Confessions from Recent College Grads: The Reality of the Real World

Confessions Recent College GradsSaving up is extremely important, but in order to do that we have to first get a job and hold it down. This can be much tougher than expected for recent graduates. According to the 2013 report released by the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 8.8 percent (compared with 5.7 percent in 2007). Often the expectations we have and skills we learn in college don’t translate to day-to-day responsibilities on a job. Beat these stats by being prepared for the challenges you’ll be facing  when you get there. These recent college grads dealt with stressful workloads and unrealistic expectations and they had to learn how to stay positive and motivated on their own. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled their advice tips and tricks to make your transition to the workforce easier.

The recent college grads whose brains we picked are Nick, a UC Berkeley Economics major, Victor, a Cal State University East Bay Marketing major, and Aidan, an Azusa Pacific  Business Administration and Biblical Studies major.


1. Aidan from Azusa Pacific

Azuza PacificThe Background

What is your major and current job?

I studied Business Administration and Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University. Currently I’m a financial planner at a major insurance company.


What did you expect your current job to be back when you were in college?

I had no idea. Just looking to get a job in management, be it retail and financial services. I didn’t have a specific career track that I had planned for in college.


Finding the Job

What was the hardest part of the job search?

To not get discouraged enough to where you stop searching. I relied on a solid support network of friends and family for encouragement to keep motivated.


Learning the Language of the Economy

How did you prepare yourself while you were in college for employment later?

I did a very poor job of getting myself prepared for workplace demands because my focus in college was solely on getting good grades, as opposed to looking beyond graduation and to what it would take to secure a job. I would recommend to college students to not worry so much about grades and instead to focus on opportunities to network with professors and experts in the industries they may be interested in.


What were things you did during college that prepared you for your current job?

Understanding finance and accounting that was covered in my classes does help me in my current position but there is nothing that I learned in the classroom that I use on a daily basis. In fact I would say that business classes at the undergrad level might inhibit creative thinking. To a student at my college, I would tell them they need to specialize in something; identify what area interests you and major in that area. By specializing, you’ll be better able to differentiate yourself from others with general degrees like business administration.


What were things you didn’t do in college that hindered you in a new job?

In college we wrote long papers, but there was never a refinement on economy of language: how to best utilize 3-4 sentences to make my message efficient. I should have used more of my time on things I know now would’ve helped me secure my job—such as networking, advanced excel and consulting skills.


Landing the Job

How did you stand out in the application process?

For interviews I rehearsed a lot. I filmed myself in a mock-interview at my university career center and practiced to make my responses more polished.


Which skills helped you land your job?

My social skills, such as small talk. I find a subject outside of what I am actually there for that I can relate to the other person with; I often use sports. I still use this skill to relate with my clients on a more personal level.


How do you build a good relationship with your bosses and co-workers?

With my boss the biggest thing is being a person that he trusts enough that he doesn’t constantly have to be looking after me. In order to have a good relationship with my boss I’ve had to stand out  from my other colleagues in performance by ultimately having more output than they do. So again, differentiating yourself from others is important. It’s not something you just do while you’re looking for a job, but also throughout the job. It’s a battle to get the job, but that’s just the starting point. Then you actually have to do the job and see how difficult it is day-in and day-out. There is a mental toughness in accepting that I will be working full time from now on and that getting the job is not the end, but the very beginning. Then the real work begins. So develop good work habits while in college. Study habits can be transferred to good work habits if you learn to schedule your time well and learn to keep to your deadlines. Break down any large projects into smaller tasks and be accountable to your time frames.


Is your current job the ideal job you wanted?

I develop the part of my job that I enjoy the most, thereby molding it into an ideal job. For example, I enjoy developing relationships with people. I have the opportunity to do that with clients and by spending more time developing relations I have made my job more into my ideal job.


Myths vs. Reality

What were your expectations?

I was under the impression in high school and college that if you do well in school that it will automatically get you the job that you want. But the reality is that you can have a 4.0 in school and still be unemployed. Identify as early on as possible what you would like to pursue, and don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses and get real hands on experience with what you want to do. This is what will help you determine if you should even pursue that field. Get real work experience, do informational interviews. Otherwise, you can develop a perception about a dream job, but it can be very different from reality.


Is there anything you wish you did differently with your money, starting out?

My biggest regret is the amount of debt I got myself in to. If I could go back, I’d apply to more scholarships and make saving money a priority.


2. Nick from University of California, Berkeley  

Nick UC BerkeleyThe Background

What is your major and current job?

I graduated from UC Berkeley with an Economics major. Currently I’m a regional sales trainer for a major wireless carrier.


What did you expect your current job to be back when you were in college?

Financial consulting or banking, but I’m far from that now. Junior year of college I got an internship in consulting at the advisory branch of one of the big four accounting firms. Afterwards I got a job offer so I expected to start there full-time after graduation.


What happened?

