1. Gain Clarity About Your Purpose

Take ample time to think about what you want to accomplish with your career longer-term. What problems or goals do you care most about? What do you want to be committed to solving or serving? You have 80,000 hours in your career. How do you want to spend this time that is meaningful for you? A great website for exploring this “big question” about your purpose is 80,000 Hours. Clarity will make all the difference in finding your top target for an industry, firm, and position where you fit best.

2. Pick Your Target Industry Carefully

Choosing an industry for your career which is right for you for the long-term is critical for building your experience base, skill sets, and network relationships. Think about what your resume will need to include down the road to qualify for a future “dream opportunity” in the context of both a job title and an industry segment. Start your search looking at industries where your skills represent a genuine asset.

Consider reviewing online industry overview reports. These can be found using Google Search: “The US ______ industry”. These reports outline key insights regarding an industry’s outlook, trends, segments, leading firms, innovation, barriers, and opportunities. The industry reports published by top consulting firms (Deloitte, EY, Author D Little, PwC, Accenture, KPMG) are usually free and informative. Other industry pick considerations could include firms with leadership in innovation, quality, efficiency, a relatively stable job sector, or an industry with many large firms or specialties in your geographic area.

3. Find Your Learning Priorities Early On

Investigate jobs in the real world to find your “learning priorities” to invest in to strengthen your job prospect credentials. The following exercise will help you find your priorities and get started. 1) Begin by reviewing job announcements on Indeed.com. 2) Copy a range of 20-30 desirable jobs to an Excel spreadsheet, one posting for each column.3) Color code all required and desired keyword skills by category: technical (blue), software (green), soft (orange), & certifications (red). Find the baseline skills and those to help you stand out or advance.4)Review LinkedIn profiles of graduates from your college working for firms on your target list or industry. You will also see how some people stand out in a skill area of specialized training.5) Follow-up on your top learning priority. Find the training resources, format, the time and financial investment, competency testing or certification offered. Enroll in programs from lead training sources.

4. Build Your Network

Networking is the most underdeveloped task I see with students. They have so many options, yet they are not leveraging so many great contacts they have.

Networking is the most underdeveloped task I see with students. They have so many options, and they are not leveraging so many contacts they could add. Make connections. Go out to eat lunch with people. Get to know them well and keep any needs they have in mind, just in case you can serve them down the road with a referral or an act of kindness. One large pool of new contacts are fellow college students in your major, who are a year or two older. You can look these people up on LinkedIn, use your college directory to email them with an invite to lunch on you. Attend school networking functions and join groups to meet other students. Get outside of your fraternity and consider a volunteer service group to the university. Get to know people in classes and on study teams. Find out what people are doing over school over breaks and if any are stuck on campus because they are an international student. Consider asking them to join your family for a holiday meal. Your college may also sponsor networking meetings for alumni, or have online alumni virtual groups and services, so check on this as well. College alumni are a great group of people who are likely to accept your request to talk about their career over the phone for 20 minutes. Usually they are happy to help if you are attending their college or you share alumni status.

Another great and often overlooked network group is a relevant professional association. Student can often attend free or for very low cost. Most associations have monthly or quarterly state chapter meetings with presentations. The location may be in your metro area. Attending a meeting can be one of the best ways to find out what interesting developments are going on in a general or specialized career segment. If you are not aware of any, uses Google for your field name and add association. (Examples: PDMA – Product Development Management Association Georgia, GPA – Georgia Pharmacy Association, SHRMGA – Society of Human Resource Managers-GA, ” AIMA – Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association, NKBA GA – National Kitchen & Bath Association-GA, PRSA – Public Relations Society of America-GA, or AWTAssociation for Water Technologies. The list is endless of the specialized or general professional associations that exist in the US. Inquire if they offer a discount or 1 free meeting for prospective members or recent graduates job hunting. There are associations that apply to an industry, a skill field, and other specialties. Some associations are stronger for new graduates, and others are international or have a technology specialty, such as SAE – Society of Automotive Engineers. Remember, experts say networking in the 21st century starts out with a more service-oriented approach. “When you focus on the other person and less on yourself, people respond better. It’s about being interested versus interesting,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette coach and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. 

5. Initiate Opportunities

Take the time to create your “most wanted” list of a few target firms. Do your research on the firm’s website. Find LinkedIn profiles of relevant job titles for staff and managers. Note special skills, and how people stand out. Outline all your reasons for why “this firm?” Explain why this firm is your top pick in a cover letter or interview. Call the firm’s main phone number, give your name and politely request the email for the manager or owner. Send a short unsolicited email about your interest, attach your 1-page resume, and ask if they are aware of any possible future job openings in your field? If this is a large firm, ask if they would forward your resume to the person who heads up recruiting in HR, or if they can suggest any other manager contacts. I found this approach has worked for almost all the jobs I’ve been offered.

In addition, sign up for new job posting alerts to your email. A list of the Top 10 Websites for Jobs is posted on BalancedCareers.com. Respond promptly to stay at the forefront. If you are unemployed, let everyone you know and meet about your need to find a job. Tell them the firms or fields you are targeting and to let you know if they know of anyone working there or in a related firm. Remember everyone feels good when they have helped someone get a good job.

6. Polish Your Resume

All resumes can use some polishing in the early career. Remember that most hiring managers take a first glance of about 15 seconds to weed down the applicant pile. Try to limit your resume length to 1 page.

Readability is very important. Use a resume template to improve the design and organization of information. All colleges use a similar format, so if you want to stand out, consider another format with stronger design features. Novoresume offers one free template with many design options. Your technical skills are key. Write concise, choosing keywords carefully and matching required skills to the specific announcement. Include quantifiable results that demonstrated how you used your skills for accomplishment results. Review LinkedIn profiles for the target firm and department. Notice how staff stand out and the unique skills each brings to the team. In your cover letter, make it clear how a your key strength, experience, or talent will can be an asset in the team.

7. Practice Your Interview Skills

Prepare for what might be thrown at you while interviewing with a quick Google search (i.e. “communications specialist interview questions”). themuse.com is a very good career site with a good start publication of Your Ultimate Guide to Answering the Most Common Interview Questions. Take time to work through your responses for each question and recite your responses to a friend or mentor with experience to get feedback. Practicing builds your confidence and helps you be less stressed or nervous going into the interview.

8. Be Prudent with Finances

Outline a personal budget whether you start out with being unemployed, a solid annual income or something that barely gets you by. Keep track of your expenses and live below your means in your young adult years. Make savings a top priority. Know the day will come when you are so grateful because you can pay for graduate school, a health setback, getting married, or see gains from investing your money.

9. Raise Your Integrity Bar and Optimism

Employees who advance the fastest have integrity, they work hard and take personal accountability for their results at work. Stay optimistic. If you are unemployed or on furlough, consider temporary work or finding coaching support. One free and easy to set up project management software I use and recommend is Trello. This tool helps manage and keep me moving on new goals, projects and completion stages.

10. Consider Your Whole Person Needs

Don’t forget that you have other aspects of your being to consider. Investing in your health has a big physical and mental payoff. You have much on your plate now, but don’t forget to exercise, read, eat healthy, and keep a regular sleep schedule to help you feel great at a time that can be very stressful. If you have a significant other or friends also focused on professional growth, talk to them about your situation, goals, progress, and how they can help cheer you on. Finally, work to serve others in meaningful ways.

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