When I was younger, my parents would often say “waste not, want not” if I refused something (usually food) that they believed I should take advantage of. Many of you are also familiar with this saying as your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. would also say it. Basically, they were letting us know that if we were willing to waste it, apparently, we didn’t want it badly enough.

Today, the saying makes me think of people who have expended their resources (or the resources of others), on an opportunity, only to waste it. I’ll give you an example. I know a young black man who graduated college a few years ago. He is smart, talented and creative. His smile defines #BlackBoyJoy and if you are in his presence, he is sure to make you laugh. To put it plainly, he is awesome and yet, he is a college-educated individual who has not used his degree once since he obtained it.  

As I am sure you are aware, there was a time when black people could not pursue education at all. So, when we started breaking down the barriers before us to become college-educated scholars, it activated a kind of ripple effect through the generations to follow. Over time, earning a college degree became the holy grail. Getting a degree is a big deal in black families across the nation because at one point, it was simply a dream, a moving target.

Thus, earning a degree is an accomplishment to be applauded and celebrated. The key is to use your degree to work for you. This is not to be confused with working in the field in which you have earned your degree. In 2013, the Washington Post reported that only 27 percent  of graduates were working in their fields, and today, the number has not changed much. Working outside of your field is OK—not putting your degree to use at all is not.

So, why is not using your degree akin to not having one? Well, simply put, your degree cannot work for you if you are not using it to leverage the opportunities you want. The young man I mentioned has worked several odd jobs since graduation, but has yet to pursue a position that can considerably impact his career trajectory and earning potential. What’s more, the jobs that he has taken (none of which require a degree) have not pulled in enough income to start paying on his student loans. In some ways, my baccalaureate brother has set himself back even further than someone who has not earned a degree at all because he has more education, more debt and nothing to show for it.   

If you have found yourself in a “waste not, want not” situation with your degree, now is the perfect time to explore some ways to start making your degree work for you. Consider using these four basic tips for putting your degree to good use and starting on a path to your supreme destiny.

Know Your Stuff

If you are going to take your industry of choice by storm, you will need to know as much about it as possible. What occupations are most closely associated with your degree? Out of those occupations, which appeal to you? Are jobs in the industry growing, declining or stagnating? Consult reliable sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and ONet Online, to find out as much as you can about your degree and the job prospects, skill and economic outlook associated with the degree.

Consult a Coach

As a Career Coach myself, I might be a bit biased on this one. However, consulting a career coach holds many advantages. You get to benefit from the feedback of someone who will guide you in the next steps of your professional path. A career coach can also assist you with interview preparation, job search strategy, salary negotiation coaching and resume review.

Have Your Resume Reviewed

Speaking of resume reviews, this is the next tip that should be on your to-do list for putting your degree to good use. Having your resume reviewed will not only help you learn how to highlight the degree that you are going to make work for you, but will also help to ensure that you are getting in front of employers that can connect you to the best opportunities. Have your resume reviewed by a career coach, mentor or career center advisor.

Make Connections

Today, there are more avenues for black college graduates to make connections than ever before. Start with your school’s alumni association. Then, check your area for networking events that you can attend. Search LinkedIn for both in-person and virtual meet-ups that allow you to connect with your peers. The more you talk to people who are trying to figure out many of the same things you are, the more ideas you will generate about how to use your degree effectively.

Essentially, using your degree is not about following someone else’s path, allowing other people to define you or keeping up appearances. It is about capitalizing on all of the resources you have invested into earning your degree. The investments you make for your future are an extension of yourself. Earning a college degree is not an easy task and you deserve to use that degree to leverage what you want out of your life and career. Use your degree as an instrument in creating the best possible life for yourself.