by Greg Farber-Mazor
At the end of every year, as the graduating senior Writing Center tutors are preparing to move on from the confines of the library basement (and Bentley), I typically write them a short note of thanks and wish them well in their future endeavors. This year, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I find myself particularly reflective. As I consider what to say to this year’s seniors along with what I’ve written in the past, I’m struck by three pieces of advice that I often find myself returning to. (As a caveat, I’m typically opposed to advice for graduating seniors, because it’s often prescriptive and didactic. I hope this isn’t…at least not too much.)
- Advocate for yourself. Often new graduates feel that they have no voice when it comes to their first job. It’s true that you certainly don’t have the kind of leverage you may get as your career progresses. But if you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve been hired, companies aren’t going to rescind their offers if you make reasonable requests. They may say no. But asking is unlikely to ruin your career. Try Googling something like “should I negotiate my first job offer?” You’ll find A LOT of responses. All of which say “yes.” Many also encourage you to negotiate beyond salary, because advocating for yourself doesn’t always mean just asking for more money. Negotiate a start date that works for you. Advocate for promotions and raises. Ask for responsibilities and don’t let yourself get taken advantage of. All of this may seem like a lot, especially if you’re the lowest in the pecking order. And certainly how you go about asking—making sure you take the right tone and approach for your particular situation—is essential. But getting into the habit of advocating for yourself will benefit you for the rest of your life (especially if you’re the type of person who finds this idea terrifying).
- Money isn’t everything. Obviously this is a cliché. And don’t get me wrong; salary matters. Raises matter. But discussions of starting pay can sometimes overshadow other forms of compensation and other parts of a job. Especially as you’re considering what jobs to apply for, which job to accept, or how you’re pursing advancement in your career, it’s useful to think about what else matters to you. Where you live, who you work with, and how much vacation time you get can matter. A lot. After leaving grad school, turning down jobs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and in Farmville, VA (seriously, Farmville) may have caused me some short-term financial uncertainty and possibly even less money in the long-term. But they were among the best career decisions I made. Being closer to family and communities that matter to me (some of which didn’t exist in those places), have been worth the financial cost. Which brings me to…
- Don’t forget who you are and what you love. Making the transition from college into the corporate world (or grad school…or temporary unemployment) is a big one. You have a new job that’s suddenly consuming most of your time. Your nights out get shorter and less frequent. Thursday nights are no longer part of the weekend. There’s suddenly less time for everything. While you can’t do everything you did in college (the opportunity to participate in clubs, sports, and service, all while having plenty of time to catch a ball game then go out for a drink is part of what makes college unique) you need to make time for the things that really are important to you. For me, it’s carving out the (not insignificant) time to work on a new batch of homebrew. But whether it’s setting a regular day for pickup basketball games, joining a local choir, or just making time to read and write, make sure to find physical, mental, or creative outlets that matter to you. It can become all too easy to not just prioritize work, but to treat it as the only thing that exists.
Graduation is always a bit bittersweet for me. I’m fortunate to have an opportunity many professors do not: I get to work with the same excellent, motivated students over the course of several years. But, as with all teaching positions, those students depart. While seeing them move on (and knowing they’re going to be amazing wherever they end up) is inspiring, it’s also sad to see them go.
With that, I wish all the graduating seniors good luck. Good luck negotiating and advocating. Good luck balancing your time and navigating your new path.