Preparing for the Job Market After Graduation

by Evan Thompson

Updated May 23, 2023

As your college journey comes to an end, you might be tempted to coast to the finish line. But there is still some work left to be done for college seniors — especially those who want to land a job right after graduation.

For example: Have you asked for recommendations from professors? Did you stop by the career center to start your job search? Do you have a plan for how to pay for living expenses when you move away?

These are a few of the questions you should be asking yourself as you get ready to graduate. The best time to take care of them is before leaving college.

Use this graduation checklist to kickstart your job hunt preparations.

1. Visit the Career Center

Why it Matters:

Stopping by your school's career center can make the post-college job hunt less scary. They can help you land a job out of college by providing resources and strategies to support you, such as:

  • Access to an employment specialist;
  • Referrals to employers who are currently hiring; and
  • Meetings with financial wellness advisors.

Insider Tip:

"Employers who often recruit from your college or university may post applications through the career center. In most cases you will not be notified when a matching opportunity comes along, so be sure to check the site weekly."

– Denise Thomas, college consultant

2. Join Your Alumni Association

Why it Matters:

Alumni associations are a great way to continue reaping the benefits of your education after graduation. Your alumni benefits include access to information on current hiring trends, networking opportunities at career fairs, and a vast network of professional contacts who also went to your school. Joining an alumni association usually requires paying a fee.

Insider Tip:

"Ask both your alumni relations office, along with your career resource center, if there are alumni distribution lists you can be added to after graduation. This way, if there are job opportunities that get posted by alumni, you are in the know and can have that alumni give you a warm introduction to the hiring manager."

Amanda Sweeney, University of Chicago (MA) and Wesleyan University (BA) grad

3. Check in on Your Student Loans

Why it Matters:

While student loan debt isn't fun to think about, you'll need to start making payments soon. As you get ready to graduate, you should be aware of the amount you owe, the date you have to start making payments, and how much you'll have to pay per month. This is a good time to familiarize yourself with refinance and forgiveness options, too.

Insider Tip:

"Most student loan repayment plans give you around 6 months of a grace period after graduation before you need to start making payments. Some types of loans such as private, however, start the month after you graduate so it is really important to revisit your loan agreements and see when your first bill is coming."

– Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, career coach and university lecturer at the University of Cincinnati

4. Have a Plan for Your Finances

Why it Matters:

Money management is key for recent college graduates, especially those who have student debt. While new grads won't always have the luxury of a well-paying job after college, you should at least be thinking about how to manage your future salary to pay for things like rent, food, and student loans. You can even use free budgeting apps, such as Mint, to track how you spend your money and manage your personal finances.

Insider Tip:

"Taking control of your finances is extremely important when you first enter the workforce. When looking for jobs, make sure you correctly budget your expenses so you know how high of a salary you should be looking for."

– Max Kimmel, finance writer

5. Create an Academic Portfolio

Why it Matters:

Don't toss out your schoolwork now that you're almost ready to graduate. Your academic portfolio – essays, projects, awards – is a collection of your most impressive feats as a student. Employers want to know how you might perform as a potential employee, so having a solid portfolio is a key component in your post-college job search.

Insider Tip:

"Save important essays, projects and even finals so that you can return to them if need be in the future. Grad school, the working world, and an internship may all call upon the efforts you had in college."

– Chad Dorman, college consultant

6. Set up Your References

Why it Matters:

Your resume will look and feel incomplete without references. Employers want to speak with people familiar with your capabilities, and references give them insight into who you are. Reach out to professors, internship managers, or mentors – anyone who can paint a picture of who you are as a person, a student, and a potential employee – to see if they'd be willing to vouch for you.

Insider Tip:

"Students preparing to graduate from college need honest assessments of their strengths and challenges. So beyond asking faculty members and others for references, ask [about] areas in which they are strong and [how] they could become even stronger or more competitive in the job market or as new professionals. Asking the question in this way doesn't predispose the faculty person to focus on the negatives. In fact, it shows a level of maturity and openness to learning that can be incorporated into a letter of reference."

– F. J. Talley, college consultant and administrator at St. Mary's College of Maryland

7. Network, Network, Network

Why it Matters:

You've heard the adage, "it's not what you know, but who you know," a million times, but it can be true when it comes to getting a job. What it means is that when you have a list of professional contacts who know you and what you can bring to the table, work opportunities tend to emerge. There are a few ways to get started building your professional network.

  • Attending job fairs or industry meet-ups
  • Asking professors and mentors for professional contacts
  • Telling friends, family, and peers that you're looking for work
  • Engaging with prospective employers on social media, such as LinkedIn
  • Finding people who work for a company you're interested in and inviting them out for coffee (or virtual coffee)

Insider Tip:

"Rather than just asking for detailed references from your mentors, begin asking about setting up tangible opportunities. This is the beginning of networking, and it is best done while you are still in school and remembered by your profs, rather than waiting too long for them to either forget you (hey, it happens!) or have an outdated perception of your skills. You can ask politely if they have any contacts in your industry who may make good mentors beyond your campus, or if there are job opportunities down the pipeline that they have heard about."

– Andrey Doichev, online business consultant

8. Redefine "Your Field"

Why it Matters:

New college grads often settle for low-paying jobs just to have work in their field. If you're having trouble landing your first career-building job, you might be too stuck on finding a job opening that caters specifically to your degree. Instead, keep an eye out for roles that both fit your skillset and offer salaries that support your talents. They may be in unexpected places.

Insider Tip:

"Think outside the box a little and let go of the idea that the perfect job will have a title that completely matches the one that goes with your degree. Search for jobs by required skills. You might be surprised by how quickly your definition of what's in your field opens up."

– Amanda Morin, education advocate and author

9. Practice Your Elevator Pitch

Why it Matters:

Employers will want to know who you are without hearing your whole life story. Create a quick synopsis of your background that's short enough to present during an elevator ride. Your pitch should be a concise, engaging overview – who you are, what you can do, and what you want to do – that makes people want to know more.

Insider Tip:

"When developing an elevator pitch, you want to remember that the information in the pitch should consist of pertinent background information, what you do, what you want to achieve, and how you hope to add value. So many interviews begin with "tell me about yourself." This is a pristine opportunity to use your elevator pitch and show that you are an excellent and competent candidate. Many interviewees might give unnecessary information. A good elevator pitch helps ensure that you do not make that mistake."

– Donald Williams Jr., Mercer University graduate and young adult lifestyle podcaster

10. Clean Up Your Social Media Pages

Why it Matters:

Your social media pages can be your first impression for employers. As a matter of fact, 70% of hiring managers use social media to screen candidates before hiring. While a few party pictures don't necessarily make you a bad candidate, they could negatively impact your job search.

Insider Tip:

"Make clean and new professional social media pages with hirable headshots. You want to look pristine when (because they will) employers check your social media."

– Doug Liantonio, former job recruiter and marketing outreach analyst

Portrait of Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.

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