by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
A word to you college seniors as you hit the pavement (real or virtual) in your quest for the ideal job upon graduation: the road you travel on may be as smooth as the best superhighway or as full of ruts as that country dirt road — and you won’t know which until you begin your journey, so if you’ve been delaying your job-search now is the time to hit the road.
And to help you on your journey, the team at Quintessential Careers asked a number of recent college graduates — all graduated in the past year — to tell their stories. These are stories filled with every emotion you may feel on your road to success, including frustration, joy, anger, happiness, resentment, elation, contentment, fulfillment, longing.
Besides being a journey, job-hunting is work. It takes many, many hours of assessing, preparing, researching, networking, interviewing, and negotiating before you get that job offer you desire. When should you start your job-search? Ideally the beginning of your senior year. If you are in no rush, or plan to take the summer off to travel, then starting after you graduate is okay, too. Just remember that for most of us, a job offer won’t be immediately forthcoming.
As you read these stories and begin your journey, here is a quick overview (with links to tools and articles with much more depth) of what your job-search should entail.
Transitioning from College to the Real World
Making the transition from college to career requires a five-step process.
1. Deciding What You Will Do After You Graduate
This first step is critical to your happiness. If you are unsure of the type of job or career you seek, you must take the time to complete some self-assessment and conduct lots of research. Use all resources available to you to help narrow your focus, including your campus career center, your major professors, your network of contacts, and the Internet.
Once you have a job and career path in mind, start considering specific employers. What do you want and expect from an employer? What kind of values must it have? What size? What industry?
Now is the time to contact and grow your network of contacts. Consider family members, friends, co-workers, former bosses, alumni, professors, and anyone else with whom you have a professional relationship. Seek out new members through speakers, professional organizations, and informational interviews.
Where else can you find job leads? From postings with professional associations, through the career services office, from individual company job postings, attending career fairs, through a cold-contact approach, and from online job boards. [Learn more in our article, 10 Ways to Develop Job Leads.
Are you ready for the job-search? Take our Test of Career Marketability for Job-Seekers.
And for further help, we suggest our Job-Search 101 Tutorial, which includes the 10 things you need to know and do to land your first job.
2. Deciding Where and How You Will Live After You Graduate
Part of your decision on what companies to target may depend on where you want to live — and if you plan to relocate after graduation. Are you planning to live at home for a while so that you can save up money? Will you live alone or move in with some roommates?
This decision may be much bigger than you think. If you have never lived off campus during your college career, you may be shocked at all the costs and fees associated with living on your own. Going from home to dorm to living on your own is a big step. There are lots of bills to pay, lots of stuff to buy, and many college grads are shocked to see the costs of living on your own. The lifestyle you may be accustomed to may have to be toned down so that you can pay the electric bill or cable bill or phone bill or insurance bill or… you get the picture.
And the cost of living varies, depending on where you plan to live, so that should factor into your decision-making.
3. Setting Daily/Weekly Job-Search Goals
If you don’t know already, most experienced job-seekers will tell you how much work is involved in finding a new job — finding a job you really want. Even with this knowledge, many job-seekers approach job-hunting as things develop. Instead, you should be proactive.
The best thing you can do is set daily and weekly job-search goals. These goals should be a bit of stretch for you, such as to uncover five job leads today, but not so much that you cannot accomplish them in the time you allot to them.
Here is how one week could look for you: One-Week Job-Search: How to Lay the Foundation for a New Job in Just Seven Days.
4. Choosing the Right Job Offer
There are four criteria to evaluating job offers.
First, will the job itself be something you want to be doing 40+ hours a week for the foreseeable future? Make sure the vast majority of the job involves elements you want to do. If you like action, don’t take a job where you are stuck in a cubicle all day.
Second, does the organizational culture fit you — and have you liked most of the people you’ve met, especially your future boss and co-workers? Even if the job is perfect, you will never be happy if the culture is toxic or if there is an element of negativity among co-workers.
Third, is there room for growth and advancement within the organization? The ideal scenario is an organization that offers training, has a plan for promoting its workers, and offers some sort of tuition reimbursement for continuing education.
Fourth, are you going to be fairly compensated? Yes, money is last, even though most job-seekers focus on this issue the most. Certainly you need to be compensated fairly, but money should not drive your decision. You could be paid well and hate your job.
5. Understanding why the first year on the job is so important
Once you have decided where and how to live and have accepted a job offer, then your adult life really begins, and those first days and weeks on the job are critical to your future success. Making a good first impression is critical, so be sure you arrive and leave on time, steer clear of office politics, and showcase your team skills. Remember that the new employee always gets the last pick, so you’ll have not only have limited vacation days, but limited choices for when you can take them. You should expect to do things to “pay your dues.”
And as you progress on the job, add more of your co-workers to your network and keep detailed track of your accomplishments — both of these activities will come in handy either for your internal evaluation or if you should choose to re-enter the job market.
Jorge’s story deals with the power of using your network of contacts, of persevering through many, many interviewing steps, and finding the perfect job. His story is also about the importance of gaining experience through internships. Read Jorge’s Story.
Vanessa’s story is a very typical one. She felt a need to have a job before graduation and accepted the first one offered, mostly based on the potential income. Sadly, she slowly resented the job more and more, but there is a happy ending. Read Vanessa’s Story.
Luann’s story is all about the power of completing internships — and especially an internship your senior year that you enjoy. Her job-search was made easier by getting a job offer as a result of her internship. Read Luann’s Story.
Melanie’s story is somewhat heart-breaking, but also not that uncommon. Her problem was a lack of career preparation while in college that leaves her still struggling — a year after graduating — at finding a full-time job in her career field. Read Melanie’s Story.
Final Thoughts and Key Job-Search Resources
Everyone’s job-search will be different, so do not compare yourself to others — and do not let others do that for you. As the stories in this article demonstrate, job-hunting is a process, and the better prepared you are for it, the more you work at it, and the harder you try, the more likely you will be successful sooner rather than later.
Get more advice from real people, real grads, in this section of Quintessential Careers: Real World.
And for more concrete job-hunting advice, check out the A Student’s Guide to Job-Hunting on the Internet Tutorial.
If you feel yourself getting down, read this article: Strategies for Staying Upbeat During a Long Job-Search.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Have you seen all our Career Storytelling Tools for Job-Seekers?
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