and likely financial stability, at least while you are in school. Seriously. Don’t get your PhD unless you can’t imagine your life without it. Don’t do your PhD just to kill time or because you can’t find a PhD or you are bored. And I say this a few weeks from the end of my PhD in a useful field.

      1. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. A PhD is a research degree; no one should get one without a burning curiosity to pursue research questions in the field. It is not job training (except for academic research) and it rarely helps you get a job outside academia. And within academia, if it isn’t from a top flight university in the field working with well known scholars, odds of getting one of the elusive tenure track jobs are low. And you should never pay to get a PhD. If you have the goods, and are likely to get hired when you finish, then you should be able to get a ride — tuition and stipend — for the program. Good PhD programs support their students financially. And these are the programs that are likely to be able to help you get a scholarly job when you finish if you excel.

        1. Tau*

          Rule of thumb when I was looking for a PhD position (in STEM, I note) was that you should only ever do one if you could get paid for it.

          That said, even that can go wrong – my scholarship was for X years, and I ended up needing X+2 years to finish. I burned through my savings and finally ended up on my parents’ dime again for a while – don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that support net. That’s a bit of an extreme situation (I took unusually long to finish – my disability did not play nicely with the PhD program), but even for people on schedule, X years was the expected time to thesis submission – leaving a gap between submission and the actual defense (and here in the UK, a defense almost invariably includes needing to make corrections to the thesis and resubmit). I knew a few people who ended up submitting their thesis, starting a new job the next week and preparing for the defense/doing the corrections nights and weekends because they couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

      2. Liza*

        You mean I shouldn’t go for a PhD just because I really like the gown and hood? :-)

    2. Tau*

      In science and math a PhD may help you get a high-paying job in software or finance if the faculty route doesn’t work out

      Being someone with a maths PhD who switched to software, I’d question even this. I have an entry-level software job. I am in a job I could have gotten after my undergrad degree. I’m hoping the PhD will pay off in faster promotions/raises – I know I’m a much better employee and a much better software dev now than I would have been if I’d started this job right after uni (among others, my tolerance for frustration is a lot higher than it used to be, ha) – but it will take a long, long time until my career catches up with that of the people who started right after undergrad, if it ever does.

      At the end of the day, a PhD means expertise in research concerning a narrow field, and that quite simply is not generally relevant to jobs that aren’t research in that narrow field. Even if it gives you a boost in some ways for other jobs, that boost is most likely not going to compare to the equivalent amount of job experience in the job.

  23. VG*

    I think the best piece of advice is to learn to be open to criticism and to make changes to the way you do things, rather than dismissing comments off the bat or reacting defensively. Asking for feedback on how you’re doing can really help you improve.

    One thing I’ve found difficult is when coworkers often share negative comments about Gen Y with me (this may be the only demographic where these comments are not considered inappropriate). Sometimes it’s best to be gracious and tune this out, remember not to take these comments personally.

  24. MillersSpring*

    I agree with Alison’s advice to include all work experience during college on your resume. I’m a hiring manager, and as someone who worked all through high school and college, I highly respect that in candidates. I don’t care about GPA, but if you have a great track record of part-time jobs and summer full-time jobs, I’m going to put your resume ahead of Miss Ashley Somebody who coasted through college on her parents’ dime. Internships are crucial, too, but I also want to see that you’ve really learned how to get along in some kind of workplace. I also value references from real jobs, too.

  25. Ghost Pepper*

    Some things I would have told my younger self:

    (1) When people give you work or assignments, before leaving their office, ending the meeting, or hanging up the phone, always clarify exactly: (1) what they’re looking for, (2) when they need it by, and (3) priority level.

    “Just to recap, you want X, Y, and Z done by next Friday. Is there anything else I’m missing?”

    Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity at the risk of sounding dumb. It’s ALWAYS better to know upfront what you need to do rather than guessing what they’re asking for, and giving something slightly off.

    (2) Don’t be afraid to mention other priorities if you’re feeling overwhelmed. John wants Project A completed by Friday. Jane wants Project B by Friday as well. Instead of freaking out or internalizing everything, please speak to your manager and/or John and Jane and mention the competing deadlines. John may say that Project A wasn’t important after all.

