14 Career Advice Tips for College Graduates

Congratulations! All those late nights of partying, long days pretending to study at the library and all the time spent “networking” at parties has finally paid off and you have a real job now. Welcome to the real world. I remember graduating from the University of Illinois a few years ago. Is 8 years a few? I was in what was then called Assembly Hall, now it is State Farm Center. Those advertisements truly are everywhere. I remember sitting there for hours, hungover, sweating a little. I wasn’t nervous, but those gowns are pretty warm.

Then, your life changes. As dramatically as it probably ever will.

The Best Advice You’ll Ever Get for Work

When writing out any email, always empty the subject line. This has saved my butt on countless occasions. By leaving the subject line empty, if you accidentally hit send, you’ll be asked if you meant to send the email without a subject. This gives you a chance to double check if you really want to send it and prevents accidentally sending it prematurely. We have all sent that text or post out by accident and regretted it. Doing so in the work world can have drastic consequences. Do not send out an angry email. It won’t be worth it, and when you calm down, you will regret it. If you are that angry, write it out with a blank subject line or in a word document. Read it when you are finished and sleep on it. By the next day you’ll likely be less angry and more rational, and thus thankful you chose not to send it. Do laugh when inevitably one of your peers hits reply all on accident. Mine was a buddy who wrote out his shirt size to our entire division. “XXL”

Join a Gym!

How about that transition?! Your new sedentary life is going to take a toll on your health if you let it. Think the Freshman 15 but it will happen every year if you let it. You’ll see friends from college later that will be unrecognizable. Like a Weight Watchers ad in reverse. As a college student, you walk to class and have so many opportunities to join activities. You have way more free time to make it to the gym. As a young professional, it will be much tougher. You now work longer hours and will likely be exhausted by the time you get home. And many of your coworkers will want you to join them at the bar. This can be fun, but make sure you find the time to stay fit. Your career may seem like priority number one, but your health should remain a top priority.

Get a Credit Card, But Don’t Use It

This is one of the many mistakes I made. Though, I’m glad I didn’t run up too much debt right away, I didn’t consider how “age of credit” affects our credit scores. I did get a credit card after graduation, but I should have got more. I didn’t get my second credit card for about 5 years, so my age of credit now is poor. If you buy a house and a car and a wedding ring, that one credit card suddenly seems insignificant in the average age of credit. But make sure you don’t spend money you don’t have. If this means shredding the card and getting rid of it forever, then do it. It all depends on your own level of self-control. I have one card that has thousands of dollars of credit, but all I use it for is Netflix. Setting it up to a recurring payment is a surefire way to ensure the credit card doesn’t get canceled. Having more credit that is not being used will also help out your credit score. The system is really dumb and illogical, but you can use it to your advantage. Ask me if you have any questions on what does and doesn’t affect your credit score in the comments below.

Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts

Everyone is different, but what is acceptable for a college Facebook account and what is acceptable for a professional employee’s Facebook account might be drastic. Or Instagram or Snapchat. Whatever you kids are doing when you aren’t doing Tide Pods. (It’s a Tide ad!) Employers are known to check social media when hiring. We can argue in the comment section about the morality of this, but in the meantime, just accept it. As you grow up, it becomes less cool to be doing keg-stands or body shots for profile pics. It is fun to post activities and group shots, but try to make it look like you might be able to look the part of a young professional. It’s OK if you are going to do Jaeger bombs after work; just don’t brag about it on social media.

Maintain Your Connections

Social media is the modern day Rolodex. (Google it kiddos) While you may be seeing these people less over the following years, you never know which connections will be useful when searching for a job or advice. I had a friend who once ordered “Monetary cheddar” on his Subway sandwich, but despite that moment, he is an incredible source of information on retirement planning. Your old roommate who smashed a laundry hamper at 4am on his birthday with a golf club, well now he’s your go to guy for tax advice.

You Have Money Now; Keep It That Way

Splurge on something fun right away that will be useful. For me it was a brand new car. This is a terrible idea; do not do that. That being said, that car is still on the road today after 8 years and 170,000 miles with almost no repairs. All rules have exceptions. Buy yourself a new laptop or a desk chair; something that will help you in your new life. But don’t go overboard. I spent my first night in my apartment with a sleeping bag, a TV that I already had, a PS3 and a lawn chair. I used a box of Corona as my ottoman. It was a great night. I drank a couple beers and watched Tombstone, then played Red Dead Redemption. The furniture will come with time, but everything you buy, is just more crap you will have to move. Probably several times. Since graduation, I have moved 7 times. The more crap you accumulate, the harder and more expensive these moves are.

