By Taylor Hudson
“Graduation” is a four-letter word around here.
Yeah, sure—it’s supposed to be a proud moment, signifying four years of hard work and good times with life-long friends. But let’s be honest, graduation is more terrifying than it is exciting. Most seniors are somewhere between a mild-panic-attack and a quarter-life-crisis when it comes to actually planning this unknown, yet not so far away, concept called “the future.”
As a soon-to-be graduate myself, I have attempted to prepare and have spent a lot of time during the past few weeks knee-deep in “grown-up” documents, such as my résumé, portfolio, and job applications. And I only have one thought about the entire process—It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Lesson One: Avoid the Microsoft Office résumé templates at all costs.
That was my first mistake in this entire process. I thought it would be the most efficient to just click on one of the templates and fill in the blanks. No, I was wrong.
First of all, those templates are extremely generic, so they most likely will not include the best or most effective sections for your particular goal or job search. For example, most of them do not include a relevant course work section. Another problem I had was a lack of space to include the hyperlink to my online portfolio, and, as a media arts and design major, that is really important.
Second of all, it’s near impossible to condense your résumé into one, convenient page using those templates. They are unnecessarily fluffed up with images, chunky boxes, and 12-point font. Any attempt to make the font smaller just messes up the entire layout and will have you screaming at your computer in a matter of minutes—and yes, I speak from experience. It’s much more simple to just create your own résumé layout from scratch.
Don’t get me wrong; those templates are good to use as a reference or basis. But, overall, just make our final résumé an original.
Lesson Two: Don’t compare your résumé with your friends. It never hurts to get feedback and criticisms to improve your résumé. However, I suggest receiving professional feedback, such as from a professor, mentor, or employer—not a friend or roommate.
If you are like me, I am the only one in a house of four people pursuing a career in my particular field. I am pursuing a journalism career, one is pursuing a dietetics career, one is pursuing education, and the final one is pursuing theater. Four clearly different fields. It didn’t seem like much of a barrier at first, because at first I thought, “How different could our résumés be?” Again, I was wrong.
Theater-focused résumés look like Mars compared to my journalism-focused one. In theater, for example, a clear and definitive objective is of higher priority in order to state your artistic goals as an actor. Meanwhile, in journalism, an objective statement could be included, but if you need more room for your internship experience and skills sets, then those take higher priority. In my case, I completely deleted it, but my roommate believed that I needed to write an objective statement. She wasn’t wrong.; objective statements aren’t bad. On the other hand, they aren’t good for everyone. The moral of the story is simple: don’t argue with your roommate for twenty minutes about what to include in résumés, when in reality, you are both right.
Lesson Three: Sometimes you just have to hit the “Submit” button. Pushing the “Submit” button after you have completed an online job application is terrifying. Don’t worry, I completely understand. Nevertheless, at some point, you just have to stop re-reading, editing, and revising your application, and click the button. Let go. Just do it.
I decided to apply to Teach for America, and I completed my application about a week and a half ago. Yet, I just submitted it three days ago. I was so paranoid that I misspelled something, or that I awkwardly worded a sentence in my responses. So, instead of actually sending the application, I just let it sit. My stress just exponentially grew every time I looked at. I probably rewrote the application about three times.
Eventually, I realized I just needed to send it because my acceptance into the program has no direct correlation to the amount of times I edited the application. Once I hit the “Submit” button—regardless of how initially terrifying it was—I felt infinitely better. So, if you currently have an application just waiting in limbo like I did—please, do yourself a favor, and go send it.
Last but not least—believe in the power of drafting! I realize it is only October, and graduation is over six months away. But it is never too early to start thinking about post-grad life. So, don’t be afraid to tackle those “grown-up” tasks—just remember to take it slow and learn as you go through the process. Your resume and portfolio will not be perfect the first time. You will have to re-write and re-organize, but it will all be worth it in the long run. But don’t just take my word for it.
If you are looking for professional help, and not just the advice from a fellow stressed out senior, I suggest looking into an appointment with Career and Academic Planning. They are awesome with this sort of thing—from resumes to cover letters to personal statements. You could even browse Recruit-a-Duke, a convenient one stop location for JMU students to search for current job or internship openings.