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Career after college

7 Steps to Successful Career Planning after College

You’ve just spent the last four years in school working toward a degree, and now that graduation has come and gone, it’s time to focus on an entirely new challenge:

Finding your career after college.

There are always those few lucky graduates who know what they want to do seemingly from childhood. As if granted one wish by the career gods, they toss their graduation hat in the air and the next day are well on their way to fulfilling a lifelong journey of pursuing their goals. 

Then there are those who wake up the morning after graduation and haven’t given it a single thought until that moment. They worked their way through a degree in a field about which they’re passionate, but never gave any genuine consideration to how that passion might translate to actually making money in the real world.

At Vocate, we've learned that most people land somewhere in the middle of these two. While you may be far from some pre-destined career path, you’re also not the guy scratching his head and wondering what you need to do to earn a paycheck. You’ve likely given it a lot of thought, but now that the road stands in front of you, it’s time to actually make some decisions about what you want to do in your career.

That’s where this post comes in. 

Navigating your way through the process of finding the right career after college doesn’t need to be a complicated, intimidating, at-times-scary thing. Yes, it requires thoughtfulness and strategic thinking, but with a little direction and a growth mindset, not only can you find a job, you can find a great career that aligns with your values, passions, and long-term goals. 

Want to know how? Try this. 

Step #1: Complete a Thorough Self-Assessment

Choosing a career after college can be one of the biggest decisions you make in your young adult life. 

While there’s no rule against pivoting in your career (and, in fact, you’ll find later in this post that you may need to do just that in the future), getting started on the right path does a few important things for you after graduation:

  • It keeps you learning. 

If you thought learning stopped after graduation, let this be an important lesson. Never, ever stop learning. In fact, your goal, particularly in the early stages of your career, should be to actively seek out learning opportunities. 

The great thing about choosing the right career path after college that aligns with your goals is that you’ll actually be excited to learn. Moving from college to some dead-end, mind-numbing job you don’t care about might seem like an easy way to give your brain a break after four long years of school, but the truth is, you should be doing the exact opposite. Keep your brain moving in high gear because once you slow down, it’s really hard to get the train moving again.

  • It instills confidence.

There are few things more deflating than working in a job you’re not proud to be doing. Unfortunately, that’s what happens for many recent graduates; they leave school and enter the real world where there’s rent and groceries and car payments, and to make ends meet, they take on positions that don’t align with their passions and values.

That can be a real confidence-killer right out the gates. Instead, if you actually get started on the right career path right out of college, you’ll find you have positive momentum heading into the rest of your career. 

So how exactly do you complete a “thorough self-assessment”?

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • About what do I love to learn?
  • What do I believe I could make money doing today if I absolutely needed to?
  • About what am I passionate?
  • What jobs do I absolutely NOT want?
  • Why am I not interested in those jobs? What do they have in common?

As you can see, sometimes the best way to uncover what you do want is to analyze what it is you don’t want. Backing into a self-assessment in this way helps you refine big questions like “what do I enjoy doing?” into a more concrete idea.

Once you’ve answered those questions (preferably in written form), you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step #2: Dig Deep into Different Career Options

Armed with the list of passions, goals, learning objectives, and skills you put together in Step #1, it’s time you actually dig into the job search a bit. 

That’s where Vocate can really help. One of the most tedious aspects of applying for jobs after college is the monotonous process of completing the same applications over and over again. Vocate cuts that process down to a single application that gets sent to over 1,000 different companies interested in hiring recent graduates for entry-level jobs and internships. 

As companies begin contacting you via Vocate, the next step becomes absolutely crucial.

Step #3: Figure Out What’s Most Important to You

Choosing the right job and company comes down to a lot more than just the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. There are several key areas you need to evaluate, including:

  • Programs for entry-level employees.

Joining a company without a well-established program for helping recent graduates succeed can be tough, both for you and the company. Even though you just spent the last four years in school and undoubtedly come to any opportunity with a wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective, there’s no trade-off for real world working experience. 

Companies that haven’t accounted for that inevitable lack of experience from entry-level employees by creating specific success programs for recent graduates (like mentoring, for example), may not be the best places for you to start your career after college. 

How companies onboard new entry-level employees should be a big factor in whether you pursue an opportunity.

  • Learning opportunities.

