So you’ve just graduated, or you’re about to. Congratulations! All of your hard work and long hours are paying off in the form of that hard-won piece of paper. But victorious as this moment is, it’s a transitional one—celebration gives way to the realities of your new professional life. Namely, that you need a professional life. Now that you’ve achieved your goal of graduating, the next steps can seem a little murky, so we’d like to help guide you through your next steps on the way to your new (or new and improved) career.
Step 1: Figure out your plan.
If you’re one of those amazing people who has had a detailed, spreadsheet-ed life plan since seventh grade, this step is probably not for you. (Go directly to step 2!) If you’re like many of us, and have mostly vague/idealistic thoughts about what you want to do next, then now is the time to buckle down on that. Presumably you have some idea, having chosen a specific school, program, or major with your eventual career in mind. That’s your starting point.
Think about what you want to do. If you have a specific job in mind, research current job opportunities, and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this an entry-level job, or does it require stepping-stone jobs first?
- Do I have the baseline skills necessary to perform this job?
- Once I get this job, what are the next two or three levels? What do I need to prepare for leveling up?
If you have an industry in mind rather than a particular job, try these questions:
- Is there a particular industry niche I’m interested in?
- What are the top companies in the field, and what kinds of job openings do they have?
- Do I have the baseline skills that the job listings are seeking?
- Once I get a job in this field, what are the next two or three levels? What do I need to prepare for leveling up?
The goal here is to come up with a five-year plan. It doesn’t have to be plotted down to the day, but should at least have general outlines of what you hope to achieve in the first job or two of your new career. And realism is key here: going from junior employee to CEO in five years is not going to happen (sorry).
Step 2: Start packaging yourself.
Ideally, you’ve already got the bare bones of your resume in order from part-time or summer jobs, internships, or just general preparedness. If you haven’t been as on top of that as you’d like (for example, if you’ve been busy with exams and a goodbye tour of the campus watering holes), no worries. The best bet here is actually to start from scratch. If you have old resumes for reference and reminders about your experience, that’s great…but a surgical find-and-replace update of dates and responsibilities isn’t the best starting point for your new career.
And don’t worry too much about the catch-22 that plagues many job seekers just out of college: how do you get job experience to get a job? The lack of direct experience is going to be unavoidable at some point, but the good news is that you do have experience, whether it’s in the form of internships, jobs that built skills like administrative work or customer service, or volunteer work. The most important part of your new resume is harnessing the best professional qualities you have in a format that works.
Step 3: Build up (or clean up) your social media brand.
The Facebook comments posted on your timeline by friends goofing off? The public Instagram account that features the party highlights of Spring Break? The Twitter feed where you try to provoke celebrities into RTing you? Those have no place in your job hunt. For personal accounts, make them private, or scrub them of stuff you really wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. (Rule of thumb: would you be okay with your grandmother seeing this?)
After you’ve cleaned up your profiles, or made them private, start new accounts for your professional self. Pick a @handle that’s based on your name. Instead of tweeting at celebrities, follow industry leaders or that guy who gave an awesome TED talk about productivity. Share articles about your field that you find interesting or informative. And always (ALWAYS) keep the tone professional. You can be witty or serious, and give opinions, but always be aware that anyone could be reading your posts. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending in a job interview.
Your social media presence is crucial because more than ever, employers are using social media as their preferred methods for recruiting potential employees, or at least screening them.
<a href=”http://www.onlinedegrees.com/degree360/visuals/social-recruiting.html”><img src=”http://www.onlinedegrees.com/imagesvr_ce/1868/social-recruiting.jpg” alt=”How to use social media to land a job” width=”598″ height=”1860″ border=”0″ /></a><br />Courtesy of: <a href=”http://www.onlinedegrees.com”>http://www.onlinedegrees.com</a>
Step 4: Build your real world network.
Social media is essential, but don’t neglect the web of people you know IRL who can help your career. Coming out of college, you have a crazy number of networking options. Your school or program likely has some kind of career development office that can link you up with mentors or current people in your target field. Your school also has alumni networks for you to tap into as well. And don’t forget professors and instructors—you have access real, live experts in your field, who may have valuable insight into what it’s like to work in the field, or connections of their own that they can refer to you.
Right now, it’s important that you start taking advantage of those before you leave, get busy with real life, and lose touch with people. (That struggle is very real, trust me.) Put at least as much care into your fledgling professional network as you put into staying in touch with classmates and friends. Make those connections now, so that you’ll have them later. It’s a lot easier to maintain relationships than to try to go back after they’ve lapsed. It’ll be awkward if you pop back into someone’s life five years later, only to ask them for a LinkedIn recommendation. If you connect on LinkedIn or other networking sites now, you’re at least somewhat on each other’s radar in the future. You don’t have to have coffee with them every week, but staying connected online keeps your options open.
Step 5: Get out and start looking.
You can do this while you’re working on other things (like building your network), but if you start finding job opportunities, you’ll want your resume and professional social media presence to be in order first. From your research during your five-year-planning stage, you probably have a good idea of where to start searching for jobs. Online job sites are a great place to start, but if your industry has online hubs or job-matching sites, start haunting those too.
Step 6: Practice your interview game.
Even if you don’t have an interview lined up just yet, that’s no reason to slack on practicing for it. Things you can do in the meantime:
- If you have friends who are also on the job hunt, set up some time to grab coffee and practice asking each other interview questions.
- Work on your handshake grip: strong, but not Hulk-ish.
- When you brush your teeth in the morning and at night, practice your most winning “hire me” smile.
- Fix that hem on your interview suit, and make sure your interview outfit is dry-cleaned and ready to go in case you get an interview on short notice.
- Come up with real-life examples for each skill and bullet point on your resume.
Don’t get discouraged if you feel like things aren’t happening quickly enough. The hard work you’re putting now is making you a better candidate, so when the right opportunity comes along, you’ll be ready to seize it. Congrats on all the great things you’ve achieved so far, and good luck on the journey that come next!