Part 2 of the series: "You Just Graduated. Now What?"

Tips for Graduates Entering the World of Work


  • Planning for the future after graduation may seem scary and overwhelming, but it is not insurmountable.
  • Saving and organizing the work you’ve done these last several years in school will prove to be very helpful.
  • Working on your resume and drafting a cover letter early can save much-needed time and energy in the future.

Congratulations, graduate! In my last post, I explained that it’s important to shore up your contacts before you find yourself far away from them. In addition to that, there are a host of things you can do now as you enter the world of work (or graduate school), that will make the transition a lot smoother.

Save Your Work/Portfolio

Did you save the syllabus? Save the syllabus! I just got an email from a student who, after the course closed and he could no longer access the files, asked, “Hey, Professor, can you send me the syllabus?”

Not only does it contain your professor’s contact information, but also, many schools require syllabi to give you credit for past courses. Sure, you’ll get transcripts, but they just list the name and number of the class. Some schools need syllabi to verify that requirements were met.

Just this semester, for example, a student from a couple of years ago emailed me asking for the syllabus because a Cal State campus wanted to review one of my courses to make sure it met their requirements.

Luckily, I’m not going anywhere, but you can never guarantee your professor will still be there, be available, or be able to find the file you need out of the approximately eight billion syllabi on their computer.

You also don’t know for sure that searching a school’s syllabus repository (all schools are required to have them now) will be easy or yield the results you’re looking for.

It seems that every semester there is some new portfolio-type program (e.g. Portfolium) added to our learning management system, Canvas. You might feel pressure to use it, but the value of these programs depends on the discipline, so make sure to ask. Ask people doing the work you want to do what they think regarding the usefulness of these programs, not just those in academia.

I can’t say I’ve heard of many psychology programs or jobs that use any of these programs, except maybe LinkedIn. But, gone are the days of saving plastic storage boxes full of term papers and projects. Just save your work. It’s best if you save it as you’re producing it, because who wants to go back and have to find it?

So, as soon as possible, save and organize your important work so you’ll be able to find and access it later. This feels like trying to convince students to learn APA format now because they’ll thank me later. As I tell intro students, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Update Your Resume

Not going to lie, I hate this one. As someone who always has a million projects and contracts and jobs going at once, all of which are worthy of a resume or CV, I feel your groan when I tell you this. But it must be done. Keep track of your work, skills, and accomplishments now and, again, you’ll thank yourself later.

A lot of advice to college students includes writing a one-page resume. I feel very confident in telling you that in psychology and related fields, two pages is okay if you really, really need the space. The point is to be clear and concise. That’s what we want in psychology. No “word salad,” just the important stuff. Be direct about what you did, where, and how it demonstrates your skills.

And please, don’t put your GPA on your resume unless required by the employer or school who asks for it. I tell you this after years of watching hiring teams scoff at the “old school” resumes that included GPAs.

My strongest advice regarding resumes and CVs is to keep a draft, unofficial version that you update the moment you get a new job, sign on to a new committee, or anything that an employer (or graduate school) would want to know. Keep a record for yourself—you can make it look good and sound better later.

The point is to write it down now because as young and mentally fit as you may feel right now, you’re going to forget something, especially as the years, work, and accomplishments pile up.

Write a Draft Cover Letter

Guess what? It’s another “you’ll thank yourself later.” Cover letters are simply a way to introduce yourself to an employer and make the case for them to consider you as a candidate. You may need to do this, or something similar like a purpose statement, for graduate school as well.

Keeping in mind that I have many degrees and over 20 years of vast and varying experience that require an ever-evolving battle to keep it short (clear and concise, remember), this is basically my skeleton:

Hello, I am enthusiastically applying for your job and in a nutshell, you should hire me because I fit given my education and experience.

Here are the specifics about my education and how it relates to this position.

Here are the specifics about my experience and how it relates to this position.

In case it wasn’t clear (don’t actually say that), here are a few more strong sentences to close this out and highlight just how much my education and experience make me an excellent candidate.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

But how can you write a cover letter if you don’t actually have a job to apply for yet? Well, first, find one! Even if it’s not your dream job, find a job and apply for it. It’s a good way to practice, get that first draft done, and prepare your resume as well. Consider it a test run.

Even if you don’t want to apply or can’t find a job, you can still draft a cover letter. Imagine your dream job. Now write to that dream hiring committee. Done.

Caution: If you do create a draft or template you use over and over again, be sure to review your letters closely before you send them to actual employers. I say this as someone who has graded a lot of assignments with the wrong class name, “insert XYZ here,” and the like.

Have Courage

It’s so trite to tell someone to just have courage, but I really mean it. This stuff is scary. It just is. It feels big and sometimes insurmountable. It’s a step into a whole different world than what you’ve been used to. I get it. It’s a lot.

Take a breath. You don’t have to do it all today. In fact, you don’t have to do any of it. Knowing that, do what you can. Take it a step at a time, and watch yourself advance to heights you never imagined…or maybe you did. You deserve this. Congratulations, graduate!

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