If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’re likely aware of how overwhelming it can be to pay off student loans while you’re looking for work. Many new graduates face this challenge, considering the average student leaves school owing $39,400 in student debt.
While student loans can put a strain on your budget, they can also teach you valuable lessons that can help with the job search. For example, patience is a virtue you’ll need for both paying back your student debt and finding a good career opportunity.
If you’re balancing paying off debt with applying for jobs, here are five approaches that could help you be successful in both:
1. Gather Your Materials and Make a Plan
Whether you’re managing student loans or sending off your resume to potential employers, it helps to get all your ducks in a row. Write down the details of each loan so you know how much you owe and what your interest rates are. Track down your loan servicers, and set up autopay so you don’t miss a payment.
In terms of your job search, write up a solid resume and cover letter that you can customize for each prospective employer. Optimize your LinkedIn profile and make a list of resources, such as job boards and networking events, that will help you get hired.
By gathering your materials and writing down a plan, you’ll be more prepared to hit the ground running when you start paying off loans or applying to jobs.
2. Be Patient and Play the Long Game
You can’t expect to pay off your debt right away, nor can you expect to have overnight success in your career. Both these goals take time to achieve, and you’ll have to practice patience along the way.
When paying off loans, for instance, it might feel like your principal is barely going down month to month. But every payment chips away at the total, and you might be able to speed up repayment if you make more money in the future.
Similarly, regarding your career, everyone has to start somewhere. Rather than jumping into your dream job straight out of school, you’ll probably enter a field via an internship or entry-level job. While you won’t start at the top, you can map out the stepping stones that will help you get there.
Give yourself time to achieve your long-term goals, and don’t forget to enjoy — or at least learn from — the journey along the way.
3. Stay Persistent and Disciplined in the Face of Setbacks
Unfortunately, paying off loans and searching for jobs aren’t always smooth sailing. Some months, you might feel fed up with a balance that never seems to go down or an extra payment that was incorrectly applied to your interest when it should have gone to your principal.
When you’re searching for jobs, you might get your hopes up about a position only to have the employer disappear on you. Or, you could make it to the interview stage and then find out someone else swooped in and got the job.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but staying persistent despite your frustration will help you achieve your goals in the end.
4. Seek Advice From Those Who Have Gone Before You
You’re not expected to be a student loan or career expert on your own. If you’re a new grad, reach out to others for their advice or mentorship.
Speak with someone who conquered a large amount of debt, for instance, to find out how they did it. If you’re pursuing loan forgiveness, look for someone who successfully got their balance discharged and get some tips from them.
Networking is especially important when searching for a job. The Adler Group estimates that 85 percent of jobs are filled by networking, so don’t underestimate the power of making personal connections in your industry.
Building your network, finding a mentor, and reaching out to friends and family can help you feel supported as you navigate these challenges.
5. Find Strategies to Speed Up the Process
While getting rid of debt and building your career can take a long time, you can get strategic about speeding up the process. If you find room in your budget, for instance, you could throw extra payments at your loans. You might find a job with a higher salary, set up a side hustle, or cut your spending.
If you’ve got a strong credit score and steady income — or have a cosigner with these assets — you could refinance your student loans for a lower rate. Lowering your interest rate could save you money, and it might allow you to choose a shorter loan term to get out of debt ahead of schedule.
When it comes to getting hired, look for ways to kick your job search into overdrive. Turn the hunt into your new full-time job, hone your interviewing skills, and put yourself out there by attending networking events and industry conferences.
Although you can’t expect to reach your destination right away, you can pick up your pace to get there.
Dealing with student loans can be stressful, especially if you’re struggling to make monthly payments. If your loans are especially burdensome, consider putting them on an income-driven plan or extended repayment plan to open up more room in your budget.
That way, you won’t feel pressured into taking a job you don’t want just to make your student loan payments. Remember that even though student loans are a drag, paying them off can teach you valuable lessons about persistence and discipline — two qualities that will serve you well as you build your dream career.
Rebecca Safier writes for Student Loan Hero about education, careers, and other personal finance topics.