When TheLadders, a career resource for professionals, asked me to share some advice for recent graduates, I was elated. By no means am I an expert on the subject, but I’d like to think that six years after graduating from college I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve certainly had jobs, changed jobs, and restructured my career path over the years — experiences that have given me insight into what I’m looking for and the type of career I want to have.
If I could go back to my graduation day and do it all over again, here is what I wish I knew:
Research what you want: Before you even start applying to jobs, look at the job descriptions of positions you are interested in. Don’t worry if you aren’t a good fit yet, but take notes on the skills you might need: What interests you about the position? What might your career look like in that field? When I first started looking for jobs, I thought I wanted to be a paralegal. I was a political science major in college and was planning on pursuing a law degree. I figured being a paralegal would give me some experience in the legal field before law school. But after applying and interviewing for a few positions, I realized this career path was not for me.
Find a mentor: Mentors are invaluable and can really help you shape your career. I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of great mentors along the way who have served as sounding-boards for my career goals and aspirations. Mentors can be a college professor, a boss, or just someone whose career you admire. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make connections early in your career. Often, people are eager to mentor others and all it takes is an initial step. Once you’ve found a mentor, make sure you maintain the relationship either through emails or phone calls.
Change is good: Personally, I don’t ascribe to the advice that you need to stay in a position for “X” number of years. While I admire people who graduate college and instantaneously know what they want to do with their career, I was not one of them. Through the path I’ve taken, I’ve learned that it’s okay to change careers. As you get older, you change and naturally your idea of what works and what doesn’t changes as well. If you didn’t do an internship in college, and you are unsure of which direction to go after you’ve graduated, now might be the time to explore your options. An internship can give you a better idea of what the typical day-to-day routine looks like in the field you’re interested in than any amount of research, and it’s a great way to make connections and network.
Have a back-up plan: If you are fortunate enough to land your dream job right off the bat, congratulations! But always make sure you have a Plan B. When I posed the question, “What career advice would you give to recent graduates?” to my friends, they almost all echoed this sentiment. With luck, you will be able to do what you love forever, but the reality is with so many companies downsizing or eliminating positions, it’s become critical to think about your long-term career plans. Whether that means you freelance while working a full-time job, or eventually plan to own your own business, it’s never too early to start thinking about the future.
Never stop learning: If ever there were a time to continue learning, now is it. With the changing technological landscape it’s important to keep up with and learn new skills. Even if your job has nothing to do with graphic design, social media, or front-end web development, these are good skills to have and can set you apart from other applicants when you are searching for jobs. But this bit of advice pertains to any career where you may find yourself. There is always something to learn, and thanks to technology, learning does not require you to even set foot into a classroom. Visit your local library, take a webinar on a topic that interests you, or look into online classes. If you prefer traditional classroom instruction, community colleges are a great place to take continuing education classes and most are offered at convenient evening hours.
Being a recent graduate can be exciting–but also scary and overwhelming. Finding a job is time-consuming, and turning a job into a career takes time, hard-work, and patience. Perhaps you didn’t land a job right out of school. Knowing what you want and how to get there is half the battle. Make sure you utilize career resources like TheLadders at each step of your job search. And although this isn’t technically career advice, start saving and building up an emergency fund when you get your first job. Like having a Plan B, knowing that you have money set aside for a rainy day will make you feel more secure about your future.
And lastly, remember my favorite quote from Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”