While you’re in college, it’s easy to conjure up visions of the swanky apartment and high-paying job you’ll have after you graduate. Or maybe an older sibling or classmate told a horror story that made you petrified of finding your first job and negotiating your salary. There are a lot of myths floating around about post-college life, but the trust often falls somewhere in between. Here, we examine five common myths and discuss the realities.
1. Once I graduate and get a "real job," I’ll be able to afford a nice apartment and all the trimmings. Not quite. A 2007 survey conducted MonsterTRAK found that 46% of those surveyed planned to spend at least some time living with mom and dad post-graduation and that 22% planned to spend at least six months at home. David Kovacs was one of these "Boomerang" children when he first graduated from Boston University a few years ago. "Moving home for eight months after excelling in college is a blow to your pride," he admits, "and even after landing a full-time job in October… it took me a while to save up enough money to move out on my own."
Jennifer Williamson, who graduated from St. Lawrence University, agrees that living the high-life right out of school is more myth than reality. "When I first moved out on my own after college, I thought I could move to a great apartment in a cool section of town, within walking distance of bars, cafes, and stores," she says. "Instead, I got a job with a publishing company. On my entry-level salary, I couldn’t afford anything better than a small apartment on the outskirts of my city." Don’t let this scare you, because if you’re smart about it, you’ll learn a lot about budgeting in your first few years and eventually upgrade your job and apartment.
2.If I’m not sure what I want to do, then grad school is a safe bet. Actually, if your career goals are vague, then you might want to do some soul-searching before you invest in another degree. According to Alexandra Levit, author of the forthcoming career book How’d You Score That Gig?, "so many people choose a graduate program because they aren’t sure where they want to go with their careers, when in reality, they should first be doing a cost/benefit analysis to determine what such a program is going to bring them in terms of increased job prospects and financial compensation."
This is your chance to test-drive career options before you settle on something longer term. Levit says she’s "heard lots of stories of twenty-somethings who graduate with a Ph.D., JD, or MBA only to end up deciding they want to do something else entirely." Talk to people in those fields to help you figure out if you’re cut out to be a lawyer or business executive, or if you might be happier in some other field.
3. If I have a strong GPA, then I should have no trouble finding a job. Again, another myth. Williamson disputes this one: "I was in the top ten percent of my graduating class at college… In five years of interviewing, nobody asked about my GPA."
Having a high GPA certainly can’t hurt, but as Kovacs points out, "GPA is only one factor in the hiring process." Employers also look at internships and work experience, so even some college valedictorians don’t get overwhelmed with job offers.
4. If I don’t have "real" work experience, then I can’t negotiate my salary. Many recent grads accept whatever salary they’re offered in their first job, but some are disappointed to discover that the person in the cube next to theirs is earning five or ten percent more simply because they asked for it. Williamson says, "you don’t need a certain amount of experience [to negotiate] this, but you do need to know certain things–like the going rate in your area for the job you’re applying for; the things that make you valuable, like extra certifications or qualifications." Check out Salary.com to find an appropriate salary range for your area and industry.
5. If I work hard for my company, then I will be rewarded with promotions and bonuses. Sorry, but not always. Getting graded on papers and exams in college gave you consistent feedback when you were a student, but not all bosses take the time to recognize achievements in the working world. This makes it tough for "graduates who leave school expecting results from a logical combination of education and effort," says Levit. "Getting ahead in business has little to do with intelligence or exceeding a set of defined expectations." But as you hone your people skills and build your work history, you’ll discover ways to advance your career and improve relationships with your boss and coworkers.
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