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Congrats, new grads! You’ve made it. At long last—after many years of toiling away on research papers—you’ve graduated from college or university. Either that, or you’ll be graduating very soon. Then the search for that perfect job starts.
As a new college grad, you’ll want to step into a career of your choice. However, joining the job market can be daunting, especially when you’re first starting out right after college.
Here are some crucial steps that you need to take after graduating.
1. Have a Good Portfolio, Whatever That Portfolio May Be
When someone says “portfolio,” a lot of people think that it’s something artistic. In reality, a portfolio is simply a collection of documents that comprise the sum total of your professional work.
When you’re newly graduated, having a good portfolio is crucial. You don’t have the work history to back you up, so in order to show that you can keep up and compete with the rest of the workforce, you’ll need to demonstrate your skills for prospective employers.
There are ways to build up a portfolio without having a lot of professional experience. Those ways include:
- Student projects.
- Personal projects with friends or volunteer groups (to show that you work well with a team).
- You can also include personal projects you’ve done for fun to show off your creative capabilities.
Once you get a combo of these items, make that portfolio super easy to access. This usually means having a website or blog cataloging your work. It can also mean providing links to companies so they can see your work being hosted on other sites.
By doing this, your portfolio will help you get your foot in the door.
2. Research the Market You’re Going Into
One thing you’ll need to do as a recent grad is research the job market you’re stepping into. Chances are high that you’ll have little experience with it, and because of this, you’ll need to figure out some core attributes of the field in order to increase your chances.
Things you’ll need to research include:
- Where are the jobs located?
- What skills do these jobs require?
- Do I need to emphasize certain skills over others?
- How much does it cost to live in the area where my job prospects are located?
- Does the average salary cover my living expenses in that area?
Additionally, you’ll need to know:
- What is the overall health of my job market?
- Are there lots of jobs, but too few people working in my field?
- Are there too many applicants, but not enough jobs to go around?
If the answer to this question is the latter, that means that competition will be fierce. A quick way to find out how many jobs are in your field (and where those jobs are located) is by taking a comprehensive look at a job search website like Indeed.
3. Network, Network, Network
When I was in school—and probably when you were in school, too—there was a huge emphasis on “networking”. At first, you might shrug off the importance of networking or think that job positions are based on meritocracy, but sadly this isn’t always the case.
Yes, being able to do good work is extremely important. If you get a job and you can’t do the work, you’ll inevitably fail. But when you’re new and employers don’t know your work ethic, having other people in that field to vouch for your skills is crucial.
Think of these networking contacts like job references, just less formal. If you’re looking for more info, here are the do’s and don’ts of professional networking on social media.
4. Unabashedly Get a Second Job to Deal With Student Debt
One of the eventualities of post-grad life is that most people don’t score internships. Not everyone gets a job in their field right away. According to Forbes, a recent study revealed that “43% of recent graduates are underemployed”, or not employed in their field at all.
You absolutely need to keep searching if you want to land that dream job, but at the same time, you can’t go hungry. Bills need to be paid. Student loans need to be dealt with.
In order to deal with that debt, you might want to look into taking on a second job unrelated to your field. While this situation is not ideal, it’s important to understand that it’s actually pretty normal to go this route. Again, look at those job numbers.
The rule of thumb is to find a job that pays the bills, but one that is easy enough that it allows you to keep on plugging away at your job search until you find what you were actually looking for.
If you keep a positive attitude and think through this logically, your chances of breaking into an industry—and knowing where to look for opportunities—will increase.
5. It’s Okay to Take a Short Break If You Need One
Contrary to everything else in this article, “taking a break” is going to seem like a backward step. Right after you graduate, there’s going to be enormous peer pressure to go, go, go: from your fellow grads who want the same things, to your family, your school debt, and your own expectations about where you should be.
Unfortunately, you’ve also been grinding for 4+ years to graduate. You may be tired or on the verge of burning out. If you’re not in peak shape you won’t be able to job search properly, so if you feel like you’re going to collapse, taking a short break might be prudent. Not too long, of course, but you can at least get a decent night’s sleep before you dive back in.
Is your job search not working out well? Here’s how to get your job search back on track when you’re struggling.
6. Learn When to Say “No” to Free Work
A really unfortunate side-effect of entering the job market is the yearly descent of industry-adjacent grifters who prey on recent graduates. These are people who swoop in like vultures to take advantage of your need by charging far below your market worth.
In some cases, these grifters don’t pay you at all—arguing that the “experience” will help your portfolio better than any money ever could.
The practice of unpaid internships is often against local labor laws, and one of the most recent crackdowns happened in the UK. According to The Guardian, HM Revenue & Customs “issued more than 550 warnings to companies” that were committing these violations.
As a recent grad, it’s important that you don’t fall for this sort of exploitation.
If you followed our portfolio advice in Step 1 of this article, you’ll have a decent amount of work built up to showcase your skills. If you still need to build up your portfolio, and you’re considering free work, there are ways to evaluate whether or not you should do it:
- Is it legal, or is this a labor code violation?
- Have you worked for free before?
- If you have worked for free, why do you need to work for free again?
- Can you afford to work for free, financially or time-wise?
- If you do this for free, will it degrade your ability to charge a higher cost in the future?
Finally, you should have an honest conversation with yourself about this company that’s contacted you, and whether or not they’re being sincere about their inability to pay you. Maybe they just want cheap labor.
Spend Time Wisely on Your Job Search
Now that you know the steps that are needed for recent graduates entering the workplace, you can get started on your job hunt. With any luck, you’ll be well on your way to forging your own career.
Looking for more tools to help you with your job hunt? Here’s how to write an amazing cover letter.