5 Tips for College Grads Entering the Workforce
Every year around commencement time, the Internet lights up with motivational posts and other advice for recent college grads—all saying something along the lines of “go get ‘em, kid” or “here’s the secret to career success.” Most offer some variation of the same time-honored advice of “work hard” and “pay your dues” or the cliché, “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Nothing against any of that guidance, but it’s not exactly specific or useful. Nowadays, with the competition for great jobs tougher than ever, a young professional’s first job search can be lengthy and frustrating. Simply put, finding a job after college is hard AF, but it’s not impossible. Here are five real-world tips for college grads entering the workforce.
1. Don’t accept just any job or internship opportunity.
As you hit the employment market and begin your first job search, it helps to know what you’re hoping to get out of an internship or full-time job.
Are you looking to get exposure to a lot of different areas and “wear more than one hat”? If that’s the case, a small startup or nonprofit may be right for you. Just remember that while you’ll expand your skills, you may not make much money in your first job after college.
On the flip side, you could go the corporate route and try to get hired on with a large company. This will provide a decent salary, good benefits, and a lesson in business etiquette and office hierarchy, but you could find it stifling and it may sap your creativity.
For interns, there is one question that you must ask before accepting any internship offer (paid or unpaid):
How many interns have transitioned to full-time roles in the company?
If the organization offers dozens of internships each year but none translate into anything more than college credit or free/low-cost labor then it may not be the best choice for your long-term career goals.
2. Create a career plan (but recognize that it’s not set in stone).
A lot of sources offering advice for recent college grads suggest that young professionals develop a five- or even ten-year plan before beginning their first job search. Initiative and ambition are two qualities that can be extremely vital to career success, but flexibility is equally critical.
Begin by imagining where you see yourself in five or ten years. What is your job title? What types of projects are you managing/contributing to? Once you’ve decided on your primary objective, work backwards to figure out how to get there, the skills you’ll need, and how to acquire those skills.
Having goals is important, and coming up with a plan for how to attain them can be extraordinarily helpful. However, you shouldn’t be so focused on “the plan” and your long-term objectives that you miss out on short-term opportunities for professional growth.
You never know where your career might take you, so keep an open mind, learn about fields and specialties outside of your own, and gain as many skills as you can.
3. Build relationships with coworkers and superiors.
Networking really is essential, which is why it’s mentioned in nearly every source of career advice for new grads. It’s not just about making small talk at meet-and-greets or collecting contacts on LinkedIn, either. To be successful, you need to form connections to serve as references, mentors, or partners. LendEDU's recent survey of 2018 college graduates found that "mutual connections through a family member or friend" was the top way those that found employment had secured their new job:
Ideally, you will have already started building your professional network in college by cultivating relationships with professors and peers, but you can also reach out to thought leaders in your chosen industry or make contacts via internships and informational interviews.
Once you’ve settled into your first job after college, identify a few of the most important people in your company to connect with and begin developing those relationships. Ask for advice, offer your assistance on critical projects, or simply check in to see how their work is going.
Remember that networking is a two-way street—you need to give as much as you get—so be there for your colleagues when they need you and you can be sure they’ll return the favor.
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4. Be fearless—now’s the time to take risks.
When you first graduate from college, you may feel like you have so many things that you have to do right away: find a job, pay off student loans, move out on your own, etc. The truth is, you have plenty of time to do all those things, and once you do you’ll have responsibilities (ugh).
Finding a job after college is hard enough, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Take advantage of your freedom and follow your dreams before you get tied down. Establish a startup, do some traveling, or take on a passion project. These experiences may not directly prepare you for your career, but they’ll expand your horizons and provide anecdotes to talk about in interviews.
A more practical form of risk-taking would be to offer your suggestions unsolicited. Reach out to someone at your dream company and request a meeting, send ideas to your CEO, or publish a blog about how you think an industry titan could do better. It can be scary to put yourself out there, but what have you got to lose?
Even if your ambitions don’t pan out or you fall flat on your face, you can chalk that failure up to a “learning experience” and move on. A lot of people fail early in their careers, so it’s no big deal.
5. Be positive and never stop asking questions.
Although this article is about tips for college grads entering the workforce, this particular advice applies whether you’re conducting your first job search or your tenth. Positivity, enthusiasm, and curiosity are all endearing traits in the professional world. Even if your first job isn’t exactly what you expected, remain optimistic and don’t get discouraged.
Focus on what you can learn and how you can improve no matter your role. Ask questions, volunteer to help with special projects, and show initiative. Your efforts may not be recognized immediately, but you’ll gain new skills and experience to add to your resume.
Keep an open mind and work with as many different types of people on as many different initiatives as you can. Learn to collaborate. Stay humble and resist the urge to constantly show everyone how smart you are (it’s obnoxious).
The best career advice for new grads is to think of your first job after college as an extension of your education. Focus on learning as much as you can and you’ll set yourself up for long-term career success.
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