You did it! You finished the final course and now you have that coveted diploma in hand - elated to have finally reached your goal. But if you don’t have a job lined up, a bit of panic may also be setting in, and you may be wondering, “Now what?”
While a bit of fear can be a good motivator, excess anxiety only thwarts your job search efforts. Instead, by creating a good plan and using a few transition strategies, you can make the most of this “in-between college and career” stage and use it to your advantage. Here are 12 tips to make the most of this period.
Update your Information
Now is the time to make sure your job search documents and information are in order. This includes creating or updating your resume (be sure to include all relevant college experience), creating or updating your LinkedIn profile, and getting your portfolio put together, if applicable, including an online version that can be easily accessed by prospective employers. You’ll also want to line up references, getting their permission to be contacted and giving them an idea of the skills you would like them to highlight.
Research the Job Market
Knowing the job climate of the industries you’re qualified to enter can be invaluable when looking for a job. Researching areas of growth and decline in the economy, up-and-coming companies, as well as challenges, opportunities or red flags in various business markets can equip you with general and targeted knowledge to guide the types of jobs you apply for. Once you have narrowed down the field, you can then research specific companies that you may like to work for. OU’s blog, “How to Research a Company for an Interview” offers great tips for this step.
Work Your Contacts
You likely have access to more contacts than you think. Professors, your college’s alumni association, friends and family connections, social media contacts, LinkedIn associations, professional organizations, and career fairs are all potential job leads. Be intentional about building your professional network and reaching out to let your contacts know what kind of job you are looking for. Then ask them to notify you of any potential opportunities.
Get Job Alerts
Some companies and many job search sites allow you to set parameters for types of jobs you are looking for, or for specific companies, and received notifications when there are job listings that meet those criteria. Setting up accounts with multiple such sites will significantly help your job search by reducing your time and effort. LinkedIn is also a great place to peruse openings and receive job alerts.
Make a Job Application Plan
If the job offers aren’t pouring in, it can be easy to fall into a slump and stop pursuing your career goals with the fervor that you started with. To ensure that doesn’t happen, it’s important to make a realistic job application plan. Find a system that works for you to hold yourself accountable. Maybe it’s a day planner, an alert on your phone, or a spouse that sits down with you, but commit to applying for at least two jobs each week. Use the above tips to make this easier while working on the following tips to up your chances and be prepared when an opportunity opens.
Practice Interview Skills
Don’t wait until you get a job offer to prepare for the interview. You’ll want to go into the interview process equipped with the right knowledge, materials, and answers so that you can confidently represent yourself to a prospective employer. OU’s blogs on “Tips to Master Your Interview” and “Top Questions for a Job Interview” will give you a head start.
Volunteer or Find an Internship
It’s the age-old problem – how do you get experience when no one will hire you without experience? The answer, often times, is by volunteering or completing an internship, whether paid or unpaid. There are organizations in virtually every town across the U.S. that welcome volunteers. Look for an organization that will allow you to utilize some of the skills and knowledge you gained through your degree program. In addition, both for-profits and non-profits often offer internships that will give you hands-on experience and industry knowledge. Supervisors of these opportunities can often make good references.
Consider a Career-Adjacent Job
Many degrees equip graduates with skills that can be used in a variety of roles. If you aren’t immediately finding the exact job you’re looking for (but still need to pay the bills), a career-adjacent job is worth considering. For example, maybe you are wanting to go into business management. Selling cell phones at a major carrier probably isn’t your dream job, but it will require you to use many of the business skills you learned, give you some experience, and provide an opportunity to achieve the next tip.
Prove Your Value
Companies throughout the country are acknowledging that it is harder and harder to find employees with a strong work ethic who exhibit integrity, respect, a sense of gratefulness, and a willingness to learn – that show up on time and put in an honest day’s work. You can develop a reputation for countering that stereotype, whether it’s as a volunteer, intern, employee, or friend. Most businesses would rather give a job to someone they know will work their back side off to learn and get the job done, even if they lack the exact skillset desired.
Pound the Pavement
We’ve almost become conditioned to pursue the big opportunities with the big companies – to become resigned to the fact that AI will likely screen our resumes before an actual person ever sees it. But there’s an often-overlooked alternative. There are still highly successful small businesses out there that need good people. And they value initiative and hard work. These are the companies that may still respond to you stopping by to drop off your resume or calling to schedule an appointment to discuss job opportunities. Give it a try – you may be surprised at your success.
Create a Personal Brand
You may have never thought about marketing yourself as a “brand,” but the market if full of competitors that have the same or similar skills as you. That’s why it’s so important to answer the question, “What is going to set me apart?” You won’t truly be able to “sell” yourself until you know what you stand for and what you uniquely bring to a role. While personal brands may be developed over time as you discover your niche, it’s not too early to start thinking about how to brand yourself to an employer.
Continue Your Education
“But I just finished school!” you say. Yes, but now may be the perfect time to dive back in for that advanced degree. Why? It can open up better job opportunities. Many employers who know you are working on a master’s degree will reward that by putting you in more responsible roles or fast-tracking your advancement once you’re finished. Also, you’re already in the groove of school, so continuing now may keep you from failing to pursue your advanced degree later. That doesn’t mean you can’t work at the same time, though. Ottawa University offers accelerated 8-week terms that allow for completion in two years – sometimes less if you double up on courses.
Remember, studies show that those with a degree earn an average of $1.2 million more over the course of their careers than those without one. So, be persistent and be intentional - that first career role will open up before you know it!