How to Effectively Jumpstart Your Career (Without a Clear Sense of Direction)

By Sharon Hillman

Sharon's articleMay is just around the corner — and for many college students this means graduation and the inevitable transition to the “Real World” are rapidly approaching. For the lucky few who have known that they’ve wanted to be a brain surgeon or a software engineer since the sixth grade, this major rite-of-passage might be slightly less unnerving. However, for the rest of us, this bittersweet phase can bring immense feelings of anxiety and spark an existential crisis. How does one evolve from being merely a college-grad to a young professional with a purpose? This sort of life-realization simply does not take place overnight.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that this process is much more fluid than it may initially seem. While the job hunt is an intimidating and taxing phase, there are many tricks that make this pursuit a much smaller bite to chew.

1. Consider your strongest assets and skills that you’ve fostered.

Reflect on the leadership and team-related roles you have held throughout your time at college. Were you captain of your intramural volleyball team or department chair for your university’s radio station? Did you volunteer at your local family services center or intern with a marketing firm for a semester? Are you very proficient with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop? Consolidate all of your experiences and create a list of key skills that you can provide to an employer. Remember, you are trying to pitch what you can bring to the table for a company — not the other way around.

2. Evaluate the type of environment you can see yourself being most productive in.

Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment that emphasizes teamwork and sociability, or would you rather work independently on projects within a closed-off cubicle setting? Would you prefer to travel and host on-site events or stick with a traditional 9-to-5 schedule? The quality of work you accomplish will be greatly affected by how well your personality meshes with the company culture and atmosphere of the position you are hired for. The ultimate goal is to find a company or organization that feels like a good fit.

3. Develop a strong and concise elevator pitch that showcases your strengths and personality.

It’s always said that first impressions can make or break an connection with a potential date, or in this case, a future employer. Considering that hiring managers review several hundred applications per month, if you’re qualified enough to be invited for an interview, you want to create a lasting impression! The best strategy is to establish a 30-second “elevator pitch” — a short introductory statement that can be summarized within the time it takes to reach the top floor of a building on an elevator ride (hence the name). The key is to be as succinct as possible; you want to leave the employer engaged and with the desire to get to know you on a deeper level.

4. NETWORK!

Face-to-face interactions are absolutely imperative when it comes to landing your first job. Take into account how impersonal internet job portals are — you are nothing more than an application among hundreds or even thousands of others. For this reason, creating transparency between you and hiring managers is absolutely crucial. Attend networking fairs, create a LinkedIn account, and reach out to current employees within your target company to request informational interviews. These methods stimulate personal connections and break down the barrier that lies between you and your future employer. You never know who could provide your next referral and help you land an interview.

Another important aspect to keep in mind when beginning your career is that you are not signing a marital contract. Rarely do people stick with the very first job they attain right out of college — think of it as a stepping stone rather than a life-long commitment. Gaining transferable skills and work experience will make you much more marketable for your next job if you decide that your first one is not the most ideal fit.

While searching for a job may be incredibly daunting — especially for someone with a general liberal arts degree — using the aforementioned strategies will ultimately bring you closer to your goal of kickstarting your career fresh out of college. Keep in mind that nothing is permanent and that you have the prerogative to pave your most ideal path.

Like any other phase, this too will pass.

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