In addition to learning programs for recent graduates, it’s a good idea to evaluate a company’s full instructional program for employees at any level. While it’s unlikely that you’ll stay with your first company after graduation forever, you still want to make sure that as you grow and progress, there’s ample opportunity for you to develop new skills and extend yourself into new, challenging areas of your career path. 

  • Growth potential.

Similarly, evaluating the potential for internal career advancement should be taken into account. Talk with current employees who started in entry-level roles and have grown with the business to learn more about the steps you need to take and the timeline for advancement.

  • Company mission.

Outside of professional growth, there’s also determining how well a company’s goals and values align with your own. Do you feel passionate about their mission? Is it something you can proudly stand behind? Many people think that “work is work” and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in agreement with the company mission. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. If you’re not passionate about the mission, it becomes increasingly difficult to be passionate about your work, which leads to mediocre performance and eventual stagnation in your job. 

  • Culture. 

Lastly, there’s the company’s culture. Do you like the team with whom you’d be working? Does the work-life balance align with your goals for extracurricular activity and time with family and friends? Are the benefits and perks actually valuable to you? Think about each of these things as you evaluate jobs and companies. 

Step #4: Milk Your Network for All It’s Worth

Then, once you’ve done the research on different jobs of interest and have a firm grasp on exactly what you want out of an opportunity, it’s time to start networking. While there’s no shame in putting yourself out there and leveraging your network to try and uncover potential opportunities, here’s some common etiquette on how to network properly.

  • Do your research ahead of time.

Use social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn to get an idea of the people in your network who may be able to help you with tips or even getting an interview. 

  • Ask, don’t demand.

If your neighbor works at Dream Company and you’re interested in getting your foot in the door there, the wrong way to approach the situation is to corner him while he’s cutting the lawn and ask if he can get you an interview. 

The right way is to politely ask for a few minutes of his time, and then share that Dream Company is a company directly in line with your career goals, and that while you certainly don’t expect any preferential treatment, you’d love to hear any suggestions for landing an opportunity there. 

  • Graciously accept “no’s.”

In the above scenario, there’s always the chance that your neighbor says “no, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” In this case, you should politely thank him for his time and go about your merry way. Don’t assume that he’s doing it out of spite. Perhaps your neighbor wouldn’t even know where to refer you if he could. 

  • Offer something in return (even if it’s just a “thank you”). 

If you’re talented in the kitchen at all, warm cookies go a long way. Showing your appreciation is always the right move.

Step #5: Make Sure Your Interview Skills are Top-Notch

There’s so much advice out there about how to interview well, but truthfully, a successful interview boils down to three core factors:

  1. Are you prepared?
  2. Are you passionate about the job?
  3. Are you honest?

The first one is arguably the most important. Even the most senior executives don’t “wing” interviews (or, at least, they shouldn’t). You might be a great conversationalist and have all the confidence in the world, but taking the time ahead of your interview to research to whom you’ll be talking, the company, and the role is a “must-do” for success in any interview process. 

From there, it’s all about passion and honesty. If you’re not excited about the job, that will inevitably come through during an interview. Interviewers don’t mind a little nervousness (in fact, it’s a great indication of how passionate you are about the position), but they have no patience for lack of preparedness or lack of honesty.

Step #6: Learn How to Evaluate a Job Offer

If and when you receive your first job offer, you’ll likely be so excited that you might be tempted to just accept it on the spot. A word of advice: don’t. 

This is not because the offer’s not great or because you shouldn’t take the job, but because it’s important to thoroughly evaluate an offer before committing yourself to a new company. That means taking a good look at the compensation (how and when you’re paid), as well as how the offer aligns with the areas you outlined in Step #3 for what’s most important to you.

Step #7: Never Stop Assessing Your Situation

Finally, continuously revisit your goals and measure how your current job matches up to them. Goals can always change; they don’t need to be set in stone. The same goes for careers. You might think you absolutely want to be an engineer, only to find after a year that you’re actually drawn more toward marketing or data science. That’s okay! At that point, you just head back to Step #1 in this process and go from there. 


Remember, Vocate helps you streamline the process of applying to jobs by creating a single application that gets sent to thousands of employers interested in hiring entry-level talent. Check out Vocate today to learn more. 

Zack Andresen

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