Welcome to the second installment of the It’s Time to Graduate word of advice column from a dude who, not so long ago, was in your place. In It’s Time to Graduate, Part I we covered the basics of what graduating designers and developers need to consider when leaving school and preparing for their first professional job. This time around I’m not going to focus on points to help designers and developers but talk about things I’ve learned and thought about in my years since entering the ‘real world’ that should help everyone.
1. Get a Real Job
If you graduated with a degree, use it. Even if you don’t know that you want to work in that field forever or what you want to do with your life, I urge you to give it a try. What’s it going to hurt to take an ‘insert job type here’ until you figure out your life’s calling? (If you didn’t go to college that’s fine too). Even if you choose not to seek a job using your ‘Bachelor of Basket Weaving’ degree, find a semi-professional job, meaning something not involving making Triple Venti Soy No Foam Lattes.
2. Don’t Accept the First Offer
Let’s face facts, the job offers probably will not immediately come flooding in, but when they do trickle in (I’m ever the optimist) don’t accept the first offer to land on your doorstep. This is not a hard fast rule, but something to consider. Be smart, do your homework. Know everything you can about a company, the position, and the people you will be working with before accepting any offer. You need to become a professional stalker! How long has the company been in business, what are their finances like, have there been layoffs, and why? All legit questions that you either need to figure out yourself (on the internet) or ask during an interview. Hint: asking grownup questions like I listed will show the interviewer you are one smart cookie and someone who cares and thinks ahead.
Honestly you don’t really ever know what you are getting yourself into when starting a new job, but you can do your research and ask a lot of questions.
3. Move Away
Plan on getting out and exploring. At this early stage in your life you have very few commitments and responsibilities, allowing you to more easily change your circumstances. I highly suggest taking advantage of that and moving away. Don’t stay in your college town, don’t go back to your hometown. Move somewhere different than what you have always experienced or somewhere you have dreamed of. It can be somewhere you know people or have friends, but don’t take the ‘safe’ route.
Personally, I grew up in the same house and town (Mandeville, Louisiana) my entire life until going to college. And that was great, I loved it! The same was true for my wife. I’m not exactly sure why I chose to move to Virginia after I graduated, and in some ways it was difficult, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I learned so much moving to a new state and living away from everyone I knew. I grew to rely on myself and my wife, Haley, more than I knew was possible.
P.S. I really missed my friends and family moving away, but I made new friends, still visited my family several times a year, and eventually moved closer to home.
4. Support Yourself Financially
You learn a lot when every dime you spend comes out of your personal pocket book. Do whatever you can to break the chain from parents when it’s time to go out on your own. Live with roommates, eat ramen, get a job, but learn to fend for yourself. Your parents (and their checkbook) are still there if you end up in a tight situation, but do the best you can to make it on your own.
Note: I have awesome parents and in-laws, while Haley and I have strived to be completely independent it hasn’t always been possible, and our parents have been there for us. Whether adding us to their insurance for a time or loaning us a greenback, we are lucky to have great parents willing and eager to help!
5. Learn Financing
Ugh, money. Yeah I know what you’re thinking, you’re probably one of those hipster kids who doesn’t care to think about money and will never become ‘one of those people’ talking about insurance, IRAs, and retirement. Well get over it, cause you’re wrong. If you don’t figure out a thing or two about money and managing it, money will rule you one way or another.
As a real-adult you should have more than $100 in your bank account at a time. In college it was normal to always be running low, going out to lunch with friends and praying when the waitress swipes your card the charge will go through. Well times have changed!
First, you need to create a budget. Let’s face it, budgets suck and no-one (at least not me) likes to keep track of their spending habits.
I’m not going to go into methods of budgeting or say you need to track every cent, but you need some sort of budget in place. Dave Ramsey offers tons of budgeting tips, tools and advice, I highly suggest checking it out. After you know where your money is going, start saving. A simple savings account alongside your checking account will suffice. Setup an automatic transfer every month from your checking to your savings account, and don’t pull out your savings to go party with friends!
Beyond making money, budgeting, and saving there are investments; and that’s where things get complicated. I’ll simply say this: the sooner you start the greater the reward down the road. This is not a hard statistic, but if a 25 year old invest $1000 in an IRA account, when they retire that $1K will have multiplied to $15K. Imagine investing a mere $1K per year! You can find plenty of info online about understanding retirement accounts, so do your homework.
As I grow older life becomes more complex and moves faster. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. I wonder where the day went, the week, the month, the year. I worry about all the things I don’t know or understand, all the tasks and requirements I have left to do. Maybe that’s the human condition, or maybe I’m just weird ;) Either way, I know I have friends and family walking by my side, helping me along the way, offering sound advice and counsel. If I can pay that forward, what more can I ask?