Every May is filled with thousands of graduation ceremonies as students across the country celebrate their graduation from high school or college. The ceremonies themselves are filled with anticipation, excitement, and optimism. But once that euphoric high wears off, oftentimes it is replaced with dread and anguish.
A lot of graduates entering the real world are encountering a strange and harsh environment in which people no longer treat you as if you were the center of the universe. Suddenly, it’s not about your potential or individuality or whatever supposedly unique quality you had that made you special. Nor are people going to tiptoe around the Big Issues to cater to your sensibilities.
You’re in the real world now. And in the real world, you’re just another recent grad who doesn’t know shit until you prove otherwise. You now belong to a system designed to cater to the needs of People With Money. And from their perspective, it’s all about “what can you do for me right now?”
And right now, there are a whole lot of college and high school graduates who can’t do much other than brew coffee, wait tables, work retail, prepare fast food, or something along those lines. This might be the part where you indignantly think to yourself, “I’d do a great job as a marketer/account manager/recruiter/designer/developer/journalist/business analyst/[insert respectable white collar job here] if they just gave me a chance!”
Fair enough. You might be right. But there are two problems with that line of thought. The first is that there aren’t enough respectable white collar jobs for everybody that wants one. The second is that everybody else is thinking the same thing. What makes you stand out from all those other people?
The dirty truth about the real world is that the vast majority of jobs out there can be performed to an acceptable degree by a B student with perfect attendance in middle school. The actual duties of most jobs do not require rare talent or strenuous effort.
That’s what the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” quote is all about. Everybody can do the job. But getting the job is all about convincing the hiring manager that you’re the guy instead of all those other people. And a lot of the time it really does boil down to “does the hiring manager know and like you on a personal level?”
If nepotism is out, we then filter out applicants using other criteria. Some of that could be plausibly used to separate one candidate from another. Things like college degree, major, GPA. But a lot of the times, there are completely arbitrary things that hiring managers judge applicants by. The way they dress, their height, weight, attractiveness, whether they’re a good “culture fit” or not. Those are all things that shouldn’t impact a person’s ability to do a job.
But if there are 10 applicants and 1 position and all 10 applicants can do the job, the hiring manager is not just going to pick a name out of a hat. The hiring manager is going to pick whoever they like the best, and the traits that separate the “best” from everybody else depends largely upon the individual preferences of the hiring manager.
So what are you supposed to do to gain separation from everybody else? Start following the local sports team. Craft a resume optimized for resume sniffer software. Practice intonation and presentation in front of a mirror. Read the newspaper to trawl for relevant talking points or small talk. Go out and volunteer in hopes of striking up a relationship with a well-connected individual. Do anything that can give you the slightest edge over the average applicant.
One thing’s for sure, sitting on your ass at home and binge watching Netflix is not going to do you any favors. If there’s one thing the real world hates, it’s people who throw pity parties for themselves. Instead of wallowing in your own misery and filth, use your time constructively and do something.
That means sending out resumes, volunteering, reading the news, keeping up to date on trade publications, writing (and updating) a blog, becoming an independent contractor, anything that broadcasts your existence out into the ether. If you keep putting yourself out there, somebody will eventually take a chance on you.
Good luck, and don’t spend your summer like you’re still in school. You’re in the real world now.