The post-graduate life is notoriously dreary. There you are applying to several opportunities, constantly striving to get your name and work out there, and becoming increasingly used to rejection. Then you rinse and repeat. If you’re lucky enough to get hired somewhere you’re more often than not underpaid, overworked, and/or under appreciated.
This isn’t the rule – it’s more an observation from my own experience as well as seeing the younger workforce entrants who have followed me. You can blame the economy, the job opportunities, or just chalk it up to a sign of the times, but let’s try and be stronger than that.
As a graduate, you will have many people try to take advantage of you. You may feel you don’t have the experience to back up the level of confidence that you see in the people around you. Simply put, that’s crap. Experience doesn’t always equal intelligence and it certainly doesn’t equate to superiority.
I’m not saying after you graduate you should walk around like you know everything better than everyone else — in fact, don’t do that. What I’m trying to say is don’t let the post-grad negative experience slow you down or get in the way of your growth.
Like a high school MVP going to play college ball for the first time, you’ve just graduated and feel at the top of your game. The first time you get tackled by an upperclassmen, or get to work with people more talented than you, may be overwhelming. You’re insecurities could come to the fore. Don’t let them.
One of my favorite singers, Jason Mraz, sings a line in his “Song for a Friend” that strikes a chord with me every time I hear it: “If you stumble onto something better, remember that it’s humble that you seek.” Be proud of the work you accomplish; of the obstacles you are able to surmount, but remember you always have more to learn. If you meet someone who’s work impresses you – ask to collaborate, or better yet try to gain a mentor there.
Arguably the most respectable quality to have at work would be honesty. Know where your weaknesses lie. Either figure out a way to address them, or ask for help. When I started at my job, I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of my managers, but I learned to do my work well and was able to help improve some of our processes in the long run. But I couldn’t start working on something without knowing how it was done before me.
When working with a client – if they are asking for an impossible deadline: tell them. Don’t make false promises that will anger your client and make you resent the project in the long run. If the client wants to know why something will take a long time, explain it to them. The clients that understand and respect your honesty and time are the ones you’ll love working with in the end.
The most commonly used and completely useless phrase you’ll hear when you start working after graduation is: Charge what you’re worth.
Greaaat. Awesome. Can someone help me figure out how to equate my worth to dollars? Ok? Thanks.
Freelancers and self-employed workers struggle with this problem every day. Clients from Hell even had a post once that said “Well, you work for free! If you were supposed to be paid, you’d be called a paidlancer or something!”
Fresh out of school, you’ll more often than not feel like you don’t have much of a foot to stand on for charging what others in your field are. But remind yourself of this: you should be getting paid for the work you do.
People don’t seem to understand that they aren’t just paying you for your level of effort. They’re paying for your expertise, your talent, your work, the ownership of said work, and your time. Many people debate whether an hourly rate is better than a fixed and vice versa. Personally, I think it depends on the project, client, and time available. In the end, you have to discover your process by experience.
The three pieces of advice I’ve given before and will now do again are as follows:
- Do NOT work for free.
- Know how to negotiate.
- Use a contract!
You’re not always going to be the best in your field and in fact – I hope you never feel that you are. “I bet if you all had it all figured out, then you’d never get out of bed” sings the wise Jason Mraz. And just like he says, once you’re the “best” at something, that’s it. You’ve finished. There’s nowhere else for you to go. That’s not to say you shouldn’t always try to be the best. The trying is definitely where it’s at.
The best thing you can do to up your value is learning. Don’t ever stop learning. Take classes if you can. Go to meet ups and network with people dealing with the same hurdles as you. Read and follow blogs of professional peers or successful entrepreneurs and bloggers. Ask questions – of teachers, on twitter, your friends, your barista – whoever!
In addition to all that, reflect on your progress thus far. At the end of every project you complete – for a client or a friend – write a case study. Describe the process and the project. What worked with your process? What can you improve for next time? What surprised you? What motivated you? This isn’t just a great practice for you – it’s also a great way to communicate your workflow to potential clients and also inform them as to how a project would progress.
So, what’s the difference?
In the end, your experiences will be your guide. But you should know that you are not alone. Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel. We’ve all been there and many professionals out there are happy to answer any questions you may ask. You just have to ask.