    (3) Don’t assume anything. Listen to that little voice in your head that says maybe something is off. There were times I did “as I was told” and had a feeling I should check with another manager before moving forward, or maybe there was something more to the project. I didn’t, and my initial instinct ended up being correct.

    (4) As mentioned above, you will feel like things are “beneath” you. Resist every urge to let this manifest in your behavior (eye rolling, audible sighing, complaining). You graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and now you’re making copies and doing data entry? Yes. You’ve gotta start somewhere.

    (5) Communicate! Please don’t feel like you’re the newbie bothering the big honcho. It’s always better to ask questions now than face questions down the road. It could be to clarify a project, deadline, or goals.
    If you’ve got an issue with someone or you think someone has an issue with you, try to speak with them diplomatically and directly rather than letting it fester or blow up at them. You will (almost) always feel better afterward.

    (6) Before going to a manager with a problem and saying, “What do I do?” really try to think of the possible options and your evaluation of each option. Instead of, “Oh crap, we blew the deadline. What do we do?” you could say, “We blew the deadline. We can fix this by doing A or B. If we do A, we risk X. If we do B, there are no risks but it will take longer. Given the priority of this project, we should perhaps do A. What do you think?”

    (7) Write down everything you need to do. Create a checklist, whether in paper or electronically. To Alison’s point, this will help you stay on top of things and prevent things falling through the cracks.

    Will add more as I think of them.

  26. First Initial dot Last Name*

    All righty roo. I’m a fresh grad, and I’m a full-fledged adult with 20+ years of work history before I started college at 40. I have had what I like to think of as a really great artistic career that runs parallel to the work-work I’ve done to pay my bills. I now have a terminal degree in creative production and I hope to be working and paying my bills by means of work that is more aligned with my creative expertise than my work-work experiences. However, I’m struggling with reentering the workforce. A friend of mine, who is a recruiter, suggested I drop all of my old work histories off of my resume, specifically everything before 2008, (I started school in 2009). I have been working and volunteering in director level positions with arts organizations for many years, I went to school so that I would have the necessary credentials to continue working at this level in the arts. IMO dropping everything prior to ’08 makes it look like I don’t have work experience.

    I’ve found myself in this weird limbo, fresh grad / manager-director with what could look like not much in the way of work experience, and I’m not really sure how to reconcile this disparity without making my resume unbearably long.

    I must relocate, where I live does not support the work I’ve been doing, moreover and probably, more importantly, my spouse and I don’t want to live where we are for a wide variety of reasons. I’m not sure if I should move where the work is first, or attempt to secure work from afar.

    I’m also not sure where I fall on the experience spectrum, I’m not entry level, but in some ways I am, kinda, but not really. Who in the heck is going to relocate a recent graduate? I’m so confused about how to proceed.

    1. CAA*

      On the resume — maybe a summary section at the top that includes “a professional with xx years of experience in artistic field …” You could also have a section for “Related Experience” and just list the dates and titles below that.

      I’ve kept my first job out of college on my resume throughout my career, even though I left there 20 years ago, because it was at a company that is prestigious in my field and I was there 10 years. It was brought up in the interview for my current job as the type of experience that made them think I’d be a good fit, so I think that was the right decision.

    2. Laura*

      A lot of employers are willing to relocate new grads, in my experience. However, there’s usually a caveat (i.e. you have to stay for X years or pay back the company).

  27. CAA*

    I have a DD who is a new grad and I just announced my retirement at work this week, so I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. My advice for new grads (or really anybody) is — don’t say “I don’t know how to do x.” In the long run, you’ll do much better if you say “I’ve never done that before, but I’m willing to try.”

  28. MommaCat*

    Always try to be polite, especially to maintenance staff, receptionists, and payroll staff. One, they can make your life a misery if they so choose, and two, word will get around quickly that you’re a jerk if you mistreat them.

    1. Joanna*

      Obviously you should be nice because it’s the right way to treat other humans. But it really helps to have a track record of being nice to support staff in case you ever need a favour from them or mess something up that needs their help to fix.

