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Your First Year Out of College: Five Tips for Recent Policy Grads

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Zoom panels of Bryan Kempton, Nina Harris, Rajshree Agarwal, Sarah Wolek

Your first year out of college can be scary especially in the middle of a global pandemic. When it comes time to determine your next step, instead of focusing on the big world, focus on your world. “The places you go, the things that you do, and the people that you meet,” says Rajshree Agarwal. “That will help you contextualize the fundamental question: what do I do with my life?”

Agarwal addressed that very big question to help kick off a panel of UMD experts sharing tips for recent public policy grads during “Your First Year Out of College.” Throughout the webinar, the presenters also addressed a number of smaller questions to provide concrete action items for our newest alumni.

The full panel, co-hosted by the School of Public Policy and the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Intentional Life Lab, included:

  • Nina Harris, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies at the School of Public Policy
  • Rajshree Agarwal, Rudolph P. Lamone Chair and Professor in Entrepreneurship & Director, Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets
  • Sarah Wolek, Director, Intentional Life Lab
  • Moderator: Bryan Kempton, Director of Career Services and Alumni Relations at the School of Public Policy

Whether you recently graduated, or you are hoping to progress in your career, here are some tips to start implementing throughout a summer in quarantine:

1. Develop attainable smart skills that will be marketable

Communication skills go a long way. “Especially through technology,” Harris says. “That’s where you’ll be doing most of your outreach.”

Harris stresses the importance of being as formal and professional as possible. “When I get communication from students or young professionals applying for jobs, I pay attention to how they address me,” she explains.

The importance of communication also extends to your writing. Wolek suggests practicing writing the typical documents requested of policy professionals memos, backgrounders and one-pagers to ensure you can digest information and communicate it concisely. “Get a head start on that,” she suggests. “Those [can become] writing samples that you can send into your job applications.”

2. Make connections.

While we are virtual, there may be less opportunity to connect in person, but don’t let that stop you from building your network. “This is actually an opportunity for you not to hunker down, but perhaps to open up your world,” Agarwal says.

Reach out to those you may want to work with and start asking questions and having conversations about what you can offer to them.

While you are reaching out, be mindful of the other party’s preferences: do they prefer Zoom or phone calls? Harris suggests asking for their preferred method of communication. What value do they get out of forming a connection with you? Agarwal says to frame your value proposition around the other person’s interests and goals, rather than your own.

And while networking can often be a scary word, if you start making it a consistent part of every week, it becomes second nature. “Think of it as within your week, you do this at least once or twice,” Wolek explains. “Fit it into your bandwidth in a healthy way.”

Come from a place of your own values, and then connect the dots between what you value and how you’ve actually lived those values
Sarah Wolek Director, Intentional Life Lab
3. Be authentic.

Buzz words are rampant on job applications, but you get more from showing where your values lie, rather than telling.

“Instead of using buzzwords, [your values] will show up in the things you have done and the organizations you have associated with,” Harris says.

Tell stories that reflect your values, such as a time you reached out to a community that was different from yours, to communicate your investment in diversity.

“Come from a place of your own values, and then connect the dots between what you value and how you’ve actually lived those values,” Wolek explains.

4. Redefine work-life balance.

The global pandemic has shifted the boundaries between home life and work, from children who may be home during the day to removing the physical distance from the office. 

For Wolek, this means giving herself some grace. “Instead of going for a walk every day, maybe it’s only two times in a week,” she says. “I have to be ok with the fact that I’m not going to hit everything every day.” Harris has set up half of her workspace to remove barriers to giving her mind a break.

Agarwal says many times the stress of work comes from feeling overwhelmed.

She suggests first, determine your priorities and then think about what in your work feels meaningful. “Once you've done that, you’ll be able to do the chores in order to be able to do the things you love,” she says.

5. Keep the conversation going.

Finally, the experts suggest that throughout quarantine and after, don’t view connections as one-and-done conversations. 

“You’ve invested time in getting to know this person,” Wolek says. “It’s really worthwhile to say ‘thank you, now that you have a sense of what I’m interested in and I’ve learned so much, are there are other people or organizations that you think I should explore?”

And don’t forget to be prompt with thank you notes after meetings and references!

Learn more about career services for public policy students at the university

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