First comes high school, then comes college and then comes... unemployment?
Unfortunately, in today's age of "We want an innovative thinker in his or her 20s with 30 years of experience," post-college unemployment and a hasty return back to the parental nest seems to be a popular trend.
Recent college grads lose the wind from their sails faster than they can say "student loans."
They end up unnecessarily wasting years by serving ice cream to snarky teens until they finally land a legit gig in their field of study.
It's not how they promised it would go if you got good grades, is it?
There are a few areas of the education system that have always seemed off to me.
Based on my own San Francisco State experience, a lack of initial freshman guidance and over-praise where none is due is to blame for the subsequent failure to flap one's wings and fly safely from the nest with diploma in hand.
Some kids are told they're great at something from birth in order to save themselves the grief of discovering the bitter truth that perhaps their rendition of Elle King's "Ex's & Oh's" sounds more like a seagull choking on a petrified chicken nugget.
But what about those who choose their majors based on passion and talent, but still end up gathering dust in a nameless pile of rejected resumes?
These soul-crushing trends are what got me thinking outside the box when I myself walked the plank — pardon, the ceremonial stage — into my future.
I didn't want to spend days crafting the perfect resume, only for it to fall into the black hole of extinguished dreams on some guy's messy desk.
Generally, leaving my fate up to chance isn't something I practice, and for good reason.
Sending in resume after resume and waiting for a bite is kind of like fishing.
The lake might be teeming with fish, but they're all happily full, thanks to the endless stream of qualified candidates.
Unless you offer something a little extra, you won't get their time of day.
Based on my own success with landing every "real" job I've held since graduating from college in 2013 without relying on the resume game, I came up with five idiot-proof steps for how you, the recent grad, can stop serving ice cream and start making some of those tuition dollars back.
In order of priority, here they are:
1. Check out your competition's online presence.
Taking a gander at "the industry standard" is not a step to be missed under any circumstance.
This especially applies to professions that require portfolios, but it is not limited to those professions only.
If you're trying to get a job at SpaceX as an engineer, for example, do some digging on LinkedIn and find some employees you can cyber-stalk for the day.
Now, hit up all of their social profiles and gather as much information as possible about who they are professionally.
It's even better if you send them a LinkedIn message, explaining your post-grad status and eagerness to learn about the industry.
Connecting with potential future co-workers like this not only begins building your network, but it also provides you with contacts when you've completed all the steps and are ready to brave the candidate pool high dive.
Think cyber-stalking is weird? Feel awkward messaging someone out of the blue?
Well, guess what? You're going to need to put your big boy (or girl) pants on now.
Otherwise, you'll lose position after position to people like me.
We don't think it's weird.
Seasoned professionals love feeling "seasoned." They like being able to offer words of advice or guidance to budding saplings like yourself.
So don't be shy, and do what you gotta do.
2. Based on what you've learned, figure out if you're hitting the "industry standard" or not.
This is where you need to be honest with yourself because if you're not, you'll find yourself dead in the water.
Grads tend to rock rose-colored glasses when it comes to assessing their skill levels in their choices of trade.
If you think you're the next "big thing" because you've developed a strategy that completely counteracts everything that holds true in your industry today, chances are, you're in denial.
This is not to say there aren't some truly innovative thinkers out there, but let's face it: Most of us are average thinkers, at best.
So, be honest with yourself from the get-go.
If you're hitting the industry standard, great. Move on to the third step.
If you're feeling down in the dumps because you've fallen below it, don't panic just yet.
Start asking yourself some important questions.
"How far below the industry standard is my skill level?"
"Can I invest the next few months and kick my own ass to the next level, or do I need more schooling if I'm ever going to make it in my industry of choice?"
Answer yourself honestly, and evaluate your answers.
It's up to you to decide if a career is worth pursuing, or if you need to shift gears and discover your true calling.
Potentially flushing four years of college down the drain is a thought that sends chills down one's spine.
But if you realize you've made a mistake and followed the wrong path, four years is a hell of a lot less than a lifetime of unhappiness doing what you don't love and aren't meant for.
3. Establish an online presence of your own (if you don't already have one).
I don't mean your Facebook page with your beer pong tournament pics.
If you don't have a LinkedIn account, get one. Don't get lazy about filling out your profile.
