The Best Career Advice for Recent College Graduates

You’ve done it, you’re officially a college graduate. You made it through countless hours of lectures in class, note taking, completing assignments, studying for tests and final exams. While all that seemed daunting at the time, you got it done and you’ve moved on to your next big challenge: finding your career path in the real job market.

The best career advice for college students is to be open to new ideas, challenges and experiences. Realize that your career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you should always be looking for ways to improve. Start by following specific tips on advice for college graduates looking for a job, job hunting tips for new graduates, how to get ahead at a new job and what to do early in your career.  

Advice for College Graduates Looking for a JobAdvice for College Graduates Looking for a Job

If you can’t find a job after college, don’t be overcome with depression. Finding a job after college is hard and you’re definitely not alone. According to recent numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics, there are over 3 million students receiving a degree and graduating from a program past the high school level each year. More and more young adults are deciding to pursue a college degree which means more competition in the workforce once the degree is complete.

The first thing you need to do once you graduate is to form a plan. You’re likely a confused college graduate and in one of these situations:

  • You don’t have a job lined up and ready to start after graduation
  • You’re still not sure what industry you want to be in
  • You’re worried that you don’t have enough experience to get a job in your industry
  • You’ve never interviewed for a higher-level position and don’t know how to prepare

You can start to make a plan once you recognize what your biggest concern is. Aside from the information you would gather about job seeking, there is general after college advice you should be aware of to help guide your path.

Be Ready to Jump In

You likely want to get a job in your desired field but don’t wait around for the perfect job at the perfect company. Sorry to break it to you, but your chances of getting a job after college that is your dream job are slim. Any experience at a professional job is better than sitting at home on your couch. You don’t want to necessarily take any job but don’t be afraid to accept a position even if it’s not exactly what you want.

Give the position some time to really understand what you’ll be doing and gauge if it’s the right fit. You could decide you love the position and stay there for some time. On the other hand, you could always look for another job if you decide you really don’t like it. You may find something sooner because you’ve been gaining experience and you’ll have a better understanding of what you do and do not want.

You’re In It for the Long Haul

You may feel that because you’re just entering the professional workforce, it doesn’t really matter what you do in your first job. That is not the case. Your job history will follow you throughout your career so it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward. This means treating people right, building relationships, establishing a solid reputation and making decisions with the long-term view in mind.

The farther you go in your career, the more you will realize that your entire job history will become relevant to your ongoing future. This is especially true if you move forward within the same field. You don’t want to find out how small your industry world is when poor past performances resurface at a new job.

Networking begins right away and you want to create a network of strong, trusted relationships with people that see you as a valued commodity. Avoid short-term wins at the expense of someone else that may creep up on your long-term goals. It may take you a little longer to reach your goals but you won’t be jeopardizing your future by creating resentment and bad feelings.

Understand YourselfUnderstand Yourself

You don’t need to have a 20-year plan laid out but you should understand yourself enough to know who you are and what you want out of your career. Your job positions may change direction over the years but if you know what your end goal is, it will be easier to navigate the waters.

This doesn’t refer to a monetary goal either. Decide what really matters to you and make that your career.

Along the lines of understanding yourself, you want to decide exactly what you want out of the company you work for. Core values differ from company to company, so find one that aligns with your own core values. It’s much easier to be successful when you appreciate your company and enjoy your career.

Just like above, if you find a high-integrity company that allows you to be your whole-self, where you’re inspired to work and love what you do, you’ll put in more time and effort. The combination of a company culture that matches your values and the passion for your field will ensure your future success.

Surprise Them (and Maybe Yourself)

There’s a good chance you’ll be underestimated when you start your entry-level, full time, professional job. Your college degree does not equal real-world experience and your supervisor and coworkers may not expect much out of you for that reason. Use that to your advantage. Instead of letting their underestimation cause self-doubt and frustration, show your full potential every opportunity you get.

You worked hard to get your college degree, so work hard at your new job and apply what you learned when possible to demonstrate your competence. Show initiative when you’re not sure what the next step is by approaching your supervisor or coworkers with intelligent questions that will help you with the assignment. You know what you’re capable of, even if they don’t, but they will understand once you prove your value.