Like most business and econ majors at Cal, I wanted to get into investment banking or consulting because the money is good and the positions are prestigious, which opens up doors to a variety of careers in finance. It wasn’t until a few months into my work at the accounting firm that I realized that more important than prestige was work-life balance, of which there was little at my firm. Unlike other graduates, I wasn’t willing to change my lifestyle to accommodate a new job. My job was tedious and I got no fulfillment from it. One day I had had enough and I quit without having another job lined up, which I regret.


Finding Out Money Really Isn’t Everything 

How did you land your current job?

While LinkedIn didn’t turn out to be effective for me, it did at least expose me to positions I wouldn’t have thought of applying to. After being unemployed for a while, I realized that I needed to take any job to stay sane during the job hunt. Once I got one, even if it wasn’t ideal, it took some pressure off and made me a more relaxed interviewee. If you’re having trouble finding your ideal job, it might be better to take a less-than-perfect job, rather than no job. What I recommend is taking an unpaid position in a field you are truly interested in and working your way up.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the less-than-perfect job that I took while searching for my ideal one, and the relationships I built there, would eventually get me my current job, which I like very much.


How did you get interviews?

The interviews I did get were for jobs where I had a referral or I was over-qualified for. Don’t be afraid to ask your connections for job leads; it’s probably the most efficient way to get your foot in the door.


On the Job

What was the hardest part about starting a new job?

Getting accustomed to the 50+ hour work week and the stress of no tangible end to your work; there is no real completion, just mini deadlines.


What was the hardest part of your day?

The constant lack of direction and ambiguity in tasks and the fact that I was always working on the client’s site and had to maintain appearances of conviction and composure under stress.


How do you deal with an incompetent boss?

I have a boss that’s not very organized; he likes to assign tasks last minute even with very tight deadlines. So to overcome that, I have become proactive in staying in touch with him and asking him periodically to make sure nothing unexpected pops up. It may seem presumptuous of me to be checking in on him, but in the end I hope he notices that the projects are completed better as a result.


What skills did you have to learn to be successful at your job?

I had to learn technical skills such as excel functions, parsing large spreadsheets, and presenting the data in a simplified way. A lot of it I learned from looking up tutorials individually.


If You Could Go Back…

How did you prepare yourself while you were in college for employment later?

I did an internship. The best part about an internship is that it reflects what a job is really like, so unsurprisingly, because I didn’t like the internship, I ended up also not liking the job. I recommend to college students to be honest with yourself while you’re in an internship and ask yourself if you like the tasks you and your superiors are doing. I justified pursuing the job after disliking the internship by saying “it’s just now, when I start full time it’ll change and I’ll like it better.” Nope. I thought I could tough it out but I didn’t realize how damaging disinterest could be to my productivity. When uninteresting work piles up it gets frustrating, you’re not advancing your skill set, and in the long term it could hurt your career staying in that job.


If you could go back to college what would you have changed?

I would’ve done as many internships in different sectors as possible. That way, when I graduated, I would have had a clearer direction as to what type of work I would want to do and would have avoided a year searching. I would have focused on figuring my strengths out: what I really enjoy doing on a larger spectrum. Am I creative and outgoing? Or am I a detail oriented problem solver? I ended up being in the former category, while the job I took was in the latter category—hence the conflict. I would have enjoyed the social aspects of my college years more too because it’s something tough to recreate in the working world.


3. Vikesh from Cal State East Bay

Cal State East Bay GradThe Background

What is your major and current job?

I was a business administration major at Cal State East Bay. I’m a marketing coordinator at a major retailer website


The Job Hunt

How did you stay productive and positive during the job search?

I’ve learned that the job search is very process-based; you’re not gonna get it right the first time because each company has unique expectations, and the process is finding out how to project your own experience to match what each company wants. It’s a numbers game for me: the more interviews and applications that I had, the more chances I would have of bettering my skills and getting a job. So what kept me motivated during the job search was knowing that every additional application that I completed brought me one step closer to a higher probability of getting a job.

Staying organized was extremely helpful; I used an excel spreadsheet as a visual tool to keep track of how many positions I had applied for and how many were left, which made it easier to reach my weekly quota and make sure I didn’t miss any deadlines. I would recommend consistency; my application output increased when I applied daily—and didn’t leave all my applications for the last day of the week.

Some companies did give me offers, but I did not accept them because I felt they were not the right fit for me. I figured that if I accepted just any job without consideration to enjoyment and how it fit in with my life goals, then I would just end up back on the job search train again soon, so I think I was right in being a little picky.


What was the most helpful aspect of your job search?

Because the internship I continued after graduation wasn’t paid, I was reimbursed with career skills learned on the job, career advice and guidance from my supervisor. So if you can’t find a paid position right away, it might be beneficial to accept an unpaid one, where you would be reimbursed with career building skills such as interview practice and networking that could help you get a better job than you otherwise would have been able to.


College Re-Do

What do you wish you had done more of in college?

