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How to Find a Career Path: A Guide for the Class of 2016

Kick off your career with this guide full of college grad career help for the class of 2016. [TWEET]

As the class of 2016 is picking up graduation gowns and planning celebratory dinners with family and friends, many graduates are anxious about what’s next for them. Some may have a job lined up and are excited and nervous to start. Others are going through interviews and wondering when the pieces will fall into place for them.

No matter what your situation, read on to supercharge the start of your recent grad career path!

1. Use your resources

It may feel like you are on your own in the midst of confusion. Remember that as a recent graduate you have access to many resources, including your school’s career center, as well as professors and mentors. This is not the time to be a lone ranger. Reach out and ask for guidance.

On that note, don’t discount your family and friends as potential sources of job opportunities. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and neighbors are all connected to dozens of professionals.

I know that it can be difficult to ask for advice, feedback, or constructive criticism. It does not help that mock interviews at Career Services can feel stuffy and forced. Do it anyway. You won’t regret it.

2. Be clear on your value proposition

As a recent graduate, you might feel that it is impossible to stand out of the crowd. When everyone has similar GPAs, extracurricular activities, and little relevant work experience, how do you differentiate yourself?

When determining your recent grad career path, begin with your strengths. Reflect on the things that you naturally do well. If you get stuck, ask your friends and family, or take an online strengths-based assessment to give you some language around your personal superpowers.

3. Don’t let your major limit you

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from soon-to-be-graduates is, “But I majored in English (or fill-in-the-blank with your major) – getting a job is near impossible!”

Remember that employees hire young graduates for their potential, not necessarily for which school they went to, or what degree is on their diploma. No matter what major you graduate with, you have many options for your recent grad career path.

Step away from the narrow frame of your major, and into possibility. What are the big-picture skills and talents you have built? Where might they be of value? In my experience, an uncommon major can actually make you stand out as a candidate.

I know one past English major who became a passionate and effective attorney, and another who worked his way up to head project manager of a major gaming company. Another young professional, with a Bachelor’s degree in business and international relations, was hired by a prestigious accounting firm. Don’t let your major limit you.

4. Be strategic about your applications

It can be tempting to submit as many applications as you can. Don’t be seduced by big numbers. The only applications that count are those that represent positions where you have a good chance of getting an interview. Applying to dozens of random jobs only exposes you to rejection and drains your resilience.

It can also be difficult to write a compelling cover letter if you cannot tell one position from another. Hiring managers can see a rubber-stamp cover letter a mile away! Become deliberate and strategic in your applications.

On the same note, don’t rely on the Internet alone. Network in your other circles: alumni clubs, volunteer groups and civic organizations.  

5. Follow up

Consider this piece of college grad career help: this is not the time to be casual! All employers want to hire graduates with confidence and an ability to follow through. Professional (yet persistent) follow up can set you apart from other candidates. You don’t want to nag, but following up when you said you would establishes you as a young professional who is good on his word.

6. Clean up your act

Recruiters and hiring managers do a lot of due diligence online. If your social media presence reveals past indiscretions that you would not want to explain to your grandparents (or your potential employer), clean up! Don’t count on “private” settings to keep late-night drinking and bikini pictures out of your recruiter’s search.

Also, take a hard look at your voicemail greeting. Many college students have a playful (or sometimes even off-color) voicemail message that is not appropriate in a professional setting. Remember that the hiring manager does not know you, and is making snap judgment calls based on every little shred of evidence he can get. Make sure those shreds show you in the best light.

7. Show your enthusiasm

As a past hiring manager myself, I can validate that one of my favorite things about new college graduates is their enthusiasm. A staff member who shows up bright-eyed and genuinely excited to be there can do wonders for the mood in the office. Be that person who brightens up everyone’s day.

8. Ground your expectations

A complaint I often hear from hiring managers is that new hires can have ungrounded expectations about job responsibilities and their recent grad career path. I have heard stories of younger staff members displaying an attitude when asked to scan paperwork, make copies, or answer phones. I think it stems from the gap between their preconceived idea of what the corporate world is like, and the reality of it.

Now, I am not discouraging you from having a career track and aspirations. All I ask is that you listen carefully to the job expectations, so that you are clear on what your first year will be like. You can ask about growth opportunities, but remember that you will need to demonstrate consistent high performance before you are trusted with more responsibility.

9. Don’t overthink it

Too much analysis can freeze you in your tracks. If you are one of the recent graduates who feels paralyzed by the multitude of choices and the fear of making a mistake, take a deep breath, and then take a step.

Apply for jobs. Go to interviews. Network. Don’t be so afraid to make a wrong choice.

Remember that no matter which job you pick after you graduate, it is only the first career choice you get to make – not the last and final one. No one expects you to make one job decision and stick with it until you retire. No job is ever a waste of time: you can learn, gain professional and personal experience, and grow in any position.

Ready to find your dream job? Hire a TopResume writer today!

Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!