It’s Not All Sunshine

You will face setbacks in your first job, there’s no way around it. You may have been wearing rose-colored glasses when you graduated, but when you land the job be prepared for the full spectrum of situations that will occur. Face setbacks as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and improve yourself professionally. Embrace situations that appear less than optimal on the surface level as they can help you at some point in the future.

At the time, it can be hard to appreciate momentary setbacks and mistakes. You could feel embarrassed by your error and may not want to admit you goofed. If you can swallow your pride and learn from the situation you will become better at your job and a better leader in the future. It will be painful, but embrace those unpleasant setbacks to become stronger down the road.

Job Hunting Tips for New GraduatesJob Hunting Tips for New Graduates

In order to determine your career path, you must know the right way to job search to optimize your time and reach your long-term goals. A structured job hunt will bear more fruit than looking willy-nilly and hoping for the best.

Remember, you’re in charge of your future. That means taking the bull by the horns from the start and creating your own path. Take a look at these tips for fresh graduates seeking their first professional job.

Decide Your Own PathDecide Your Own Path

One of the most crucial job seeking tips for college graduates. You’ve likely received a ton of advice, solicited or not, about what to do when job searching. The post-graduation advice could be from your parents, relatives, friends, professors or even strangers. Ultimately though, don’t let other people decide what you should be doing with your life.

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What have I been involved with in the past that I was successful at?
  • What have I been involved with in the past that I enjoyed?
  • Is there a way to combine these two things into a work environment?
  • What kind of work do I enjoy?
  • Would I still enjoy this work if I wasn’t getting paid for it?

Asking yourself these questions, and answering them truthfully, will give you an idea of where you should be headed. Again, don’t let someone else tell you what you enjoy and what you’re good at. The jobs you will pursue and be successful at should be based on these honest assessments.

Pursue Informational Interviews

An informational interview is when you interview an employee at a company in your desired field simply for information on that position, field or company. Research your industry and selected company before asking for an informational interview. The information you’re trying to gather should be related to what you will be doing, the industry, the company and its culture.

You should go into the interview with some knowledge already which allows you to ask pertinent questions as they relate to the information you are seeking. The more questions you have ready to ask, the more you control the interview.

Don’t think of an informational interview as a job interview either. The goal is to investigate the industry/company/position to see if it is right for you and what you want to accomplish. You may determine that the informational interview confirmed that you were in the right field and you may find you don’t care for the field or position after all.

Do Your Research Before the Job Interview

Just like you research a company before an informational interview, you want to research the company before your job interview. You want to conduct a thorough review of the company and your research should cover the following areas:

  • The company’s website
  • The company’s history
  • The industry of the company
  • The company’s main competition
  • What the company sells or produces
  • The company’s culture
  • If possible, find out who will be interviewing you
  • Use a site like LinkedIn to learn the interviewer’s history
  • Central figures in the company, like the President

Just like a test in school, you can never be too prepared with too much information. Your interviewer may ask you if you learned anything about the company, in which case you can showcase your knowledge. If your interviewer doesn’t ask, you can still drop tidbits you picked up to prove your interest in the company.

The Interview Works Both Ways

Sure, you go to an interview to demonstrate your knowledge and desire to work at the selected company, but the interview process is a two-way street. You should have a good feeling about the interviewer and company as well when the interview is over. If you get a sense of unease during the interview, aside from interview-jitters, it may not be the right place for you.

It’s possible you may have multiple interviews throughout the process. If you end up interviewing with your would-be manager, make sure you feel comfortable around them. Your boss will directly affect your enjoyment and success in your career more than anyone else, and you want to walk away feeling that they would be a good person to work under.

You may not be in a position to decline a job, regardless of your intuition. In that case, do what’s best for your current situation but keep the thought in the back of your head that if you don’t enjoy the job, or care for your boss, you can continue your job search for a better fit. You’re never stuck in one spot unless you stop trying to move!

Use Career WebsitesUse Career Websites

This may be a given, but it still doesn’t hurt to say it. There are hundreds of career websites that can be used during your job search, with some being better than others. Some of the bigger bang for your buck sites are:

 

  • LinkedIn: this social media site is invaluable for both job looking and networking. They offer a premium service as well that can give you more of an advantage.

