MONEY Careers

New Degree, No Job? 4 Steps Grads Should Take to Jumpstart the Search

Now that commencement's over and real life is about to begin, career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers strategies to get your career in gear, stat.

As a former recruiter, I have hired thousands of new graduates into their first full-time jobs, so I’ve seen the hiring process up close, inside and out.

Some industries—like management consulting and investment banking—do the bulk of their hiring well before graduation. If you have classmates entering these fields, you might be anxious if you don’t have your own first career step confirmed. (This goes for parents, too!)

Temper your anxieties by keeping in mind that the vast majority of companies only hire as needs arrive. Some of those companies are looking to fill entry-level slots right now, just a few heartbeats after commencement. So it may not be long before you (or your child) is launched—assuming you’re strategic. Take these four steps to take now to get the search in gear:

Figure out the finances first

You need to have time for your search. Even in the best-case scenario, it may take a month or two for you to go through the interview and vetting processes and land your first gig. In that time, you need to have a stable living environment where your basic needs are met so that you can be confident and relaxed as you meet with employers.

That requires answering this question first: How are you going to cover your expenses as you look?

Talk to your family about how long you are welcome to stay. If you have student loan payments that had a grace period while you were in school, find out when the first payment is starting and how much it is. Sketch out the rest of your budget, so you know what you’ll need to cover yourself.

Pick the low-hanging fruit

If money is tight, you’ll need to land something quickly and start earning. But even if you have the finances to support a longer search, you’ll want to avoid a long gap on your resume.

People who already know, like and trust you will more readily hire you or refer you for positions. So start your search by reaching out to family, friends, former employers from past internships or side jobs, even professors. Let them know you’re available.

Employers get inundated with resumes, but if someone the hiring manager knows personally refers you as a candidate, there’s a better chance your resume will get noticed.

Don’t discount “stopgap” jobs

First jobs do not have to be exactly in your area of interest to be valuable.

One of my coaching clients worked a retail job after she graduated, while searching for something in her target area (media). That job not only gave her the means to support herself, but also introduced her to other recent graduates working the store; and as her fellow store clerks got hired into their corporate jobs, she got introductions to those companies.

One new graduate I hired had been referred to me by a senior executive—she had babysat for his kids, and he was impressed by her work ethic.

In other words, these so-called stopgap jobs can set the stage for bigger career moves.

Keep going after your ideal job

Block out specific days and times for the search for your ideal job, even if you take that retail job or freelance project in the meantime.

Identify the companies you’d want to work for, check their websites regularly and follow them on social media to hear about openings. Also, use LinkedIn to find people in your network who work there and can introduce you or at least give you more information about the company to make you a more informed (read: more competitive) candidate.

Additionally, join a professional association in your target industry or a broader networking group like your university alumni club. The member events allow you to get comfortable in professional settings and meet new people, some of whom might work for your ideal companies. You never know who might help get you your first job—or your next one.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

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