We all know what happens come May: the safety net of college tears away and you plummet into The Real World. In other words, your days of sleeping ‘til noon and eating Easy Mac are numbered. No amount of academic coursework can prepare you for what lay ahead, but there are a number of measures you can take to help that suave, employable grad emerge from beneath the scruff and sweatpants.
1. Share a drink and some thoughts with a professor. He’s got wisdom beyond his years—and connections.
2. Get business cards. Include your name, tagline (ex: Creative Software Engineer), contact info, a link to your LinkedIn profile or portfolio, and a simple logo.
3. Have your resume reviewed by your career center. Then keep it up-to-date and ready to go at all times.
4. Shop around for a nice pen. Don’t lose it.
5. Update your voicemail message. No jokes, no mumbling.
6. Dress the professional part with a properly fitting interview suit. Buy one now, before you have interviews lined up. If you already have one, make sure it still fits.
7. Check out trade magazines and blogs on your industry or field. Sign up for newsletters. Get reading.
8. Take the Myers-Briggs personality profile test in your career counseling office (where it’s likely free). See if you’re more ENFJ or ISTP, because somewhere, someday, you’ll use this information.
9. Buy resume paper. Look for a minimum of 20 lb. paper, made of cotton or linen. While it won’t make a drab resume shine, it’s a nice touch for one that’s already stellar.
10. Learn how to tie a tie—girls too.
11. Look for a tote or messenger bag to replace your threadbare backpack. No skull patches permitted.
12. Learn how to cook 5 guest-worthy meals. Ramen won’t cut it when you make dinner for a date.
13. Nail your 30-second elevator pitch.
14. Create a LinkedIn profile and ask a former employer to recommend you. Write a concise and confident summary that describes your qualifications and career goals. LinkedIn is first to show up when you’re Googled by a recruiter, so make sure your intro is strong enough to keep them reading.
15. Get a shirt/hat/hoodie with your school’s name or logo. Wear your new gear to a baseball or lacrosse game and shotgun a beer at the tailgate for old time’s sake.
16. Set up informational interviews with people in your chosen field. Use your contacts—professional acquaintances, family, friends, your school’s alumni database—and browse recent news articles related to your career interests and track down the person who was quoted or profiled.
Start by writing an email that tells the person why you’ve contacted him, whether it’s “Steve Smith recommended I speak with you,” or “I read your article in the Post and want to hear more about your work.” Then give a little background and say why you would value a meeting—but don’t make it as formal or as long as a cover letter, and don’t include your resume.
End your letter by giving a few dates and times you’re available. A standard request is a 15-minute phone interview, but if you feel comfortable, ask for lunch or coffee. And when the time comes, foot the bill.
17. Wake up early—as in, before 9—once per week. Sleeping in is a tough habit to break, so you’d better start now. (See the Wake Up! Article)
18. Beef up on meal etiquette so you’re not the gal who digs into her surf and turf before the rest of the table’s dishes have arrived. For that matter, don’t be the gal who orders surf and turf at a recruiting dinner.
19. Consider how much beer has been spilled on your nice black shoes. Treat yourself to a new pair that’s interview-worthy. While you’re at it, buy a belt to match.
20. Switch your Facebook profile picture to one that’s beverage-free. Change your privacy settings so that only friends have access to all of your pictures.
21. Ask your college alumni office for a list of graduates from your program. Pick 3 and email them with questions: Where are they now? How did they get their gig? What do they wish they’d known upon graduation?
22. Apply for a passport.
23. Set up a professional Gmail account. Lose the “babigurl,” or “sk8punk.”
24. Pay your library tab so a $2.30 fine doesn’t prevent you from getting your diploma.
25. Join your school’s alumni database.
26. Start wearing a watch. It shouldn’t have a Velcro closure or a Hello Kitty face.
27. Have your headshot taken for the yearbook. Use it as your LinkedIn picture. Don’t forget to give a copy to Grandma.
28. Participate in every college event that uses the word “networking” in its description—happy hours included. When you arrive, don’t huddle with your friends: The point is to network. Work the room.
29. Take advantage of career center workshops, mock interviews, and career counselor sessions.
30. Join industry, field of study, and alumni groups on LinkedIn.
31. Attend as many career fairs as you can.
32. Ask your landlord for a reference. If you ask him in a year when you’re trying to rent a bachelor pad two states away, he may mistake you for the jerk who stuffed frozen turkeys in his walls.
33. Consolidate your loans and find out your credit score. If you don’t yet have credit, get yourself a credit card and charge responsibly to build a positive credit history.
34. Take the GREs, MCATs, GMATs, or LSATs while you’re still in the test-taking mode.
35. Volunteer with the admissions department by hosting a high-school student. Put this on your resume. Just don’t let him get alcohol poisoning.
36. Sell your books. As much as you think you’ll refer to your Psych 101 books as a consultant, you probably won’t.
37. Use your book money to buy a leather portfolio for interviews.
38. Follow career advice blogs, such as: CornOnTheJob, TheSavyIntern, AskAManager, and CareerRocketeer.
39. Import the contacts from your .edu address into your Gmail account. Your school account could soon vanish.
40. Ask your professor for a recommendation while he can still put a face with your name and your good work.
41. Build your portfolio. Don’t let years of work disappear. Store the contents of your computer with an online backup service or on an external hard drive. Create both digital and physical portfolios of your work. Make copies of any school papers you’d like to look at ten years down the road, like that 30-pager on Mexican immigration reform.
47. Wean yourself off of study drugs. Employers might check for them. And stop smoking the broccoli. They test for that, too.
48. Choose 5 target employers and send your resume and a targeted cover letter to a recruiter or manager at each organization.
49. Be able to answer this question: If you were an office supply, which would you be and why?
50. Partake in a school tradition. Streak through the quad. Swim in the fountain.