What I wish I knew when I first started my career back in 1999 as a newly minted MBA with a new language under my belt can fill 2 or 3 books. Here are my quick tips for recent grads or even those with a few years under their belts in the career world.
Tip 1: Look for a career, not a job. This is easier said than done. If you went to a pricey school (which is, basically, almost any school - except CUNY or SUNY), you might have a student loan monthly payment coming due 6 months after graduation.
[Bloggers Note: maybe I need a pre-tip -- ok, pre-tip 1 is that 6 months from graduation, you will get a bill from your student loan(s) if any that need to be paid - it has always amazed me how many of my students did not know this].
Take your time to find your career and, if needed, get an extension on your student loan payments by deferring them for some time until you find the position. I hope you did some internships and tried out some different industries while in undergrad or grad school - if you could not, try to meet with as many people as possible and interview them about the industry/company they work for - people do love to speak about themselves so try to find out as much as you can from them to help you identify where you can be happiest.
Tip 2: If your school has a career center (they almost all do), sign up for an interests test. Even if you are almost done (or done) with your degree - an interest test can give you some hints and items to go on to move forward with your career search. Remember, just because you majored in something it does not mean you will wind up doing that exact thing. I was a Marketing major and really never worked directly in marketing.
Tip 3: Be strong in your written and spoken communication. Many companies will hire a great liberal arts grad over someone who was mediocre in some other major. Having the ability to speak and write are very important - practice these skills all the time. While still in school, create content - maybe blog on something relevant to your major (not just your personal life). Take pride in your school work and have some of it be "portfolio ready" - so be ready to create a portfolio of some of your best reports or presentations to share with your hiring manager. I used my MBA dissertation more times than I can count as a writing sample / portfolio piece. I hated creating that document - my professor (Dr Mockler) was so tough that he reviewed my dissertation the day before it was due and gave me an "F". I was in Italy and had done the whole 80+ page typed research paper using sources found via the internet (what was the internet in 1998-1999? Not what it is today - this was real work - finding library sites and using database searches, etc). I went back to that computer lab, reopened the file - and felt that there was nothing I could do to change it so I went back to my apartment by the Vatican and wallowed. The next day, I submitted the same paper and got an "A" and he published it in his next textbook. Now, that is a tough teacher...
Tip 4: When you receive your first job offer, truly understand what it means. If you do not know (you won't), ask. Find out what your job band is or classification - some companies use numbers to say you are a level 25 employee or some use letters so you are a W employee level. So few people know or understand what that means. If you are truly interested in building a career at your firm, it helps to know exactly where you are starting from. Each employee "level" or "band" has a salary continuum built into it and knowing where you start can help you plan where you want to go. It also will help you during performance review time and as your salary creeps up (hopefully) to the top of the band for that designation, you will be most aware of when a promotion can be possible. Some of this information might not be given to you right away but once you approve of the offer and sign the necessary paperwork, you can probably get access to some of this information. At the bare minimum, knowing your level and understanding how leveling works at your company will definitely give you a leg up on your career management plan.
Tip 5: Have a career management plan, in draft of course. Just like running your own business, your career is your brand and your future. Have an idea of where you want to be in 1 year, in 3 years and in 5 years. Always keep your resume up to date and ready to share it. Always keep your networking a two way street and do your best to always do your best.
What do you think of my tips that I wish I knew when... What would you add? Happy Hunting!
Lisa Vento Nielsen