Five Tips for Launching Your Career After Graduation
By: Alfredo Moros
Graduating from post-secondary education can be daunting. For the past 20 years of your life you’ve been told what your next step is. From Pre-Kindergarten to primary school, to high school, to post-secondary. Your path has been, more or less, laid out in front of you. Now, we all have some agency to decide whether or not to follow that path, but when we finish school we are presented with a wide array of options. You might find yourself wondering: “Should I go straight into grad school? Do I even want to go to grad school? What kind of work do I want to do? Should I take some time off to find myself? Should I move back home?”, and the list goes on…
If you’ve opted for the path of pursuing a career right away, here are some insights I learned while I was figuring out my next steps.
1. Thinking about your career should not happen only after you’ve graduated. This is an ongoing conversation you need to have with yourself, your advisor, your peers and your mentor(s) one to two years prior to graduating. I know this might sound excessive, but think about how long it took you to pick a university to enrol in; or how long it took you to figure out your major; or even, how long it took you to decide what to have for dinner last night. Preparation is the key to success in a tough job market!
2. Part-time student jobs can set you up for success… if you’re smart about it. While I was a full-time student I was always employed part-time at the university. I opted for jobs working in student services/affairs/development. I was doing work that was interesting, fulfilling and fun. Most importantly, those jobs gave me important skills that made me more employable when I graduated – e.g., learning how to manage a multi-thousand dollar budget. However, most times I went above and beyond my job description, taking on responsibilities and projects that I was not being remunerated for in order to gain more experience.
3. It’s not only about who you are, but who you know. As much as we would like to believe that when applying for a job that all applicants are considered equally, we know that this is not entirely true. In a saturated job market, being a recognizable name in a pile of resumes might get you a foot in the door. If your potential employer has met you, it is more likely that you will land an interview – unless you are severely underqualified, of course. Even if you don’t meet all the requirements in the job posting, having that connection to the employer will go a long way. Always remember this: often employers will hire people based on personality and attitude, not just skills. You can teach skills, not attitude.
4. Network, network, network! This ties into point #3 above. Attend networking sessions and industry events. These will get your name out there, as well as give you an idea of what is waiting for you on the other side of the graduation stage. Yes, it’s awkward and intimidating to walk up to a complete stranger and strike up conversation – especially if this person does the type of work you’re interested in and is a potential employer. But try to remember this: everyone at those events is there to strike up conversations with complete strangers. It might seem odd to do this in any other context, but trust me, you can approach pretty much anyone at a networking event.
- Bonus #1: If you’re still feeling that you can’t quite ready to network, see if you can join a public speaking club or group at your institution or community. At the end of the day one of the main reasons we are afraid of networking is because it is a form of public speaking. The more you practice, the more it will become natural for you.
- Bonus #2: Networking doesn’t end when the event is finished. Make sure you follow up with everyone you met (send them a quick email saying how great it was meeting him or her). For those who are potential employers or are industry professionals, ask them out for a cup of coffee or informal meeting to learn more. However, be accommodating to their schedule since they are likely very busy.
5. Think ahead (as far as 3-5 years down the line). Now, some people will say that you need to have a 5-, 10- and even 15-year plan. Personally, I find this to be a tad unrealistic. In a rapidly changing economy and world landscape, it is nearly impossible to predict what awaits you 10 years from today. Even predicting what may happen next month is a challenge! However, it is important to envision where you see yourself in the near- to mid-future. This will help shape the career-related decisions you’ll make today.
For example, when I graduated I knew that I wanted to remain in BC for work and eventually to immigrate to Canada. I also knew that I wanted to explore a career within education because I wanted my work to have a positive impact in my community and the world. Lastly, I knew that within ten years of graduating I wanted to have the purchasing power to buy property. Fast-forward to today and I have been working in education since I graduated, became a Permanent Resident of Canada and am on track with my financial planning.
I had a general idea of what I wanted to achieve but not necessarily how I was going to achieve it – which in itself is an adventure because you get to make your own path towards your future.
I hope that my story will help you navigate your own transition from being a student to a worker. Regardless of the path you take, always remember to stop and enjoy the journey. Good luck!