Real Life: College to Career – Maria

mariaName: Maria Magdalena Arréllaga
Age: 23
College: University of Texas at Austin, May 2014 graduate
Company: IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law
Place of residence: Asunción, Paraguay
Hobbies and interests: Exploring with my dog, soccer, yoga, running, rock climbing, music, photography, travel, experimental cooking

Q: Did you start college with a clear idea of what you wanted your major to be? If so, what did that look like and how did that change during your time in college?

A: I knew I wanted to see and better understand the world, particularly the natural world, so I think I went into International Relations (IRG) initially for this reason. This way, I had the option of choosing my focus after taking classes in different departments. I knew I was in love with geography after my second year, so I chose to double major in IRG (with a focus in environment and science) and Geography.

Q: Can you walk me through the detailed step-by-step process that you went through to get your first job out of college?

A: My first ‘real’ job out of college was with a small marketing agency. I had built experience in the area of communications throughout college by working for various NGO’s and for my school newspaper, The Daily Texan. I started as an intern with the marketing agency about 2 months after graduation and eventually was hired on as a Content Strategist. I began applying for jobs and exploring different options in January of my senior year. This involved a lot of research, editing and re-editing my resume, sending it out to different people, and going through the process all over again numerous times. I was not limited geographically to where I wanted to work, and I was looking for opportunities in many areas! I applied to a number of positions and often did not hear back. It was kind of like fishing. Once you feel the line pull, you go with it and work hard to reel it in. I thought I was going to do a Fulbright research semester after college and head directly into the continuation of my academic career. I was a finalist but was not accepted in the last round. I decided to keep exploring options, applying and interviewing. It was a long process! I also treated myself to a 2 week adventure in British Columbia after graduation. It was a wonderful summer.

After the trip, I landed my position at the marketing agency in Austin. It was wonderful and I was learning a lot and loving working with my team. I worked there for about six months before accepting an opportunity that came up with my current organization. I knew that, ultimately, my goal was to go back to working in environmental issues. Now I am working in communications with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Commission on Environmental Law, and I absolutely love it!

Q: What aspect of that process was most challenging or stressful for you? Looking back, what advice would you give to college students to make this aspect less challenging?

A: I think that the realization that there are many thousands of recent graduates in the same position as you is a bit daunting. I would log on to my LinkedIn and see that there were 400 other applicants for the same position I was interested in and get slightly bummed out. The process of applying, interviewing and rejection time and time again was also a bit tiresome, but I also realized how much I learned in that process. Most of my success came through networking and meeting in person, instances in which I was presented with the opportunity to really show who I am and what my goals are. My advice is to put yourself out there and to reach out to people you think may be potentially valuable for advice and connections. Ask questions, go to events and conferences and introduce yourself to people! This is where you get the chance to make a real and lasting impression.

Q: What was the biggest adjustment or adjustments for you going from college to full-time employment?

A: For me, it was more that I knew I was going to be cut off financially after my graduation. Not that this was a major adjustment so to say, but that it meant taking on more financial responsibilities that I didn’t think about as much when I was a full-time student. This forces you to be creative, and I actually found it (and still find it) exciting in a way. I moved back in with my parents after graduation, while I was figuring things out and enjoying the summer in Austin. I was freelancing and working different jobs in that transition, until things started to fall into place. I think that this transition time is very difficult for people, because there is so much pressure (what I also consider unnecessary societal pressure, to an extent), but it’s important not to be so hard on yourself. Have a vision, feel your passions out and stick to them! There will be obstacles, but those obstacles are also opportunities to learn from and they will eventually end up guiding you in a way.

Q: Do you have any advice for coping with these adjustments?

A: Post-graduation is a time of huge transition and growth, given the obvious changes and those pressures I have already mentioned above. It’s important to just be conscious and aware of what you want and what you are trying to achieve, whatever that may be. I think having a vision is most important. The next step is dedicating yourself to realizing that vision, which is also likely to change as you go along. I think this process involves effort, will power and also your intuition. You will know when something is right, and that is when you go all in.

Q: What are some of your current short-term goals?

A: Some of my current short term goals, aside from general professional development in my new job with the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, are learning French, meditating and writing everyday. I also hope to find new ways to engage in solidarity for social and environmental progress in my community through different projects.

Q: Is there anything else about your college and career experience that you would like to add?

A: College is such a special opportunity. I am amazed by how many doors it opened for me intellectually, personally and professionally. Make the most of the resources available to you as a student, develop close relationships and really follow those passions! They will lead you to where you want to be eventually. I remember feeling lost many times in college, but I navigated by following my interests, and with the help of peers and professors that inspired me along the way. The exciting part is that this journey is not over, either. The navigation continues after college as well. College is just when you get to plant the seeds. It is the essential nourishment phase that prepares you for the post-college growth.

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