Everyone will talk to you about making sure you get an education, but there are not a lot of people around that talk to you about starting your career. Starting your career off on the right foot is one of the most vital steps you take in life.
You do not need the advantages of attending private schools where the alumni network and help people to start their careers to get off on the right foot, but you do need to know where to start, how to start, and what the best practices are for starting your career.
Let’s Start Before You Ever Graduate
Being a full-time college student can be tough, but do not make the mistake of not taking that interning opportunity. Most universities encourage students to “dip their toe in the pool” of interning opportunities to help them get their foot in the door of their chosen career field.
Unfortunately, an amazingly large number of college students do not take the opportunity seriously. There are several reasons why college students often forego intern opportunities that are available. The number one reason that college students often give for not signing up for these opportunities is time.
The fact is an intern opportunity is a very valuable asset when the time comes you are starting your career, which means it is worth the time. Make time for internships but make sure that they are relevant to your career plans.
A good example of an internship that is not relative is working as a furniture designer apprentice but your goal is to get into new construction homes as an engineer. While they are related, they are not related closely enough.
Not every intern opportunity is the best opportunity, but some professions actually require a lot of intern time, like becoming a doctor. Without the right amount of intern time, some professions won’t ever let you get started on your career.
The bottom line on internships is:
- They can help you with starting your career before you ever leave college.
- Relevance to your career field is important but you would be surprised what is relevant.
- Get in your old car and take advantage of any opportunities that are presented.
Getting your feet wet in the real world of your projected career field is not only good for your resume, but it will also give you an opportunity to see what it really takes to be in your career field. Being an art consultant on paper may sound good, but you may find that it really takes a lot of work to make a living.
Having this real-world experience can let you figure out in a hurry if teeth whitening all day as a dental hygienist is for you or not. It is an important opportunity for you that you should not skip out on.
One More Thing Before You Graduate
Whether your goal is to be an entrepreneur with a business garbage pickup business or you want to be a lawyer, the best thing you can do is to start networking early on. Networking with people that are already in the industry can help you to have the leverage you need when you graduate.
How do you network when you do not know anyone in the field? You get to know them by attending trade shows, symposiums, watching online TED talks and commenting, in other words, you immerse yourself in the culture of the industry you want to be in.
The old adage “sometimes it is not what you know but who you know” is very applicable when you are starting your career. The more people you know in your projected industry before you leave college the easier the transition will be for starting your career.
It can be hard to put yourself out there but gathering as much information as you can about your chosen field and making connections is going to pay off handsomely. So the take away is before you start planning for the home additions that you will have after getting your career started, make sure you have plans for a network of support.
After You Graduate
Unfortunately, a lot of people are often disillusioned when they graduate college. They expect to walk into their dream job simply because they have a degree. The fact is, very rarely are you able to get that dream job right out the gate.
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to starting your career. For example, let’s say, sales are your dream job, specifically, you want to go into car sales and sell Mercedes. The dealership depends heavily on the expertise of its sales team to make those sales. You may have to start out by proving yourself.
Perhaps, instead of putting you right on the sales floor, they may start you in back-office sales, like selling genuine Mercedes parts to clients. While this is not where you thought you would start out your sales career, you are in fact still selling, getting experience, and on the road to the showroom.
In other words, when you are first starting your career, you are going to need to be flexible in the job duties that you perform until you earn your way up the ladder. It can be a blow to your pride to have to start out in the proverbial “mailroom”, but frankly, it is what it is. Remember there is a reason that some positions are named entry-level positions. When you are starting your career, you are the epitome of what entry-level means.
Stay Flexible and Keep a Positive Attitude
If you are like most Americans you left school with at least some debt which means unfortunately, you really cannot afford to be choosy about where you work initially. If a great job comes along in your chosen profession, wonderful, but if one does not come along right away, take what you can get.
Maintaining a positive flexible attitude to starting your career will eventually lead you to that dream job even it is not right out of school. Taking a job that is outside your chosen career field may not be ideal, but it will help you to pay your bills.
In many cases while the experience may not be a complete match to your career, there is also some experience that you gain that will be relevant. For example, acting as a receptionist in an art gallery is not the same duties as an art consultant but it does surround you with art, and you will learn more about the workings of a gallery. Additionally, you will be networking with people in the field that can help you move on up.
Now, taking a job that you need but do not necessarily want is fine, but do not become complacent. You may be thinking that there is no way I would stay in a job that was not in my field but it happens all the time.
You surely have heard of the Ph.D. that took a management job at a fast-food chain or a JD that works in management at a big-box discount store. Those are not urban legends. People work hard to earn their degrees, build up debt, and they take a job that they have to, but never keep moving forward.
When you have to take that job that you never wanted or planned for, keep submitting your resume to the companies that you do want to work for. Hard work and persistence can pay off but you have to keep your eye on the goal.
Getting Support On Your Journey
One of the best things you can do when you are starting your career is to find a mentor. A mentor can be a senior executive at the company you get your first job at, it can be a local small business owner that has been successful, it can even be one of your former professors that are still active in the field.
There are several reasons why finding a mentor is a good idea. A mentor can:
- Keep you from making career-killing mistakes by sharing their experiences with you.
- Introduce you to a network of people in your field.
- Give you advice that will help you to make informed decisions about your career.
It is important to have a mentor that you can depend on to help with getting your career started. It just makes the challenges of crafting a strong foundation easier.
Your “mentor” does not even have to agree to be your mentor. Find someone in your field that you look up to and befriend them, ask them questions, ask advice, it does not have to be a formal relationship that is carved in stone.
Goals and Plans
Starting your career takes good planning. Make a plan with small obtainable goals that you can use as benchmarks to see how you are moving along. A 5-year career plan with both short and long term goals will help you to stay on track.
Of course, it is also important to have a plan so that you do not get stuck in that job that you had to take when you first graduated. Write down, read it, check off your goals as you meet them. If you have to make adjustments as you go that is fine, but keep an eye on the prize.
Studies have indicated people with a formal written plan are 57% more likely to reach their goals. Writing down your plans for your career helps you stay accountable to yourself. It is also a visual reminder of where you are going, how you will get there, and where you want to be.
Starting your career plan should start with the number one goal of “getting a job” preferably that job will be in your career field. Next one should be learning as much as you can about your job and doing whatever it takes to keep moving forward in the position.
College Was Not the End of Your Education
A lot of recent graduates were shocked to find that education in their field does not end with college. You will have to get additional certifications, take continuing education credits, and sit through endless hours of training.
If you really want to get a jump start on pulling ahead of the pack keep that education vibe going. Enroll for as many certifications in your field as you can. The more certified you become the more a valued employee you become.
Job candidates that show that they are “go-getters” by coming on board with certifications on hand, are viewed as an exceptional talent. If you get your certifications together on your own than the employer does not have to pay for it. They also do not have to hire you than give you an X amount of time off to complete the certifications.
Additional education is always a huge selling point. Consider how many people you just graduated with that will be entering the job market at the same exact time. Starting your career on the right foot starts with making yourself stand out from the crowd.
Before you graduate volunteer, get in on an internship, and work if you can in your field. After you graduate get the certifications that you need. Make yourself a stand out candidate to employers.
The most important step in starting your career is to take that first scary step off the stage and into the workforce.