The Toughest Lessons I Had To Learn in my First Six Months Out of College

The days following my graduation from college were easily the happiest of my life. I'd closed a chapter that spanned 17 years of the mere 22 I’d spent on Earth (13 years of public school and 4 years of college). 

To show for it, I had a 4.0 GPA and a degree in a field I couldn't be more excited about. I had a paid internship under my belt and a polished resume with accolades I was sure would land me a job.

Related: The Anatomy of the Perfect Resume

I packed my bags the next day and snagged the keys to my new Austin apartment, feeling blissful validation for all the work I'd put in to make the moment real. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last very long.

It's been six months since then; the most confusing, enlightening, transformative six months I've been through. Here's what I was never taught in college but was forced to learn in my first six months after graduating:

Rejection is imminent

You’d think after spending over half my life in public school that I'd be familiar with the notion that you can’t please everyone. But being the social creatures we are, it seems the desire to please is an innate part of our DNA. 

In my case, the desire to please could be better described as a desire to impress. I had an inflated sense of assurance coming out of school; a potent mix of earnestness and pride dashed with early-20s naivete. The optimism that fueled all my educational endeavors was maladapted to the "real world" of critique, doubt and flat-out rejection. 

After starting my job search, I was soon made aware of how unimpressive my resume really was. Justified as the criticism was, it was hard to accept that I wasn’t experienced enough.

For recent graduates, especially, industry professionals have a discerning eye; The bar is set much higher for new job-seekers than it once was. In 2015, a research professor for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce admitted that millennials are “the first generation that needs to have a college degree and experience to compete, before they even enter the workforce.”

Related: 4 Surefire Ways to Look More Professional on LinkedIn

It’s not all about you

After two internships and a host of interview experiences, the fault in my self-conscious thinking was brought to light: This process is bigger than I am. 

Earlier this month, Forbes contributor Liz Ryan shed light on the nuances of the hiring process by listing 10 totally plausible reasons job applicants fail to get the gig. Among them: untrained resume screeners, mismatched salary expectations, and good ol’ nepotism. 

“You can see,” Ryan says, “that your qualifications for a job opening are not a guarantee that you'll get a job offer, or even an interview.” So, the world doesn’t revolve around reference letters and bullet points? College has truly lead me astray.

Related: 3 Mandatory Things You Need to Do Before a Phone Interview

In all seriousness, this revelation about hirability actually came as a huge relief to me. Perhaps ironically, the knowledge that candidacy isn’t personal gave me peace of mind enough to let my personality shine through. I think Jim Carrey explained it best when he said this during a college commencement speech in 2014:

Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.
— Jim Carrey

Relationships are everything

The pressure to attend networking events and career fairs during college was, it turns out, not all for naught. When my first job out of college didn’t pan out, I was lucky to land something else right away by reaching out to a friend whose company was hiring. 

Nepotism jokes aside, there is nothing more important to career development than creating strong relationships.

Renowned recruiter and career advice columnist Nick Corcodilos is a huge advocate of the “who you know” theory when it comes to landing a job. In 2014, he responded to a reader’s claim that the absolute necessity of these professional connections is “seriously screwed up.”

Here's his defense, in his own words: 

I think your version of “knowing the right person” means standing on a corner waiting for the boss at the company where you want to work – and expecting them to offer you a job. My version means doing the hard work to earn credible contacts and referrals. Because, why would a manager hire a “lucky” unknown rather than someone known?
— Nick Corcodilos

Related: 10 Ways to Embrace Being the “New Girl” at Work

Adaptation is endless

Big accomplishments in life are often seen not as milestones but as finish lines. And after putting your nose to the grind for a stretch of time, it makes sense why we find comfort in reaching the "final destination." But getting my degree isn't the final step; It's only a means to an end.

My degree is proof that I’ve undergone 17 years of intellectual stimulation and come out the other side. It’s evidence that I can multitask, prioritize, and adapt to change, which is, at its core, what employers really want. So why stop now?

CareerLisa CallahanCollege