You’ve thrown your virtual cap in the air and received your diploma—congrats! You’re officially a college grad. Now it’s time to find a job.
If you only have a vague sense of what you want your career path to look like, have no fear. (Also, you’re not alone!) There are a few key things you can do to begin figuring out your future.
Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Find Your Passion
Muse career coach Joyel Crawford, who specializes in working with recent college grads, recommends starting with a self-assessment, either through a coach or a free tool like the O*Net Interest Profiler. This service from the U.S. Department of Labor will kick-start your search by asking you to rank 60 activities from “strongly like” to “strongly dislike” in order to measure your interest in broad areas like “Artistic” or “Investigative.”
Or ask yourself the following questions. The answers will help illustrate the kind of career (or careers) you should pursue.
- What are some things in your life that you enjoy—and don’t enjoy?
- Are you a people person?
- What are some of the skills you have to offer?
- If money were no object, what tasks would you do for free?
- What values are important to you?
- What are some of the organizations you admire and why?
You can also plug some keywords of things you love—“communications,” say—into a job search site and see what kinds of titles come up. From there you can start to form a clearer idea of how your interests could translate into a position.
Step 2: Determine the Kind of Company That’s Right For You
Once you have an idea about the “what,” it’s time to figure out the “where”—as in, where do you see yourself working? Ask yourself questions like:
- Would you prefer a large, well-known company or a small startup?
- Do you want to work for a company with a diverse board or leadership?
- Do you want to work for a company that has a social mission?
- Do you prefer a company with lots of ways to connect with coworkers (virtual happy hours, employee resource groups, etc.)?
You’ll also want to decide what kinds of benefits and perks are important to you, such as the option to work remotely, a strong professional development program, or unlimited vacation days. Think, too, about what you value so you can focus on companies with missions that align with those beliefs.
Muse career coach Ryan Kahn—who also works with many recent grads—advises doing a job search for the positions you’re interested in (based on Step 1) and identifying which companies have open roles. Then, research them individually—on LinkedIn, The Muse, Google News (to see if they're mentioned in recent articles)—and determine which meet your criteria.
With all this info, you’ll be equipped to assemble a “hit list” of companies and can move on to the next step.
Step 3: Network, Network, Network
According to Kahn, the vast majority of jobs are filled by internal or personal referrals. In other words, your odds of landing an interview go way up when you know someone on the inside. To do that, you need to network. Here’s how:
Find the Right Contacts
LinkedIn is a great tool for checking if you have contacts who work or have worked for any of your top companies (or are connected to other people who do). If so, Crawford says, don’t be afraid to ask for introductions. You can also follow leaders of organizations you like, and comment on their posts, which can help you get noticed.
Also, don’t forget to leverage the career services professionals at your school, which work for alumni as well as students. Chances are good they can connect you with graduates who are currently working in your desired field.
Reach Out Via Email
When you do get in touch with someone, “you have five to seven seconds to capture their attention,” says Crawford. So be specific about why you’re reaching out: You can say that you’d love to set up a phone call or video chat to learn more about what they do, their company, and/or the industry as a whole.
Also, make sure to customize it. Mention something you admire about their career path or a recent company accomplishment you read about. And finding things in common with your contact—the same school or hometown or a mutual connection—will increase your odds of a response.
Nail the Conversation
When it comes to your meeting or phone call, prepare questions ahead of time. The idea is to learn as much as you can, so Crawford advises focusing on them instead of yourself. Ask how they climbed up in the organization and about their successes, as well as any challenges they faced and what they love most about their job. You can also ask more creative questions, such as “What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?” Be an active listener, and show that you’re engaged, interested, and have a great attitude.
Perhaps more importantly, have a goal in mind. Maybe it’s asking for a referral either inside or outside the company or the opportunity to send your resume to a hiring manager. “Never end with, ‘If you hear of any jobs, let me know,’” Kahn says. “People are always hearing about jobs—it’s not a clear action step.”
And don’t forget to send a thank you note within 24 hours—and celebrate the success of getting a meeting, even if it doesn’t immediately translate into a job.