Colleges across the country have just unleashed 1.8 million newly minted graduates into the world. Maybe you or someone in your family is among them.

What now?

If commencement speakers are to be believed, the direction is clear: pursue lofty dreams and intrinsic passions, do not settle, use talents to make the world a better place.

I am a sucker for these speeches.

However, while inspirational, commencement addresses aren’t actually all that helpful to the confused college graduate. Why? Because they tend to elevate, not alleviate, the stress of “what’s next?”

According to a recent Accenture “College Graduate Employment Survey,” only 12 percent of college students graduate with jobs. That leaves a whopping 88 percent majority of anxious, jobless graduates.


New graduates often fear making a mistake with the first big independent decision of their lives – lives which, to this point, likely have been perfectly choreographed.

Adding to that pressure is stress from self-doubt, student loans, and figuring out what’s next in an array of choices wider than a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.

Stress for some, but not everyone. We all know a few people from our college years who had it figured out before they stepped foot on campus.

These phenoms had a clear list of goals, balanced a crushing course load, participated in endless extracurricular activities, and moved brilliantly, decisively and seemingly effortlessly into the life waiting for them.

I was not part of that group.

Since I also wasn’t part of the group invited to give one of those stirring commencement addresses, let me offer something more useful, instead, for the rest of us.


First, as a new graduate, do yourself a favor: Suspend self-judgment and congratulate yourself on making it this far.

Acknowledge fear. It’s OK to be confused and unsure of your immediate next steps. Own it. Fear of the unknown is not a sign of weakness; it’s called being human and it spurs positive action.

Recognize that your first job out of college will not determine your life path. Rather, it is an opportunity to develop skills, learn what work you enjoy, and learn what you are good at (or at least better than most other people).

Know that career paths are rarely linear. Ask older friends and family members what their first jobs were after college. You will be surprised by what you hear.

Reflect on what you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing. This will be harder than you think. Answer these questions (if you get stuck, have a friend interview you):

1. What do I seem to do easily and well?


2. How much does money matter to me?

3. What do I care so much about that I will do it, no matter what?

4. If I could have anyone else’s life, whose life would I choose?

Craft your story. Most job interviews start with, “Tell me about yourself.” You want your story to be “sticky” – that is, memorable enough that it sticks with the interviewer.

What life experiences shaped you? Your story should be professional (hint: illustrate a few strengths) and personable, maybe even a bit quirky.

Know how your talents can help the business. Companies hire because they have a need. Your interests are key indicators of the energy you will bring to a role.


Remember that employers want to hire real people, so relax and be your best authentic self. Don’t try to be someone you think you need to be instead of being who you really are.

Be realistic. Your first job will not be perfect. You may have to do things you consider menial. Do them anyway – and cheerfully. To have a job is a privilege.

Use every opportunity to demonstrate you were the perfect candidate for the role. You will be amazed how quickly you’ll earn more responsibility and more interesting assignments.

Don’t go it alone. Use all the resources at your disposal. Job-seeking is a skill that needs to be learned, developed and honed. It takes time, persistence and resilience.

Martin Luther King Jr. said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” It’s great advice for new college graduates. Some of the steps may be sideways and not feel like progress at all. Have faith anyway; trust your instincts, education and talents.

Above all, go ahead, take that first step. It will take you places you never imagined.


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