I still can’t believe interviewing is not taught in college! If I could go back, I’d participate in more campus clubs and societies that require an interview before being admitted. It would’ve given me more preparation for the real job hunt, and perhaps being on the executive committee doing the interviewing would’ve been just as helpful in understanding what makes a good interviewee.


What were things you did in college that hindered you from being prepared for your current job?

Not being active in the campus business and marketing community. I wish I had been part of marketing clubs and marketing trade journals so I could’ve been more up to date with the current marketing tools that are constantly changing. As a student, I wasn’t in tune with what was new in marketing; I had to learn that outside the classroom in my internship. The internship gave me more of a practical education than any of my college marketing classes, and it was free.


The New Job

What was the hardest part about starting a new job?

The first three months on the job I was constantly fearful that I was replaceable and would get fired. I dealt with this by trying to create unique value for the company. For example, I do a lot of keyword expansion, so I created different templates that drastically decreased data-processing time. Originally it was intended just for my manager’s use but my entire team uses these templates now. So I would say, don’t be afraid to think outside the box: if you think of a way to make your own task more manageable, then it’s likely it’ll be applicable elsewhere and well received by your team.


Any tips on how to build a good relationship with your boss?

Build an open rapport with your supervisor from the get-go. Be honest about how long projects you’re assigned will take. Honesty is key. If you feel you can’t get everything done in time, explain it to your superior so that they can plan for it. I learned this the hard way. One of the first projects I was assigned involved parsing a lot of data, but at the time I didn’t readily have the skills to do it quickly enough. I was afraid of being considered stupid if I brought it up to my supervisor, so I quietly suffered until I had to explain why I needed more time. I managed to anger my manager, delay the project—and still seem stupid in the end.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Whenever you’re hesitating about something, I would recommend you do it and learn from it, because there is no better teacher than mistakes; you learn to be more creative in problem solving, and when you’re young you’re given more lee-way to fail.


How did you learn confidence?

Being confident is not natural for me at all but it’s extremely important. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is my guiding quote. It’s weird, but I’ve learned a lot from TV characters that have strong personalities, such as Don Draper; I watch how they interact in the workplace, project themselves, and get their job done. At the end of the day, we’re all actors.


Myth vs. Reality

In my college classes, I was under the impression that marketing is a social field with client interaction, but in my experience the client interaction is limited and the daily work is more technical. I went into the marketing interviews expecting to need to focus on my client communication skills, but ended up having to talk more about my technical experience.

A major contrast between college and the working world that I didn’t realize until I got here is the accountability factor. In the working world there are grave consequences for my actions that don’t just affect me, but reverberate throughout my company and beyond.  In college, if I messed up on a project, it cost me a letter grade on a piece of paper. At work if I mess up on a project it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, time, and other people’s welfare. I would advise new entrants into the workforce to treat every day on the job as a final exam, because everything you do is relevant and becomes how you are perceived.

I thought that the working world would be much more high pressure and stressful, like in those TV shows where managers are unhelpful and scream at you. But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.


What lessons did you learn about the reality of the real world when you were a recent college grad? 


Written by Katarina from SaveUp. In partnership with SaveUp Select. 

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  1. says

    I really agree with the first interviewee’s point, which is not to worry about your grades too much. He’s right that even students with high grades fail to have a job.
    I also liked how the interviewees answered those questions, all of them answered it pretty well and they explained everything perfectly. And kudos to the interviewer for providing those great question! :)

  2. says

    I love to see the contrast of reality and school. It shows how students (high school & college) need to gain real world experience along the way in order to be more prepared and make better decisions.

  3. says

    I graduated from college in 1996 and it’s amazing to see how different things are in so many different ways. From the methods to find leads to the things that are most important in terms of standing out, a lot has changed in 17 years. Good luck to all of these grads. Sounds like they’re all very motivated to succeed.

  4. says

    Things certainly have changed since I was in school. Great interviews and its always great to get the perspectives of the people who are out there doing it. I can only talk about how it is for me but then I have years of experience and know a few people. Keep pushing on.

  5. says

    Nice interviews. It’s amazing how wrong my vision of the real world was when I graduated. I learned pretty quickly, though, and have done pretty well so far. I think it’s important to not get discouraged. There is something out there for you, you just need to be persistent.

  6. says

    I like what nick said here:

    “One day I had had enough and I quit without having another job lined up, which I regret.”

    Being employed while job hunting really puts you in the driver’s seat. If you don’t currently have a job, employers might wonder why and you’ll be willing to accept less pay.

  7. Kelly says

    Although I really enjoyed this piece, and think that the information presented is incredibly valuable for students approaching graduation, I was disappointed that you only offered male voices/perspectives. Especially considering more than half of students currently enrolled in college are female, I think it would have been helpful to cover the unique experience of a woman entering the workforce post-grad.

  8. says

    I was happy with what I did to get a job in college. The school I went to was very hands-on and I took some co-op courses that helped me get some paid internships to have some experience under my belt. Because of this, I had a full-time, regular position in my field that wasn’t even entry level before I even graduated.

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