My Top 8 Tips for Students and Recent Grads
Washington, July 10, 2018
You walked across the stage. You have years of hard work behind you, a diploma in hand, and a great big question mark ahead.
Whether it is graduation from high school or college, a vocational school or four-year degree, once the celebrations die down, many students are left feeling a bit overwhelmed by the responsibilities that lie ahead. Here are some resources and a few small pieces of advice from my own journey that may help you or the students in your life as they prepare for their next steps:
1. Focus on the next step (whatever that may be). It is easy to get overwhelmed with the big questions of the future, but do not let that paralyze you into inaction. If you just graduated high school, start by focusing on getting good grades in college or mastering technical skills in trade school. It is important to plan for the future, but it is ok to not have it all figured out yet. Begin by working hard at whatever is in front of you. Good grades show future employers that you are focused and disciplined, traits that will serve you well in any field.
2. Get a first job (even if you are still in school). Over the years as a youth, some of the early jobs I had include shoveling snow, raking leaves, cutting grass, washing dishes, bussing tables, waiting tables, bartending, caddying, life-guarding, and working as a drugstore clerk and delivery boy. Many of these were during the school year and during the summer. They may not have related exactly to what I wanted my career to be, but I learned something from each job. So I always tell students: start with any honest job you can get. No matter what the position is, your willingness and eagerness can show potential employers your desire to work hard and advance.
3. Take advantage of the resources available to you. Finding a good job as a new graduate can be tough. To help in that process, there are many tools available to job seekers both in the public and private sectors -- here are a few that might be helpful:
· USAJobs for Students and Grads. USAJobs offers a listing of jobs in government service as well as information on federal internship and employment opportunities for current students, recent graduates, and those with advanced degrees.
· Upcoming Ohio Job Fairs. Local job fairs can be a great way to make connections and learn more about industry opportunities. Check the list to see if there are any near you.
· Opportunities in Ohio. Ohio.gov offers a one stop shop with information on how to find and apply for jobs across Ohio, including information on state government jobs, local employment and training services, and opportunities for persons with disabilities.
· The Presidential Management Fellows Program. For recent graduates who have an excellent academic record and are interested in government service, the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program offers prestigious opportunities for development and training.
4. Be creative about acquiring experience. Sometimes when you have just graduated and you are looking to break into your field of interest, it can feel like a never-ending cycle: you need to get a job in order to get experience, but every job requires that you already have experience. If you feel like you are stuck, I would encourage you to be creative — find a mentor in your industry or area of interest and ask to shadow them. If you are still in school, volunteer to take on a project for a smaller nonprofit or startup and see if you can get some experience putting your skills to use while providing value to a worthy cause. When I was still in college, I organized campus blood drives. Later, I volunteered in the ER which gave me some valuable experience.
Whenever a student comes up to me and says they want to serve in Congress, I advise them to go work somewhere else first. Learn a skill. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Build expertise. That’s how you bring value and perspective to government service, or anywhere else you choose to work.
5. Get your finances in order. After school, many graduates will be earning a paycheck, paying rent, and dealing with utility bills and car payments on their own for the first time. On top of that, the average amount of debt that students carry at graduation is roughly $30,000. That can be overwhelming, so the following are a few tools to help recent grads get a jumpstart on understanding and managing their finances:
· Preparing a Budget. Before you create an actual budget, Federal Student Aid offers this helpful guide with ideas on how to keep track of your income and expenses, save for your goals, and adjust your budget as your life changes.
· Create a Plan. The Federal Trade Commission created an easy-to-use template to get you started with a budget. As you fill it out, don’t forget to ask yourself questions like, “How much do I need for emergencies?” or, “How long will it take to pay off my credit card?”
· Student Loan Resources. Typically, most federal student loan borrowers are required to start repaying loans within six months of graduation. However, there are a number of options available for individuals who find themselves in a situation of unemployment or inability to pay back federal student loans. Federal Student Aid provides a lot of information about finding the right repayment plan, learning how to make payments, and getting help if you can’t afford your payments.
· Preparing for Tax Season. The IRS offers information to help grads (or anyone) get a jumpstart on preparing for next year’s taxes, including easy steps to take now.
6. Seek out feedback (you can learn something from everyone). Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and receive constructive criticism. I have always found great value in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” It is a principle I strive to live my own life by as well. Approaching everyone you meet with this humble, open-minded attitude will not only set you apart — I guarantee you will also learn a lot as well.
7. Start saving for retirement now. It is never too early to begin thinking about retirement, even if you are only in high school. Actually, the benefits of starting early and saving now can be enormous. Here are some resources to get you started:
· Investing Basics. These introductory steps from investor.gov are a guide to help you define and meet your financial goals, including simple definitions of investment products and how to invest during a first job.
· Create a “Financial Fitness Plan.” The Department of Labor offers a lot of resources to help you assess your financial fitness, avoid common setbacks, and boost your financial performance.
· 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement. The United States Department of Labor offers ten ways grads (and anyone) can become more informed and start saving for retirement now.
8. Don’t be afraid of hard work. In my office in Washington, D.C., I have a piece of art depicting people at work that is hanging on the wall. It says: "To Rejoice In His Labor -- This Is The Gift of God." It’s a reminder of an age-old truth that our modern culture sometimes loses sight of: hard work is not the enemy. It is its own reward.
While it is a wonderful thing to be able to chase your dream job in this land of opportunity, I always remind students that there is value in any work they choose to do, when they work hard and do it well. Any honest job you take on fulfills something that someone needs or someone wants and is therefore honorable. Today, perhaps more than ever, no job needs to be considered "dead end." Usually, hard work and reliability are recognized and in demand, and can be the path to promotion and new opportunities. Our country was built by hardworking Americans — laborers, pioneers, inventors, and entrepreneurs — who weren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work.Finally, don't hesitate to reach out to one of my offices if we can assist you in navigating the federal government's bureaucracy. You can find contact information for each one of my district offices on my website at wenstrup.house.gov. We would be delighted to assist you.