Open a REAL Savings Account

Ally currently offers 1.50% interest which is actually a lousy rate, but it’s better than it was when I graduated. If you can avoid the trap of materialism and limit your spending, this shouldn’t be difficult. Take a percentage of your check and stick it in your savings account. If you automate the transfer, you’ll be more consistent with this. Trust me, you’ll be thankful you did this when you run into an emergency expense or need a down payment for a house.

Create a Budget

This isn’t as hard as it sounds. I use Mint.com and by linking your accounts, it helps paint a picture of your financial standing. It will log your transactions too, though you’ll need to adjust these on occasion. I have used this for years and would struggle without it. It will help show you where all your money is going. Those $5 Starbucks milkshakes add up if you get one daily. That’s about $150 a month. Buy a $20 coffee maker and let Starbucks be a weekly splurge if you must. Spend less than you make, and save. Someday, you’ll have an unplanned expense, or want to buy a house, or even lose your job. A very successful friend of mine lost his job and he did nothing wrong. He was fortunate to have a good amount saved up and he had a side gig that brought in decent cash.

Buy a Watch

I know, you have a phone that has a watch and I’m an out of touch old man. Well, story time, because I used to think like that. After working 21 straight days, I got a day off. I spent it at the casino instead of sleeping like I should have done. I only had $45 on me so I didn’t think I would be there long but I had a hot streak at the blackjack tables. I was winning, doubling down and making conversation with fun people all night. I was drinking quite a bit and just having a great time. Now, you can’t look at your phone at the table and there’s no windows so I lost track of time, which is the intention of a casino. I got there around 5:30 pm. By the time I had enough, it was 3:30 am. In my mind, I was guessing it was around 10 pm. So, I took some of my winnings and bought a simple every day watch. It was something like this Seiko. I still have it and not only does it look more professional, its politer to glance at than a phone. Depending on your job, you may need something flashier, and this Zeppelin is an affordable option that stands out without being snobby. In my line of work, it was better to stay away from high end brands. Don’t worry, that Seiko kept the same time as the Rolex watch my snob friend wore.

Start a Journal

It took me a while to figure this one out, but it really helps with stress and keeping my thoughts in order. Plus, it will be fun to look back on your early days in a few years. I keep one for fitness where I write down miles I bike, days I lift weights, pushups and even my beers for the day. Track your weight alongside all that information and it really paints a picture of what is holding you back, and what is working. Daily life can be stressful and while many people like to “relax” by drinking or smoking, there are healthier alternatives. Between the gym and writing, I have been able to decompress in a healthier and more effective manner.

Read Everything

Did you really think your education was done? Now you can read whatever interests you. Keep consuming books and you’ll surpass your friends who opt to consume drinks or mindless entertainment in their free time. There are way too many boring people out there who just talk about sports, video games or the latest TV craze. People who read books are full of interesting tidbits of information. Best part is the books you buy won’t cost $165 a piece anymore.

Slow Down on the Drinking

You can keep this up for a while, but one day it’ll be at the cost of the next day. I remember the first day when the hangover was just too much. I felt old. It came after drinking three nights in a row, but still, we’re all mortal. It will make you fat, and it will affect your health, but most importantly there are so many better ways to spend your time. Before drinking too much on Friday night, ponder all that you can do with a fresh mind and body on your Saturday. There’s more to life than drinking and living for the weekend. Yet, if you are out celebrating with friends for your latest successes, a couple drinks occasionally are alright as long as you can control yourself. “Moderation is good, in moderation.” – Oscar Wilde

Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Grab yourself a stainless-steel water bottle and carry it with you everywhere you go. This will save you money by not needing to buy bottled water when you are running around town, and that will help save the environment. Plastic is toxic to the environment and to your body. Drinking water also works as an appetite suppressant as most of our hunger pangs are really thirst pains. Drinking water all day is one the easiest lifehacks out there, yet so many aren’t drinking enough. Throw a lime quarter or lemon peel in your drink if you need to have some taste.

Have Fun

Everyone is different, but my first job out of school was enjoyable. It was still work, but I liked most of my coworkers and learned more there in the first 3 months than I did in four years at college. After the initial adjustment to the new job, it seemed much easier and less stressful than college life. No more exams or essays. You’ll have nightmares where you miss exams for a couple of years by the way. Life is fun and everyone who says college is the best time of their life is doing it wrong. You will have different challenges and new opportunities, but keep a positive attitude. There is so much out there to enjoy. A coworker and I spent just about every Saturday in the summer kayaking. Now that you have a job, you can afford to do fun activities like this.

Let me know what you are worried about as you enter the real world in the comments below and please share this with your friends if you think they could benefit from this advice.