You don't need to purchase any premium accounts to benefit from LinkedIn's network-building tools, so relax and loosen that grip on your empty wallet.
Let's be real for a second now: Your profile picture does make a difference on LinkedIn, so don't post a half-assed selfie taken with your crappy phone.
If you look like a dungeon-dwelling drug dealer in your photo, you'll be treated as such and ignored.
Fair or not, that's just the way it is.
Fluff up the resume portion of your page to a reasonable extent.
No one cares about your Coldstone Creamery scooping skills, so don't add junk to your resume just to fill up space.
It's better to have nothing than to have "qualifications" that make you look like a child.
If you're like me, you're going into a career that calls for a portfolio, so make sure you have one before applying anywhere.
Make sure your portfolio website corresponds to the industry standard, and don't freak out because you don't have enough work to "fill it up."
It's quality over quantity, people.
4. Now for the fun part: rubbing elbows with the big fish.
Not literally, of course.
But for those of you who were uncomfortable with the first step, now you'll really get to crawl out of your shell and face your fears.
When I was fresh out of college and had set out to conquer the city with my graphic design savvy, I had no real-world experience to speak of, aside from the freelance graphic design work I had done while I was in school.
Furthermore, I had come to the painful realization that graphic designers don't really make all that much.
But, perhaps my standards were just a bit high compared to the most junior talent of my caliber.
I started exploring viable alternatives to graphic design that would still utilize my skills in some way, and I realized that UI and UX design was where it was at.
I had only one little problem: My portfolio was packed with graphic design work, but I had zero UI work to show potential employers.
Rather than waste valuable time getting a worthless grad school degree in something vaguely resembling UI design, I decided to try this very technique out.
I was employed within three weeks as a UI designer at a gaming company in downtown San Francisco.
Now, it's your turn to rub elbows with the big fish.
Make a list of companies you would love to work for, and prioritize them.
Then, hit up your LinkedIn profile and begin searching for high-level executives working in the same field.
(If you're a designer, search for the creative directors of your chosen companies, etc.)
Be brave now, little fish, because you're going to have to reach out to these intimidating (for now) people.
Explain that you recently graduated from college, and how you're super interested in working for their companies.
Make sure you sound genuine and personal. Don't copy and paste a lame sales pitch to every person you find.
Remember: These are all just people.
You're not contacting aliens from planet Zorg. They will not eat your brain through the Internet if they don't like your message.
The worst that will happen to you is nothing.
If you can't contact your individual of choice directly and need a LinkedIn introduction, send a couple more messages to relevant parties and get it hooked up.
I literally have had high-level execs who don't know me at all recommend me for positions at other companies just due to my corresponding with them out of the blue.
There is not one person on this planet you can't get in contact with if you're determined enough and have persistence.
We're all just people playing the same game.
If you want to win, you're going to have to get clever.
5. Go the extra mile.
You're never going to be younger or more energetic than you are now.
Direct this energy into offering up something extra to the potential employers you've contacted in the previous step.
Offer to complete a test project free of charge if that's possible in your field.
If not, get creative and figure out what you can leverage to sell yourself.
As shiny as you think you are, there are shinier toys packing the shelves.
They have years of experience on you, so compensate accordingly.
Don't beg for a job.
Show potential employers how you can benefit their teams, and how willing you are to learn and grow with the company.
I have interviewed talent at my current job, and I can tell you personality and growth potential far outweigh skill level every time.
This is not to say you can prance in with zero skills and get the gig, but you don't need to be a genius prodigy to do so.
Once you land that entry-level job, you'll get the hang of the ropes.
A skill boost will follow, guaranteed.
Finding that first post-college job doesn't have to be rocket science.
Yes, the job markets are saturated.
Yes, it's competitive as hell out there.
Yes, it won't take you five seconds to become a bonafide member of the daily grind you'll be wishing to escape three weeks later.
But if you follow my advice and get over your phobia of cold-messaging the people who might end up being your first managers, you'll see results extremely quickly.
Stop sending hundreds of stuffy resumes into black holes, and step out of the goddamn box.
These are the words of my eighth grade math teacher:
Perhaps McDonald's is a bad example to use here. But hopefully by this point, you've figure out what I mean.