Getting Started

How to Get Started in Your Career After Graduating College

Written by Kate Lopaze

After graduating college, building a career isn’t an easy thing to do. And when you’re just starting out, it’s hard to hone the kind of perspective one gains over the course of a long career. If you’ve ever wished you could get the wisdom of a work life well lived before you have to live through all of it and earn that wisdom by making a ton of mistakes, then look no further.

Here are 10 career strategies everyone just starting out should know. So save yourself the heartache and the hard lessons, and just skip to the growth and success part.

1. Only you can advocate for yourself.

You may think you just have to keep your head down and wait for the promotions and raises and career opportunities to happen to you, but you should realize early and keep in mind that the planning and execution of your career is ultimately your responsibility and no one else’s. Remember: you are in the driver’s seat. Stop assuming and start asserting earlier than you think you’d need to.

2. Find your meaning.

It’s no coincidence that the word “meaning” includes the word “me.” Only you can set yourself on a career path that means something to you and includes work that you find important and fulfilling. Now is the time to make the choices that will determine how much you love your work. Remember that stability, security, and income matter, but professional fulfillment matters so much more. Ward off burn-out and unhappiness now by choosing something you care about and worrying less about the outside benefits. Let your priorities dictate the course of what you do.

3. Caring will bring about success.

When we’re invested in what we’re doing, we end up doing better work. Once you’ve picked something you like, make sure to keep learning and keep yourself interested, because it will mean that you devote yourself to tasks with more care and attention. You’ll get more done, and better.

4. Bad situations don’t get better.

If you’ve landed yourself in a situation with a toxic boss or a dysfunctional work environment, know when to say enough is enough. Get the courage up to take a leap into something better, and trust that everything else will sort itself out once you do.

5. Be your best in times of crisis.

Your true character just might be best revealed when the chips are down and the situation is most dire. Keep this in mind in times of crisis. Figure out how you’ll show up when the going gets tough, and set a tone for the kind of person and employee you’ll be throughout your life. You never know when you might deeply impress the right observer in a position to change the course of your career.

6. Don’t be selfish.

Skyrocketing to success—or even climbing slow but steady—is one thing. But don’t forget that you’re not the only one in the world wanting to move upwards. Sometimes the rise is even sweeter when you help somebody else up with you. Pay it forward and look out for people other than yourself.

7. Embrace originality.

Don’t be arrogant, but don’t leave your uniqueness and originality under a bushel. Speak up, voice your ideas, speak your passion. You won’t get anywhere by sitting in the background. Have the guts to take the risk and put yourself out there in the world.

8. Aim to do the right thing.

Don’t just do what you think you have to do to succeed. Stand up for what you know is right. Comport yourself with integrity. Take the extra time and energy to riddle out what the best and most honest thing would be and devote yourself to doing it. It’s called integrity—and it doesn’t suffer puncture wounds. It’s worth building and maintaining, and can become one of your most precious assets.

9. Not taking risks is the biggest risk.

You have to have skin in the game to win the game. A ship in the port may seem safe, but isn’t. Ships are meant to sail. So get your little boat out there and see what you can do. Learn from your mistakes and find a way to be magnificent, rather than mediocre.

10. Leave something better behind you.

A legacy can be a beautiful thing. It’s never too early to think about the kind of mark you’d like to leave on the world. When your life and career are over, what sort of things do you want to hear said about your contribution? What kind of imprint do you want to leave behind? Start thinking how to shape your legacy while you have your whole career before you. Just think what you could accomplish if you put your mind to it.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.