The Best Advice for College Graduates Looking for a Job

When you need advice on getting a job or taking your career to the next level, it's tempting to look to the Steve Jobs' and Sheryl Sandbergs of the world for nibbles of wisdom that will completely revolutionize your approach. The successful entrepreneurs and CEOs of the world have plenty of advice to share from the view from the top, but they may not remember the granular details about getting from point A to B. Most of us aren't at the point in our career where we're being offered a seat on a rocket ship, so the best, most tactical and effective mentorship might actually come from the people who are a small step closer than we are to where we want to be.

If you're a recent graduate looking to find a job you really care about, don't discount the advice of other recent graduates who have found their ways to meaningful work. We asked some of the recent college graduates who've done our program and found great jobs to share their recipes for success:

1. Focus on the now.

I don't like to give blanket advice to graduating students as a whole. One thing I do think is worth mentioning is that the path forward is not always straight, and many times all you can do is focus on doing whatever it is you are doing now to the best of your ability. When you look back at your career its easy to tell a story that seems logical and say that you had a strategy the whole time, but this is rarely true.


Zach Carroll, Front-End Developer at in New York City, Cornell University graduate

[bctt tweet="The path forward is not always straight. Focus on the now. - @zachacarroll"]

2. Go with your gut.

Really the best advice I can give is to go with your gut. If a job or company doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to accept. I’ve spent significant time in the last several months trusting my instincts and it’s gotten me to my dream job. Also, if you don’t have a job right after graduation, don’t panic! I spent the better half of my last semester of college stressing about employment and worrying that if I didn’t walk across the stage with a job waiting for me, I failed. Lastly, don’t underestimate your experience/skills or sell yourself short. You are awesome!

Sarah Thaler, Digital Marketing Assistant at Golfmiles Inc. in Chicago, Loyola University graduate

3. Take time to explore.

I would say don’t rush into whatever comes along for lack of a better option or because you’re scared nothing else/better will come along; take the time to explore options, and figure out what you’d like to do, and then invest in making that happen. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but explored what I thought I might like and went from there. I’m sure I won’t be doing what I’m doing right now in a few years, but it’s given me a starting point and I like that I chose to explore this area intentionally, rather just taking something because it came along. Working becomes such a huge part of your day to day life, and it’s important to be excited about or interested in what you’re doing. Be intentional, in some way, about how you’re choosing to spend your time.

Kylie Hosken, Community Specialist at Nutshell CRM in Chicago, University of Michigan graduate [bctt tweet="#RecentGrads > don't rush into the wrong job out of fear, says @hoskenk"]

4. Keep it lean.

The hardest part about getting your first job out of college is uncertainty. Without external validation, spending time pursuing an ends that is not guaranteed can be nerve-wracking. I think the best approach is to apply principles of "lean" startups (popularized in a book by Eric Ries) to your own learning and career decisions. Begin by assessing the things that you are most certain about (e.g. I am analytical and want to work on hard problems), make an educated guess about a direction to take (I think software engineering leverages these traits), and actively seek external feedback. Use this feedback to make more refinements/alterations in the direction you take. Repeat this process over and over again and it won't be long before you'll find yourself in a position you love.

Pat Adduci, Software Engineer at Mavrck in Boston, Lehigh University graduate

(Read more about how Pat became a web developer.)

[bctt tweet="You can use #LeanStartup methodology to find job love, says dev @MavrckCo"]

5. Ignore expectations.

Disregard anything you've heard about what you're "supposed" to be doing at age 22/23 when you graduate from college. Do some brief introspection/soul-searching and make sure that the next step you've laid out for yourself is what you really want to do. Otherwise, you are wasting everyone's time.

Varad Karmarker, Content Specialist at CareContent, Inc. in Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate

6. Find a passion fit.

Figure out your passions in life and try to find companies or job descriptions that best fit your goals for life. Money doesn't matter, find a job you love.

—Brett von Halle, Marketing Associate at Pear in Chicago, University of Michigan graduate[bctt tweet="Figure out your passions + find work that aligns - @BVH773 of @ "]

7. Focus on fulfillment, and be open to anything and anyone.

Finally, some last words of advice from a recent graduate and alumnus on Startup Institute staff.

I would have a few words of advice:

  • Don’t worry so much about the future, but focus more on the present. The future will unravel how it will, but the present is what sets the stage for the unraveling.
  • While it is really easy to settle for a solid job with solid benefits at a seemingly solid company, remember that your personal fulfillment should come before your paycheck. Money is great but if the means of earning it compromises the enjoyment of spending it, you have a problem.
  • Never shut the door on an opportunity. Even if it sounds like you may not like it, go for it. If you’re not signing a contract, it is not a binding yes.
  • Stop burning bridges NOW. That person that you once saw pick their nose in your sophomore English class could be a reference to a position you may want very bad in the future. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone but courtesy and the ability to be neutral can go a long way in building a network for the future.
  • Leverage your network. Our generation relies on referrals to get things done more than any generation before us. Build your network and don’t be afraid to reach out to it for help!

Josh Simons, City Admissions Manager at Startup Institute in Chicago, Illinois State University graduate [bctt tweet="#RecentGrads- build your network + don't be afraid to ask for help - @joshsimons237"]

Photo credit: Dita Margarita via Flickr cc