 

  • Indeed: one of the best job listing websites. It pulls from countless other sites to put all of the jobs postings in one spot. You can utilize the company look-up as well to read employee reviews.
  • Glassdoor: In addition to providing job search results, this site specializes in employee reviews and ratings. You can find a lot of information about the company you’re looking into here.
  • Simply Hired: another job search engine that pulls from other websites. It also provides details on your local job market and offers a salary calculator.

Don’t just approach career websites as one and done. You should be using multiple sites at one time in order to get the biggest reach of job positions available.

Network with Social MediaNetwork with Social Media

You should be using every resource you have and that includes social media. Facebook comes to mind first, of course, where you can network with peers from college or even high school. Be careful of what you post on your social media accounts though. Many recruiters and employers use your profile page to screen you as a candidate.

LinkedIn doubles as a career website and social media site. Many companies utilize LinkedIn to look for young professionals in their field when they are actively hiring. Some of those companies may not even post their jobs online but instead opt to search for candidates themselves and seek out exactly what they’re looking for. For that reason, make sure your profile, resume, skills and portfolio (if you have one) are up to date at all times.

Be Proficient at Networking Emails

Just like there’s a way to act and not act on an interview, there are do’s and don’ts when sending a networking email.

  • Do diligent research before sending the email. Make sure the person you’re contacting has experience related to what you’re looking for. The receiver is unlikely to give your email a second glance if you’re asking for information or assistance on something they have no knowledge of.
  • Do ask questions that are specific. Steer clear of vague, general questions that are hard to answer and not relevant to job-hunting. You want to ask questions that are related to your own experience or the receiver’s experience.
  • Don’t take it personally if you don’t get an instant response. People are busy at their jobs and you’re not a priority on their list. It’s okay to follow up if you don’t get a reply but don’t act entitled or huffy.
  • Don’t jump the gun and ask for a job referral right away. This is especially true if the receiver doesn’t know you yet. If that is the case, first ask for advice in the chosen industry and tell them about yourself. Once the receiver has responded and started communicating with you, then segway into a possible job referral.
  • Don’t be too formal when addressing the receiver. Don’t use a Mr., Mrs., or Ms. if the receiver is within 5 years of your age. Using their first name is more personal and the receiver won’t feel that you’re aging them into an older generation.

Stay Positive

Staying positive is an often underutilized tool. The University of Washington states that the average time to get a job after graduation is three to six months. Don’t get discouraged if you get past the six-month mark. There are many factors that go into securing a job, such as the economy of where you’re looking, the demand for your position, what companies are located in the city you’re searching and how many other applicants you’re competing with.  

You will eventually land the job for you by staying positive, being prepared and being persistent. Keep in mind that you don’t need to land your dream job right out of college. You may not even decide what your dream job is until after you get some experience.

If you’re really struggling to find something, you could decide to change the type of company you’re looking for or look in a different city. Stay patient throughout the entire process as it can take time to establish the foundation of your career path.

How to Get Ahead at a New JobHow to Get Ahead at a New Job

You’ve done it: you’ve landed your first professional job after college. You want to put your best foot forward once you’ve accepted the position and start at your new job. Be proactive and get ahead from the start with these first year on the job tips.

Ask for More Responsibilities

Work to complete tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible but once you finish the assignment, don’t sit idle waiting for a new task. One of the best pieces of career advice for fresh graduates is to ask for more work and more responsibility in the type of assignments you receive.

Two things happen when you approach your supervisor and ask for more work and responsibility. The first is that your manager will start trusting you to complete a job that needs doing. They know you will get it done if it’s within your capabilities.

The second is that you will be rewarded for the extra work and responsibility you’ve asked to do. You’ll be rewarded with their trust first, which is followed by additional, higher level assignments. Those higher-level assignments can eventually turn into a higher position with more pay.

Realize Your Education is Neverending

This is nothing to worry or stress about. Be open to the fact that you will constantly need to be learning new things, whether through work experiences, books or your own desire for personal development. You will be trained in new areas of your position will which enable you to gain expertise and knowledge that will benefit you, your supervisor and your company.

