Originally published Nov. 2, 2011

College students have it easy. Work Monday through Thursday, have a three-day weekend and enjoy the freedom is the philosophy adopted by many a college student, including Grand Valley State University alumnus Jackie Green.

But that lifestyle left her unprepared for what she would face once she passed beneath that grand, bronze arch for the last time and transitioned into the “real world.”

“The common saying between some of my friends is, ‘I wish we were back in Robinson,’ referring to life when we didn’t have adult decisions to make,” said Green, who still remembers her struggles in the job market.

“After graduation, I was intimidated by all of the online job listings,” she said. “It’s hard to know what is a good opportunity and what jobs might be a scam. I spent countless hours in my apartment looking over different opportunities and applying online.”

Had Green known that the online application is highly discouraged by Career Services, she may have found more success as she searched for employment.

“A lot of students try to simply apply online,” said Ginger Lange, assistant director of Career Services. “If you only apply for jobs you see posted online, I would consider that to be a passive job search.”

Green said she learned quickly to be aggressive and competitive in her job search.

“I knew I wanted to live in Chicago and even went to the city and passed around my resume,” she said. “I learned quickly that security in the building would not allow me to deliver my resume to certain companies that I had researched. I was extremely disappointed that day feeling like my efforts fell short.”

However, her unfruitful attempts have made her a more impressive job candidate.

“The ironic thing is, that story has been brought up in every interview when I describe myself as a ‘go-getter’ and has impressed multiple employers,” she said.

Although she now has job security, Green said she thinks she would have found success more quickly if she had taken advantage of the networking, internship and career fair opportunities offered by GVSU.

“As soon as I moved to Chicago and was surrounded by friends that went to a Big 10 School, I learned that many of them were placed in their jobs before graduation from a campus interview [at a career fair],” she said.

Lange said networking is an essential step to take before graduating.

“Make connections with companies you have an interest in before they have an opening,” she said.

Green said she also would have done more domestic networking by seeking advice and assistance from professors and other GVSUalumni. “Something as simple, as ‘What do you think of this company?’ or ‘Do you mind making an introduction?’ would have been extremely valuable,” she said.

Networking is not her only regret, though.

“I don’t think I put in the hard work to find an internship while in college that would develop the day-to-day skills that I would need [to be as successful as I’d hoped],” Green said. “I used my internship as, ‘This will fulfill the credit.’”

Lange said internships are necessary for students to learn how to operate in and develop skills for the work world, as well as build the resume.

However, career exploration is one of the main reasons why the university encourages internships. “Being out there helps students identify realistic expectations of what they could be doing,” Lange said.

Green admitted that she wishes she would have given more thought to her career choice and explored other possibilities.

“I wish I could go back in time and really contemplate my career path,” said Green, who would have supplemented her communications degree with a health-related minor. “It would have been more credits, studying, papers, lab hours and exams, but it would mean a lot more doors would be opened.”

Lange said career changes are common among alumni.

“A lot of people change careers,” she said. “I think that might be a function of not having enough info when they made their first decision. The more exposure you have [to the career], the more realistic you can be about your options.”

However, in a constricted job market with somewhat limited options, Dean of Students Bart Merkle said alumni really need to learn to be more adaptable and identify their various skills that make them employable.

“I think one of the realities of the economy is that it is sort of forcing all of us to look at a broader range of alternatives than what we’ve ever had to,” he said. “We’re trying to help students understand that their education and the skills they’ve developed through their education are much broader than just the specific discipline that they’ve majored in.”

Now, with a steady career at Groupon and a respected role in a non-profit organization in Chicago, Green said her hardest adjustment is working Fridays.

“Thursday nights after working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and being exhausted is a hard reality to get used to,” said Green, who did not schedule Friday classes at GVSU.

Merkle said this type of transition is typical for alumni to undergo, as students are often unprepared to work full-time or have less control over their hours and workload.

“It’s a bit more structured,” he said. “There is a transition shock for some. Being responsible, being accountable, being professional are all things that are expected [after college].”

Alumni can still receive resume assistance, simulated interview sessions and networking opportunities from GVSU Career Services.

For more information on the services provided, contact Career Services at 616-331-3311.


Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2011/11/post_grad_beyond_the_degree