  29. JustCallMe....*

    The name thing is tricky for me. I prefer my middle name, but frankly, it’s a name that’s uncommon in the US and that some people might read as “ethnic.” Having read multiple studies and articles about how people can be biased against applicants with names that sound foreign or unusual, that’s a concern for me. Albeit less so now that I’ve built more professional experience under my preferred name. I decided to put my full name on my resume in hopes of both avoiding that issue and avoiding problems with background checks. And then I would try to say something at the interview or right afterward, especially since my references mainly know me by my middle name.

    I think it’s simpler if you’re, say, an Alexandra who goes by Alex, because people are less likely to hold that against you and people are less likely to assume that Alex is really your full given name.

    1. First Initial dot Last Name*

      I have a similar concern. I have a common name that is spelled wacky for the US and it looks like it’s from a different part of the world than it’s true origin. My middle name is my maiden name, (family tradition dictates the switch), so switching to that wouldn’t really work… It too is hard to pronounce. I usually go by my first initial, and tried using that on my resume for a while, made a new email address to match, but something about it feels weird.

  30. JustAnotherLibrarian*

    My best piece of advice is a little non-traditional and some say it is shallow, but I think it matters.

    Your resume and cover letter should look as good as they read. That means all the formatting should line up, all the spacing should be tidy, and all the fonts should be neat. And for the love of all things holy, no weird font, no pictures, and no color, unless you’re applying for a graphic design job or something.

    So, send these as PDFs whenever possible, that way you control the spacing and font. Yes, I know some places have dumb electronic systems where you can’t control these things, but when you can you should. All I know about you when hiring is what your cover letter and resume tell me and the formatting speaks just as loud as the text. So, give it some attention, please!

    Also, keep it short. For the last entry level job I hired for, I got over 110 applicants and 87 of them met the minimum qualifications. That meant I was reviewing 87 resumes and cover letters. People who sent me five page CVs for an entry level job did not make me or the rest of the committee very happy.

    (And I should add- I think resumes can often stand in for CVs in librarianship of you have space on them for your publications and conference papers, but CVs don’t make good resumes, though I would be curious to know what other library people think about that. I’ve heard mixed things.)

  31. Laura*

    I’ve been in the real world for a year now.

    My biggest piece of advice: HAVE A SAFETY NET. Have money saved away, make sure you’ve got at least one person nearby who you can trust, and have your affairs in order (no checks sitting around, have all important documents, etc.). That way, when you have the worst day of your life, you won’t be completely SOL.

    I was in a serious car accident not long after moving away from family and friends for a job. I had nobody to help me, my car was destroyed, and hospital bills shocked me for months. Thankfully, I had money saved up so that I could afford to PAY those bills, as well as buy a cheap new-to-me car. That safety net also helped when I was unemployed for a month– my only income was babysitting money.

    Not sure what I would have done without that, honestly. It was a horrific experience, but thank God that I was somewhat prepared.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yes… although for many people it’s near-on impossible to develop a safety net.

  32. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

    I’m a fairly recent grad (a year ago last week, which feels unreal–how has it been a year already??) and some of the advice I’ve gotten from successful people in my field (entertainment) sounds truly absurd–I’ve had a crash course of sorts in sifting legit advice from pure BS. Like, someone I met at an alumni networking event advised me to do the following:

    Step 1 – Cold-call the HR departments of a network.

    Step 2 – Say “I’m calling for Sansa Stark.” When the person on the phone says “There’s no one here by that name,” say “Oh, then could you please forward me to whoever has their job now?”

    Step 3 – If I annoy them enough, someone will eventually give me a PA or writers’ assistant job.

    Which, I mean, it’s ridiculous–I work at a production company, and if anyone cold-called us asking for a fake name in HR, the call would probably not end with them getting a job. The person who told me that was pretty young and is a fairly successful TV writer, but of course, when asked how they got their job, they were very vague and said something about having had a family connection at a network. And given that everyone knows how dependent entertainment jobs are on connections, I don’t get why they couldn’t just be honest about that instead of giving me bogus advice.

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