Tips for graduates entering the workforce

Congratulations, graduate! In my last post, I explained that it is important to consolidate your contacts before finding yourself far from them. On top of that, there are a host of things you can do now as you enter the world of work (or graduate school) that will make the transition much smoother.

Source: Photo by Ashley Maier

Save your work/portfolio

Have you recorded the syllabus? Save the program! I just received an e-mail from a student who, after the course was closed and no longer able to access the files, asked me: “Hey professor, can you send me the syllabus?”

Not only does it contain your teacher’s contact information, but also, many schools require programs to give you credit for prior coursework. Of course, you will get transcripts, but they only mention the class name and number. Some schools require programs to verify that requirements have been met.

Just this semester, for example, a student from a few years ago emailed me asking for the program because a campus in the state of California wanted to review one of my classes to ensure that it meets its requirements. Luckily, I’m not going anywhere, but you can never guarantee that your teacher will always be there, available, or able to find the file you need among the approximately eight billion lesson plans on their computer. You also don’t know for sure that searching a school’s curriculum repository (all schools should have them by now) will be easy or yield the results you’re looking for.

Photo by Kadarius Seegars on Unsplash

Source: Photo by Kadarius Seegars on Unsplash

It seems like every semester a new portfolio-like program (e.g., Portfolio) is added to our learning management system, Canvas. You might feel compelled to use it, but the value of these programs depends on discipline, so be sure to ask. Ask the people doing the work you want to do what they think these programs are useful for, not just those in academia.

I can’t say I’ve heard of many psychology programs or jobs that use any of these programs, except maybe LinkedIn. But gone are the days of keeping plastic storage boxes full of essays and projects. Just save your work. It’s best to save it as you produce it, because who wants to go back and have to find it?

So, as soon as possible, save and organize your important work so you can find and access it later. It’s like trying to convince students to learn the APA format now because they’ll thank me later. As I tell introductory students, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Update your CV

I’m not going to lie, I hate this one. As someone who always has a million projects, contracts, and jobs going on at once, all of which are worth a resume or CV, I feel your groan when I tell you this. But it must be done. Keep track of your hard work, skills, and accomplishments now, and again, you’ll thank yourself later.

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Source: Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

A lot of student advice includes writing a one-page resume. I’m very confident to tell you that in psychology and related fields, two pages is enough if you really, really need the space. The goal is to be clear and concise. This is what we want in psychology. No “word salad”, just the important stuff. Be direct about what you did, where and how it demonstrates your skills.

And please don’t put your GPA on your resume unless the employer or school requesting it requires it. I tell you this after years of watching recruiting teams scoff at “old school” resumes that included GPAs.

My strongest tip about resumes and resumes is to keep an unofficial draft that you update whenever you get a new job, join a new committee, or anything that an employer (or a doctoral school) would like to know. Keep a recording for yourself – you can make it look and sound better later. The goal is to write it now, because however young and mentally fit you may feel right now, you’re going to forget something, especially as the years, work, and accomplishments pile up.

Write a draft cover letter

Guess what? It’s another “you’ll thank yourself later”. Cover letters are simply a way to introduce yourself to an employer and let them know that they consider you a candidate. You may need to do this, or something similar like a goal statement, also for graduate school.

Bearing in mind that I have many degrees and over 20 years of vast and varied experience that requires an ever-evolving battle to keep it short (clear and concise, remember), here’s basically my skeleton:

Hello, I am enthusiastically applying for your position and in a nutshell, you should hire me because I match my education and experience.

Here are the details of my education and how it relates to this position.

Here are the details of my experience and how it relates to this position.

In case it’s not clear (don’t really say it), here are some stronger sentences to wrap up and highlight how my education and experience make me a great candidate.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Source: Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

But how can you write a cover letter if you don’t have a job to apply for yet? Well, first, find one! Even if it’s not your dream job, find one and apply for it. It’s a good way to practice, write that first draft and also prepare your CV. Consider it a test.

Even if you don’t want to apply or can’t find a job, you can still write a cover letter. Imagine your dream job. Now write to that dream hiring committee. Do.

Warning: if you create a draft or a template that you use over and over again, be sure to read your letters carefully before sending them to real employers. I say this as someone who has graded many assignments with the wrong class name, “insert XYZ here”, etc.

To have courage

It’s so commonplace to tell someone to have courage, but I really mean it. This stuff is scary. It’s just. It feels big and sometimes insurmountable. It’s a step into a whole other world than the one you’ve been used to. I understand. It’s a lot.

Breathe. You don’t have to do everything today. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. Knowing this, do what you can. Take one step at a time and watch yourself progress to heights you never imagined…or maybe you did. You deserve it. Congratulations, graduate!

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