What Would I Do Differently in My Career If I Graduated From College Today?

In May of this year, a man I respect very much graduated from college. A few days after graduation, he asked me a very simple question: If you were in my place and graduated from college again, what would you do differently?

This post was originally published on The Simple Dollar .

He was clearly trying to draw on my life experiences over the past 15 years or so since I graduated. During that time, I had two careers, I built an amazingly big business from scratch, got married, had three children, bought a house, paid off a bunch of student loans, other bills and mortgages, and built a pretty wonderful social circle and role in my local community.

The point is, there are still many things that I would do differently if I could do them over and over again.

Instead of answering right away, I told him that I would seriously consider this question and write him a thoughtful note. I ended up making a list of about 20 things, nine of which I include below (in fact, most of them are grouped into nine principles), because these are the ones that I think have a direct impact on finance, like short-term, and short-term. and long term.

So here’s my complete answer to this slightly modified version of my friend’s question: If I suddenly turned 22 and graduated from college again, what would I do differently in terms of my career and my finances? In other words, what steps would I take outside of the obvious “find a job and start paying the bills” steps that everyone takes after graduation?

I would look at my first job solely through the prism of experience and skills

When I first started looking for a job after college, I rated salary and stability very highly. I wanted to get a fairly well-paid job, but just as important, I wanted a job at a company that was not in financial difficulties and would hardly fire me right away. I researched the places where I submitted my resumes and didn’t bother to worry about places that had a lot of pranks or instability.

In the end, I got a job that met these needs. The organization I worked for was very stable and never fired people for no reason. I started out with a one-year contract, but that contract went straight to full-time work, provided my initial project went well. The earnings were also solid, although not stellar. I thought it was a place where I could work for a long time, and indeed, I worked there for almost six years.

The problem was this: Resume creation was discouraged in such an environment. Of course, I added some very good completed projects to my resume, but the organization did little to encourage skill development, did nothing to encourage work on cutting edge content, and did little to encourage networking. If you wanted it, you did it yourself.

A much better approach would be to look at my first job through the lens of gaining experience, developing skills, working on cutting edge things, and building a professional network. Wages and stability had to be secondary in this quest.

Why? Your first job (or your second … or your third …) is rarely the job that you end up settling for for a long time. On the contrary, it is a stepping stone to more and better.

Keep this first job entirely in the context of being a stepping stone to more and better. What makes a job a good stepping stone? Opportunities for skill development. Possibilities of building a network. Useful experience. This is what will lead you to the next rung of the ladder.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to get a great salary, but if it has to do with a job that takes you hours and makes your career slow down immediately, you will never realize that you will never rise above the norm. the first or two steps in your career.

I would continue to live as cheaply as in college

If you follow the logic of this first tip, you will quickly realize that the first job you get after graduating from college is likely to be low paying. Yes, he will offer great tools to help you build a great career, but he won’t make a lot of money, at least not in the near future.

This is why, if I found myself graduating again, I would do everything in my power to stick to the ultra-lean lifestyle that I used during my college years.

In those years, I lived as cheaply as possible. I pretty much stuck with a rotation of very cheap dishes, mostly selected based on what the store sold: eggs, ramen noodles, spaghetti, chicken breasts, apples, bananas, and peanut butter were my regular friends. I went a lot, but almost entirely to things that were free, like free concerts and events at no extra cost or community events in the park.

I lived to keep my student loans low; even at that moment I was knowledgeable enough to admit that large student loans would be a problem later in life.

My biggest financial mistake after graduating from college was that my expenses increased very quickly to fill my new paycheck. I didn’t spend all that money on anything very memorable either; Looking back, I can remember that the only thing I spent a lot of money on was truly unforgettable – my honeymoon with my wife. Almost everything else is a blank slate, which basically means that most of it (aside from covering basic needs) was a waste of money.

If I instead chose to stick to my (or close to) college spending schedule, I would pay off my student loans and auto loans in two or three years and never accumulate any significant credit card debt.

Don’t let the income siren convince you to start increasing your spending when you’ve just graduated from college. Keep living the same way you always have, being choosy about which areas of your life you spend more on, and instead use that money to pay off debts and cover any expenses related to improving your career.

I would spend a lot of my free time continuing to develop skills and earn certifications

As I mentioned above, the job I got right out of college had a good salary and some interesting challenges, but it didn’t really offer many opportunities to develop new skills or earn certifications as part of the job. If I had to do it again, I would choose a job with a lot of future-building functions rather than a high-salary job if I had a choice.

But what if the only job I can get is one that doesn’t actively develop skills or earn certifications? Basically, this was my situation and I made a bad choice. I just focused on the tasks of the work itself and did not bother looking for additional certifications or additional skills.

If I had to do it again, I would spend at least 10 hours a week developing new skills and gaining new certifications in my field, whether in the workplace or outside.

Naturally, I would do my best to find ways to do this within the framework of my work. I would go up to my boss to discuss whether to spend some time getting certified or taking classes at a nearby university, explaining how these efforts will directly benefit my work.

However, if it hadn’t happened at work, I would have been doing it in my free time. You can prepare and take all sorts of assessment classes in the evenings and weekends.

