5 pieces of advice for graduating seniors seeking their first job (and professionals seeking their next one!)

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It’s April...spring is (allegedly) here, and my schedule is packed. Filled to the brim with career coaching appointments with college seniors preparing to graduate next month, and FREAKING OUT about not having a full-time job yet. Some have career interests that are waaaaaay too narrow, some are open to anything and everything (so they say), and others have not submitted one application yet.

In my day job, I have the pleasure of coaching undergraduate business school students during the career exploration journey that is college. I’ve witnessed firsthand the ups and downs of the first full-time job search experience, and have also been able to gather and share helpful pieces of advice with seniors on the cusp of entering the so-called “real world.” Here are the 5 pieces of advice that I share most often with graduating seniors -- advice that job seeking professionals can absolutely use as well!

1. Take full advantage of your last few months as a student.

Utilize the plethora of resources (academic, social, extracurricular, community engagement, etc.) that are available through your college or university. Connect with alumni working at your dream companies -- alums love to connect with current students to share their story and provide guidance on ways to navigate your first transition into a full-time job. Reach out to industry contacts at your dream companies as well -- professionals know that students are looking to learn about the ins and outs of different industries, and what the day-to-day of certain roles looks like. Your student ID still works, be a student!

Professionals: Never stop learning -- seek professional development opportunities internally within your company/organization and externally (conferences, networking events, in-person/online courses, etc.) Your role as a student doesn’t have to end -- learning and acquiring new skills can help to strengthen your candidacy for a career move, and open up your eyes to roles and industries that you might not have originally considered.

2. Step out of your comfort zone -- consider opportunities that are outside of your initial interests.

While I’m speaking with graduating seniors, I like to spend a good deal of time finding out what type of work each student would like to be doing in their first job after college. Most students are surprised to learn that they’re able to do the work they’re interested in in a number of different industries. My advice is to always keep an open mind! So many jobs are industry agnostic, which can give you an amazing opportunity to learn about sectors that you might never have considered.

Professionals: Keep that same open mind! The job that you might be looking for could be in a completely different industry than the one you’re currently in. An example: I coached a client working in a slightly technical program management role within healthcare who’s passionate about training and the development of colleagues and other internal employees. I encouraged her to pursue learning & development opportunities -- a field that was completely new to her, but was EXACTLY what she wanted to be doing. She’s currently finding success in her L&D job search, and is much more encouraged about the direction in which her career is headed. If you’re unsure of how to begin, try searching for job opportunities using words and phrases that describe the kind of work you’d like to be doing, rather than titles and industries.

3. Don’t search for jobs in one spot!

I’m always shocked when graduating seniors tell me that the first place they’ve been looking for roles is Indeed. While job boards can be a helpful starting point, there are SO many other avenues to find and apply for opportunities. Your college/university’s career-related platform, LinkedIn, and direct company/org websites are great resources. At the beginning of your career, your job search should be a bit broad, which means that you could be missing out on opportunities if your job search method is narrow -- widen it out, and search in many different areas!

Professionals: Same advice! Job boards are not the only places where you can find opportunities; in a recent blog post, I outlined my 5 must-visit websites for your job search, including LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Jopwell. Also, don’t underestimate the power of applying directly on company websites -- recruiters generally review their internal applicant tracking system (ATS) first before venturing out to the external websites where their job opportunities are posted.

4. Ask for help!

Visit your career center -- meet with a career coach to have your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile reviewed, develop a solid job search strategy, conduct mock interviews, and learn how to use your college/university’s platform to find internship and full-time job opportunities. In the university I work for, students are able to use Handshake to create a profile, upload their resume and any additional documents, and apply for roles. Career centers and career services office are FREE resources while you’re an undergraduate student -- chat with these career development professionals for guidance, support, and feedback during your full-time job search.

Professionals: Ask for help! Reach out to mentors for advice, network with industry contacts, and connect with a career coach to discuss your current job search strategy. If your job search has stalled or if you’re not sure where to begin, sharing your thoughts and getting some much-needed feedback from career development professionals and mentors who know your career interests and goals can be immensely helpful and provide you with clarity.

5. Your first job doesn’t have to be your “dream” job.

As adults, we probably assume that young people fully grasp or at least know that career journeys are no longer linear until retirement; however, I almost always see the light bulb go on when I tell graduating seniors that this first role after college doesn’t have to be the exact role that aligns perfectly with their major or career interests. Your beginning is not your end -- where you start is just that: where you start. Your first job is a learning experience in all ways; an opportunity to discover what you like and don’t like, and a chance to see what it’s like to be a working adult. Focus on finding a role and an employer that resonate deeply with you, and will allow you to gain skills that you’ll be able to take with you throughout your career.

Professionals: Neither does your next one! I’m not really a fan of the “dream” job idea -- it puts a lot of pressure on job seekers to find THE opportunity that will bring joy, purpose, and success, with little to no complaints. I don’t about you, but I think that job exists for me at lots of different companies and organizations. There isn’t just one holy grail job opportunity out there for me, and I don’t think there’s one out there for you either. Release that pressure, and seek a new role and a next step that’s right for wherever you are in your stage of your career journey!

My final piece of advice: GET STARTED! Whether you’re searching for your first job or your next one, I recommend that you get started today. Start applying for opportunities, start connecting with fellow professionals, and start moving towards the opportunity that’ll maximize your skills, personality, and expertise, and help you grow and develop.