This correlates with asking for more responsibilities as you will need to continue learning in order to complete those additional assignments. You should push yourself to grow with technical knowledge of your job and professionally. Both facets require you to consistently learn more as the information becomes available.  

There is a Difference Between School Work and Career Work

School work and career work are not the same. School work could be drudgery at times and even if you enjoyed your studies, students rarely get excited to attend classes and complete coursework. Understand that your degree is a credential but that real work, and your career, are often very different than school.

The real word is more complicated and less cut and dry than being in a classroom. In fact, your school experience can widely differ from what you need to know in order to be successful in your career. School can feel mandatory at times, like you have to be there to achieve any life goals. This can lead you to put in less-than-stellar effort and leave you discontent with your college experience.

Work does not have to be that way. It is possible to find a job you love and look forward to and if you don’t end up in that spot right away, you can change that. You control your career and where you’re going, not the other way around.

Don’t take part in your work just to get by. There are no A’s given in your career. You’re there to be successful, which means seeking out the best opportunities for yourself, learning from those around you and building a career around what you want.

What to do Early in Your CareerWhat to Do Early in Your Career

When you got your degree, you didn’t know how to find a job after college graduation. Then you weren’t quite sure what to expect on your first day in a new job. Now you’ve made it through both hurdles and you’re several months into your position.

You’ve got your eyes set on the long-term voyage that is your career path and you’re trying to make the right moves. Keep these tips in mind to ensure your success and growth into your future.

Your First Job is Not Always Your Career

What you do and how you act at your first job is important. After all, you want to establish yourself as a valued team member and gain as much experience as possible. With that in mind, also realize that your first job does not determine your career.

You may start what you think is your dream job, and come to the conclusion that you’re in the wrong field. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a good chance your end goal is not going to be straightforward.

It may take several positions at several varying companies for you to decide what you really want. You could end up in a totally different field than you expected. This does not mean your degree was a waste of time. You still gain skills and knowledge from completing your degree that can be used in many jobs and lead to a successful career in multiple fields.

Start a Piggy Bank

A key piece of advice to graduating students beginning their first professional job - don’t blow through your new paychecks. Coming from school life into the job world will segment your pay towards rent, food, student loans and perhaps bar-hopping. However, it’s never too early to start saving money.

You can start small by taking some of your pay and putting it into a high-interest savings account every month. Take advantage of your company’s retirement plan, if they have one, especially if they offer to match your contribution. If that’s not an option, open an IRA on your own.

Retirement plans are an investment into your life post-work but saving can also be useful in the short term. If you start tucking a little money away, you’ll have a buffer if something unexpected comes up. You may not fully appreciate your savings at first, but your future self will definitely appreciate it.

Focus on GrowthFocus on Growth

Focus on opportunities with a high ceiling for growth rather than high-prestige or high-pay. You’re early in your career so your expenses will be low and you will have decades of work ahead of you. For that reason, establish a good base and valuable experience with a company that will allow you to grow with them. Try to avoid a company that will stick you in the same role for years.

You’ll have to bite the bullet that nominal pay is not the same thing as value. Of course, you want more money to start paying off those student loans and stop living like a college student. However, a successful career is all about long-term thinking and sometimes that means starting at the bottom.

It may hurt, but consider taking a lower-paying job that will bring about long-term value. The job should allow you to grow, learn new skills, build a network, establish good relationships and move you forward in your career.

As you grow and evolve in your position, you should be providing more and more value to your supervisor and company. Added value will equate to a higher paycheck given time. Understand how your business works and how they create a profit and then utilize your position to help the business goals. This will guarantee that your modest pay is just the beginning of a bigger and better future.

Go With the Flow

You may be the type of person to want your entire future mapped out. You have an exact plan of how your career will progress and where you will end up. Be adaptable and understand that many times things don’t go as planned. It’s possible to have a plan and also go with the flow along the way.

Life is unpredictable, and your career will be as well. You’ll likely end up at places you could not have imagined, good and bad. Take everything in stride. Plus, you may miss a good opportunity if you’re too focused on a following a certain path and miss the fork in the road. You may find what you were looking for in a very unexpected place, a place you would have missed if you were blinded by tunnel vision.

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