I also looked for work projects that related to the skills I needed to develop for the job and for my resume – again, within my job, if possible, and outside of my job, if necessary.

How would I do it? Well, here are a couple of possibilities …

I will be involved in civic and professional organizations as soon as possible

During my first year in a new job, I joined an informal group of people who had just graduated from college and went out for drinks most of the night after work. I thought this would be a great way to start building professional networks and making friends in my industry.

I was wrong.

It turned out that most of the people in this group weren’t particularly interested in their careers at all. They were mainly interested in drinking, showing off their latest purchases to each other, eating at the most expensive places, drinking, going to clubs, swearing behind the backs of all colleagues over 30, and drinking.

I’ve stuck with this circle for years and made a few random friends, but exactly zero of them have any impact on my professional life today, and I keep in touch with exactly three of them in the most vague way.

On the other hand, I ended up joining several community organizations in my area. The people in these groups were really interested in improving the community and helping each other. Thanks to this group, I have developed a very strong personal relationship, and in my professional life there have been many small “helping hands” (and a few offers of rather large “helping hands”).

What’s more, the past 15 years have taught me to take time to be selective with the people with whom you spend your free time. If you spend your free time with people who are committed to helping each other improve and helping the community as a whole, you will quickly find that the tide is raising all boats.

In my experience, the best place to create such a social and professional circle is in community and professional organizations. You can start by looking for community organizations in your city, especially those doing community service, and join them. There are often professional organizations in large cities that hold regular meetings, so look for organizations and groups that are in some way related to your professional career and give this group a chance.

Yes, it probably won’t be as “fun” as going to the club or doing your favorite hobby, but it will eventually become enjoyable when you get involved with these organizations and the activities they run. You will begin to connect with people of character, good financial habits, and strong professional backgrounds. These are great people to have on your professional and social network, and a great place to connect more deeply with some of them and build new friendships.

I would immediately start developing mentors and reliable peers

One of the first things you should do after starting your first real job on your career path is to start looking for two types of people and immediately build strong relationships with them.

The first type of person is a mentor. A mentor is simply someone who has been successful in the career you want to pursue and can give you advice on how you can be successful as well. Look for someone who is much more advanced in their career than you, but who is widely respected at work (or perhaps someone who works in your area locally, although not necessarily in your business, but everyone is so widely respected). You will very quickly understand who these people are if you listen and pay attention.

Take time to get to know this person. Be very respectful (but not respectful), and when they say something to you, don’t just brush them off, thinking you “know better.” A person who has earned respect in their field over the years is not going to waste your time or his time feeding you all sorts of lies – he will tell you things that really help, even if they are not. Disagree with what you think or want to hear. In return, help the mentor when you can by taking on something he or she might not want to do, inviting them to dinner, or helping with other things he or she can help with.

Another type of person is what I call a “reliable colleague”. On your career path, look for people who are close to your level and have many positive qualities. They tend to get results when asked. They don’t speak negatively behind people’s backs. They don’t cause drama. They usually have at least some skill. These are the people you want to befriend.

I have found that people with these traits are usually quiet. These are the people who do not constantly talk at the water cooler. These are people who say little when office gossip is spread. These are people who don’t get attention all the time, and they also don’t get attention because they don’t get the job done. They usually just do their job quietly.

Make friends with them. Help them and don’t be afraid to ask them for help when you have established a relationship with them and really need help. Never, never speak negatively about them behind their backs. Chat with them – in particular, be prepared to dive a little into their interests with them – I’ve found that there is no better way to establish a professional connection with someone than to learn about their hobbies with them and appreciate those hobbies.

You will find that these relationships – mentors and trusted colleagues – will help you over and over again throughout your career. They will provide recommendations, positive reviews, opportunities, and countless other helpers, most of which you will never see directly. They also tend to be very reliable people who will support you when the chips are down.

If I didn’t have a job related to my specialty, I would find another job as soon as possible.

I was very fortunate that right after college I got a job that matched my field of study well, but what would I have done if I hadn’t found such a job?

First, I would take any job I can find, anywhere. Ideally, this would be a job that had hours that would not directly interfere with my further job search in line with my desired career. I would try to get a night shift or something so that I can interview during the day.

Secondly, I would do everything in my power to keep my skills fresh. If that meant passing certification classes, I would do so. If that meant doing volunteer work using my skills, I would. If that meant starting some kind of side business, I would. This is how I would spend my free time with the above-mentioned professional and public organizations.

Finally, I would do my best to remain independent from my parents. Yes, there could be some financial gain to living with them, but there would be fewer job opportunities for me. I would do my best to live in an area where it is easy to find and interview for a variety of jobs with my skills. If it coincided with living with my parents, that would be fine, but my priority would be to find a good job.

The last thing I would do in this situation is stay at home, not work, not develop skills, and not build professional relationships. It begs for your skills and the ability to atrophy.

I would start to seriously engage in physical education from the first day

In my early years of college, I had to walk over a mile each way to go to most of the lessons. In my last years of college, I used to cycle about four miles each way to go to most classes. During these walks and cycling, I usually had study materials for at least a couple of activities in my backpack along with other things (like lunch and the book I was currently reading).

