Earning a college degree is no small feat, so if you’re a brand-new college grad…kudos to you! Whether or not you know what’s next for you, you can take pride in knowing you’ve completed an important step for your life and career.
At the same time, graduation day can be both exhilarating and terrifying. And for many, the day AFTER graduation is more terrifying than exhilarating. What now? you wonder.
If you’re like most college students, you’ve probably been holding onto the idea that the job recruiters were going to be waiting for you at the doors to your school with open arms, rolling out the red carpet and handing you some metaphorical golden key to launch your career. While some students indeed find good jobs and internships right out of college, the harsh reality is this doesn’t happen for nearly as many students as it used to. So…if you’ve come through graduation with no job prospects and no sense of direction, don’t beat yourself up. You’re actually in good company.
The good news is that even though the path to a career might not be laid out straight before you, there are practical steps you can take to launch yourself into the job market and land your first “real” job, preferably within your area of study. Let’s talk about some practical tips to get you started.
Refine Your Career Goals
When you chose your major, you might have had a good idea what kind of field you wanted to work in and what you wanted your profession to be. Now that you’ve graduated, it’s time to revisit those goals and make sure they’re aligned with your current desires. It’s not unusual for career goals to evolve as you move through college–in fact, a surprising number of people land lucrative careers that have little or nothing to do with what they studied in college. If you’re still committed to the career path you initially chose, that’s great–you’re ahead of the game. But if you’re not, it’s okay to keep your options open.
Start by defining what you want in your career. What type of job aligns with your degree and aspirations? What industries are you interested in? What other types of work does your degree qualify you for? Refining these career goals will help guide your job search and application process.
Perfect Your Resume
Your resume is the first impression you make on potential employers, and in many cases, it’s the only thing standing between you and a job interview invitation. So make sure it’s a strong one. Highlight relevant coursework, internships, and projects that align with the job you’re applying for. Remember, your resume should be concise, professional, and free of errors. And since resumes are so easy to edit nowadays, I recommend sending customized versions of your resume to every employer–not revamping the whole thing, but tailoring specific details to emphasize what the company may be looking for.
Craft a Compelling Cover Letter
A well-written cover letter can set you apart from other applicants. It’s your chance to tell your story, express your interest in the role, and detail why you’re the best candidate. As with the resume, tailor and personalize each cover letter to the specific job and company, showing that you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested.
Master Online Job Search Platforms
Online job platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor can be powerful tools in your job search. (My favorite is LinkedIn because it also serves as a networking site.) Create a professional profile, upload your polished resume, and start searching for jobs that match your career goals. Use keywords related to your field to narrow down the search. Look among your LinkedIn connections for people who may already work in those jobs, then reach out to them to see if they can open some doors for you. If you don’t have connections inside the workplaces you’re interested in, try to find employees there, connect with them on LinkedIn, and strike up a conversation. You might be surprised at the opportunities that could open up there.
Build and Work on Your Network
Networking is a key part of the job search process–in fact, in my view, it’s just as important as your resume and interview skills, if not more so. Most jobs are landed through connections, not through job boards. Invest time in connecting with people in your field and create relationships with professionals who may be able to help you get that first break. Reach out to alumni, former professors, coaches, or employers who can provide references. Don’t just network on LinkedIn (although that’s a powerful tool); look for in-person opportunities, as well. Join professional organizations related to your career goals; attend events and meetings where you can meet other like-minded professionals or potential employers.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of an Internship
Many college grads often overlook internships as a viable job prospect, but they can be invaluable for gaining experience and opening up career opportunities. If you’re just starting out in your field, even unpaid (or very low-paid) internships can offer valuable training and experience.
Prepare for Interviews
Once you start landing interviews, it’s crucial to prepare. Research the company, rehearse common interview questions, and think of examples that showcase your skills and experiences. Remember, an interview is a two-way street; come prepared with thoughtful questions about the role and company.
After an interview, send a thank-you note expressing your continued interest in the role. This shows professionalism and could set you apart from other candidates.
Stay Positive and Patient
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you embark on your job search: stay positive and be patient. Job searches can often take months or even longer, so don’t let discouragement take over. If your financial situation requires you to live at home with your folks for awhile, don’t be discouraged over this–in today’s economy, more than half of young adults either still live with their parents or return home. Be patient with yourself through this process. Be persistent and consistent, and you’ll make progress toward your goals.
As a career coach, one of my favorite things to do is to help college graduates land their first real job. If you are freshly graduated and don’t know what to do next–or if you feel like you’re floundering and need some support–I’m here to help. Just access my calendar here and schedule yourself a free initial consultation.