Graduates in Cap and Gown --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Advice to My 21 Year-Old Graduating Self

Life for a 21 year-old in 1995 was very different than it is today in terms of securing a position, but many things are still the same. Fear. Excitement. Trepidation. All relevant and relatable across any generation of new graduates, regardless of whether you graduated in 1995 or 2015.

For some, finding a job is compounded by leaving the nest…officially, where you actually have to do your own laundry and pay rent. I moved out when at the age of 17 when I was a Freshman in college into a one room efficiency apartment off campus; didn’t wait for my parents to kick me to the curb post-graduation. I don’t know if I was brave or crazy, but I wouldn’t change the path I took. That said there are many other things I would do differently if I were transported back to the age of 21 and graduating.

1. Move out of state, out of your comfort zone, out of the bubble your parents so gently put you in. Don’t wait until you are 40 to make that leap! It doesn’t mean that you don’t love the place you are in, but true growth comes from looking fear in the eye and saying, “Ha! I’m completely terrified, but I’m gonna do it anyway.”

At the age of 40, my family and I moved 600 miles from “home”. I had been offered other opportunities during my career that would have led me to Houston, TX and Front Royal, VA. I was scared that I wouldn’t like those towns and that if it didn’t work out I would be stuck and that they were so far away from my family, so I didn’t take them. I see now that I let my anxiety hold me back. Today, we love the town we live in and it’s actually exciting to have someplace to go back to and visit. I consistently tell my children how lucky they are to have moved at a young age and I try to keep them excited about visiting new places around the world, so when they get to be college-age, they explore options that were never on my radar.

2. Internships are not just for your college years. Depending on your chosen profession, the job market may not be ideal (that’s a whole pre-college advice session). Choose a company that you’d like to work for and be open to interning. And then, get noticed through dedication and stellar work. Companies are known to create jobs or even offer positions in stretch assignments for high performing interns. Don’t limit your company choice to your immediate locations; see #1.

Also on this topic, you are never too old to be an intern. We recently concluded an internship with a seasoned professional. She was looking to fill a skills-gap and had enough of the skills we needed to make it a great partnership. The team she worked for found her contributions to be excellent and her desire to grow her skillset was evident in her attitude and dedication. She has secured a position back in her desired profession in the world of academia and credits her time with us in helping her obtain that job. I admired her “go for it” attitude in applying for the internship and I’m also proud of Performance Plastics for hiring a non-traditional intern.

3. Share your passion. Whatever your career choice, don’t just do the job. Be an advocate for your profession and share your passion with others. Join associations; attend meetings, seminars, and conferences regularly; contribute in sharing best practices; and be an officer in the association. Through perseverance and dedication, you will progress from an ‘early career’ person to a ‘seasoned professional’ in a short amount of time (like in 8 years or so…it’s all relative to the 50 years you’ll spending working!). You have an obligation to grow your profession; keep it on the cutting edge and to bring the next generation into your world.

The best part of being in Human Resources is knowing some of these tips and tricks to managing the start of a career. The beautiful part of being a mom, is having the ability to influence how my children approach life, their careers, moving out of my house (jk if you are my kid and reading this!), and how to live in the world post-graduation.


Kristin Wilson, Talent & Development Manager


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