This one activity kept me in good enough shape, but after I graduated, I no longer had such a routine. I drove to work and parked my car very close to the door. I also ate much less healthy food, especially thanks to the abundant lunches with my colleagues, drinks and snacks at the bar after working with other professional acquaintances.

I gained weight. My fitness started to deteriorate. I found that I have less energy and less motivation. This rut ​​got worse when I started working from home, mainly because my “commute” consisted of walking down the hallway at my house.

While I’ve found that controlling what I eat is a really powerful tool for weight management, it doesn’t help me feel fit and ready to be active at all times. I feel better when I’m in shape and, to a lesser extent, I feel more confident with others.

My attempts to get in shape since then have been difficult to say the least. The best approach I could take would be to have a better fitness regimen from the very first day I graduated from college.

How does this help financially? First, it will help with long-term healthcare costs, but perhaps even more, it will greatly help with the energy and focus that is abundantly needed in the early stages of building a career. Whether you’re a first year teacher, or just starting out in a research lab, or whatever you’re doing, the extra energy and focus that fitness classes can bring will be of immense career benefit.

I would gobble up every penny of the retirement plan from day one

From the very first day that I received a significant income from my job, I contributed at least 10% of my income to retirement. Actually, this is what I did , but I think this is the single smartest thing I really did in my graduate years, so I am including that here.

If your employer offers a retirement plan that includes eligible funds, which means they will contribute some money, if you contribute some money, contribute as much as possible to get every cent of their respective money. This is free money and is essentially a part of your paycheck – don’t leave it on the table. I am grateful every day that I was smart enough to do this in my first job. I gobbled up every penny of relevant funds in that first job, and today I have a pretty solid retirement clutch because of this decision.

If your employer doesn’t offer a suitable option, contact a reputable investment firm – I personally love Vanguard – and discover the Roth IRA . Set up an automatic contribution plan that is 10% of your salary each year, and put all the money into a retirement fund with a set date close to the year you turn 65 (for example, someone who is 25 in 2020 will want to use the 2060 Trust Pension Fund).

(If you make more than $ 55,000 per year, you will reach the annual contribution cap for the Roth IRA, and if you make more than $ 100,000 per year, you will go beyond the income cap for the Roth IRA. So in these cases, you will need to do additional homework. However, if you hit those numbers right out of college, you’re doing well.)

You will never, ever regret it. Is always. The money you save for retirement at age 22, 23, or 24 (or even a little later) will grow for many, many, many years, and the power of compound interest will make that number bigger and bigger. for you when you get old. It is much better to deposit 10% early than to force you to deposit 20%, 25% or more in your 40s or 50s in order to have any hope of retirement on time.

If you really want to promote something, contribute over 10%. It will open the door to premature retirement for you – yes, you can probably walk out the door well before age 60 if you contribute so much and you never have to work a day in your life again . Imagine having children in your 30s and retiring the day they leave for college. Deduct 15% of your income for retirement starting at age 22, and it’s entirely possible.

I would avoid credit cards like the plague

It’s simple. I absolutely would not touch a credit card, period, until I had all my other debts under control. I could not borrow to buy things until I was in a solid financial position.

Why? I learned the hard way about the attractiveness and convenience of credit cards, because in a few years they turned into five-figure debt at 20% per annum (yes, count – these are thousands of dollars per annum that just dropped. Pipes). It’s incredibly easy to find yourself in this situation, especially when you’re not overly focused on your finances.

If there is one simple financial rule that I recommend that you follow after college and when you land your first career-oriented job, then it is this: Don’t take a credit card until you are practically free of debt. This not only keeps you from worsening your debt problems, but it also ensures that you really understand how much it costs and how long it takes to get out of debt.

Instead, use a debit card for easy shopping if you need one. Use it as a credit card when buying things (press the “credit” button when you have the opportunity) and carefully monitor your current account balance to avoid overdraft .

This will ensure that you never go into debt due to poor reporting or lack of financial concentration. This is one simple rule of thumb that will keep your finances clean during those critical first few years and ensure that you don’t end up in dire financial straits when you turn 30, which will take most of your 30s (and probably 40s). up to dig out.

Final thoughts

I didn’t actually do most of these things early in my career, much to my own regret. I have managed to save up for retirement and have managed to raise a couple of reliable mentors, but I have not done well in other areas.

How did it work for me? Eventually, over the course of several years, I found myself mainly working financially and pursuing my own career. I was buried in debt, I didn’t have a strong professional or social network, I didn’t feel at all that I was moving forward in my career, and I didn’t feel all that good.

I pushed myself to start making some very serious changes and accepted many of the principles listed here. I changed my career path and started all over again, and in the end everything turned out well.

However, I wasted most of my first decade after college because I didn’t follow these principles. Instead of grinding the machinery to turn this ship around, I could fly into orbit with my career – as good as it is today (and I think they are pretty good), they could be much better.

Good luck.

Nine Things I Would Do Differently About My Finances and Career If I Graduated Today | Simple dollar


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