So Your Start Date Got Moved. Here’s What To Do With Your Extra Time.

Ways to Use Downtime as An Opportunity for Professional Growth

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

If you’re like thousands of other recent college graduates working at some of the biggest companies and firms in the world, chances are you have a few months before you start work. While most large organizations have been adamant on upholding their offers to recent grads, many have resorted to pushing back their start dates by months, to even as late as January. If you’re one of those graduates whose start date was pushed — you certainly have the right to be frustrated. You were eager to enter a booming job market, get to work, and start making money after four long years of working toward a degree. Not to mention you didn’t get the graduation you expected; and that big trip you were going to take this summer — yeah, that got cancelled too.

But if you still have a job, you’re one of the lucky ones. Several of your peers don’t have that same luxury. It is still more than okay to still be frustrated with the rapid turn of events in the past few months, all of which was out of your control. What you can control, however, is what you do with the time you’ve been given between now and the start of your career. Will you sit at home and binge every last series on Netflix, or will you binge maybe one or two series while using the rest of the time for personal growth and jumpstarting your professional brand?

The following are just a few of the ways that the Class of 2020 might be able to make use of the time they have while still in the middle of a pandemic:

Build Your Network ~ 2 hours/week

If you’re like me, once you got your job offer you may have said to yourself “well, I don’t have to worry about LinkedIn for a while.” But LinkedIn isn’t all about getting jobs and networking isn’t always about setting out to find your next employer. The benefits to having a vast professional network are endless and you never know when a seemingly obscure connection might be useful.

And while you might be hesitant to bother people while they are dealing with COVID-19 fallout, many professionals are actually willing to use some of the time they are saving from commutes and meetings to network with those entering the workforce. It can be as simple as reaching out, introducing yourself, and saying that you are interested in a certain field and would be interested in having a conversation about how the pandemic is affecting that field. Perhaps to your surprise, many professionals want to talk to students and recent grads and will gladly accept.

While LinkedIn is obviously a great platform to network, it isn’t the only one. I’ve been using Twitter to network quite a bit recently — I started a professional account and then searched hashtags that applied to my industry and followed people who had those hashtags in their bios. Then I followed their followers. Within two weeks I had over 100 followers in the field of HR and Organizational Psychology — and I had never met any of them.

Also use your network to build your network — talk to your mentors or those who you have worked or networked with before. Check in with them and then ask them if there’s anyone they could introduce you to who might be a useful connection. They’ll likely connect you over email and it takes the nerves out of reaching out to someone cold. Spend just two hours a week on this and you will grow your network extensively by the time you start work.

Work a Side Job ~ 20 hours/week

I’m sure the last thing you were expecting to do when you graduated college is go back to your old high school job. But picking up a part time gig at a grocery store is not only needed right now, but could be useful in getting some money to tide you through until your start date.

With many low-income service jobs not hiring right now, you might try picking up some short term remote or freelance work. Be on the lookout for short term contract jobs you can do from home, or if you have some solid skills, create an account on Upwork and start applying to projects. Or start writing! Outlets like Medium will pay for work that circulates and could be useful in making some cash to survive the summer.

Even if your financial situation allows for you to take that extra time without having to work, beginning to build up some savings for when you do move to a new city and start work is never a bad thing.

Start Working Toward a Certification ~ 5 hours/week

Does your job require you to get a CPA within a year or two of working? Or would a CPA be helpful in advancing your career? Are you in HR or Marketing? Well, there’s certifications for those fields too. Spending your downtime working toward a professional certification will help put you above your peers when you start work and could help fast-track your career for promotions or future jobs. Even if you don’t know if you want one right now, the time may come two or three years down the road when you do — and that’s going to be more difficult when you’re working 60-hour weeks and are in a serious relationship. Help yourself later by using this time to buy a study guide and begin mastering the material — even if you don’t take the test before you start work you’ll be ahead of the game when you come back to it later.

Pick Up a Skill ~ 5 hours/week

How savvy are you with Excel? Pretty good you say? What about Python? JavaScript? JMP?

While knowing these programs might not be required for your job, I promise you that knowing them is going to put you ahead of the game. Having these skills is going to open you up to a world of projects and opportunities that you may not have otherwise received, opening doors for career advancement.

I had a conversation with one woman at a large consulting firm who told me that she often misses out on potential projects because she doesn’t have experience with programs like Python and C++. She’s working on getting those skills now — years into her career and while raising a young family. Gaining those skills before you start work will set you miles ahead of your peers when you arrive at the office.

Read Up ~ 8 hours/week

Do you have a reading list? How long is it? Mine is well over 100 books. And while I will certainly not be able to complete the list before I start work, now is a perfect opportunity to make a substantial dent in it. Check out one of the lists of the best business books and pick just three or four. In addition to the business acumen you’ll gain, it’s likely that the higher-ups in your company have read these books as well — what better way to network with them by having a discussion on the book.

But you don’t just have to stick to the traditional business books. By reading business books that don’t make the Wall Street Journal’s Bestseller list or skimming some books on other topics or even enjoying some modern fiction staples, you may find inspiration for your next project or help yourself view your career or personal life in a new way.

If you didn’t notice — doing all of these things each week adds up to a total of 40 hours — the minimum amount of time you would have been working anyway! By spending those 40 hours you’ve been given on these activities, you will be miles ahead of your peers when you finally step into the office and will have fast-tracked your career progression, making yourself an invaluable asset from day one. Best of all, you’ll still have time to binge those Netflix shows at night.

Organizational psych guru interested in values based organizations, Gen Z, and the Future of Work. Working to create a happier, more productive workforce.

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