What to do after college

If you’re unsure of where to go after you collect your degree at graduation, get some direction by answering these questions.

What to do after college

Prepare yourself for life after college.

Congratulations! You strolled across the stage and picked up your well-earned diploma. Now it’s time to figure out what to do after college.

One obvious option is to go after what you spent four long years working toward: your first job.

Your job search will no doubt have its ups and downs (and ups, downs, and ups again). To help you navigate the job hunt and, ultimately, land your first job, you’ll need some direction. Get started by asking yourself these questions:

What kind of job do you want to do?

You might think employers will appreciate your “I’m willing to do or learn anything” approach to getting a job. However, most employers interpret that as “I’m desperate” or “I have no focus, so I’m just taking a shot at whatever I stumble across.” Don’t be that candidate. In your life after college, you need to demonstrate a sense of purpose and direction.

Your action plan: If you’re fuzzy about the type of job you want, you can take a career assessment test, use informational interviewing to help you gain focus, and talk over your specific concerns with a mentor or career counselor. Most colleges have career centers staffed for just this purpose.

Do you have work experience?

Employers look for evidence that you’ve gained relevant experience in your field through internshipsco-opspart-time jobsentry-level jobs, temping, or even volunteering.

Your action plan: If you don’t have job experience yet, you can still leverage skills you already have to the position you’re seeking. Check out this article on the universal transferable skills hiring managers are looking for in candidates.

And don’t buy into the myth that you didn’t learn anything in college that matters to a real-world employer. Thinking about all of those group projects (teamwork) and presentations (verbal communication) you completed, not to mention juggling your busy schedule (organization). Those are all important transferable skills you can add to your first resume.

Do you know the industry you’re going into?

You should at least have a general idea of what to do after college, namely what industry you're interested in pursuing. Imagine going into an interview and saying, “I love this field and know a lot about it—that’s why I want to get into it myself.” The interviewer replies by saying, “Interesting. Tell me what you know.”

If you’ve been fudging to that point, you’re in trouble.

Your action plan: You have to be well versed in the industry you’re pursing. Once you’ve chosen your field, study it thoroughly so prospective employers know you understand it. Research the field’s major players by reading industry publications, visiting industry websites, and participating in professional organizations and attending their conferences and seminars.

Are your references lined up?

Employers may ask for a list of references before asking you to sign on the dotted line. You want to choose people you know will speak highly of you and are able to speak about your qualifications for the specific job you’re pursuing.

Your action plan: Identify now a list of people whom you think could speak to your abilities. You want to try to round up more than three as different people may speak to different skills, and you may be applying for positions that vary in terms of the duties.

Once you have your list, be sure to check with each person to confirm that he or she approves of being used as a reference. Before you give their names to a recruiter, explain to them you've decided what to do after college and would like their help. Brief them on the job you’re going for, and what you might want them to say.

So there you have it—your first steps toward the real world! The preparation for post-grad life can definitely be a little stressful, particularly if you don't know what to do after graduation. But bear in mind: Any job search takes time

Do you have a solid resume?

You may be the best entry-level job candidate the world has ever seen. But if you don’t market yourself effectively on your resume and cover letter, no one will ever know.

Your action plan:  First off, when you’re applying to jobs, you need to tailor your resume to the individual job descriptions by including relevant keywords. That way, you’ll have a better chance at clearing the applicant tracking systems many companies use to prescreen resumes. For example, if you’re pursuing a job as a book editor, be sure to use words like “writers” and “editing,” which likely appear in the job description.

But also remember that a human is reading your resume, so you want to also explain your accomplishments in various jobs, and use numbers to quantify your achievements as much as possible. For all your resumes, make sure to highlight any previous internships and relevant coursework.

Are you taking advantage of available resources?

Once your resume is ready to go, you need to make sure it's getting seen. After all, your resume does little good sitting on your computer. Need some help getting noticed? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume and cover letter—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent to your inbox when positions become available. These are two quick and easy ways to make the job search work better for you, so you can do a better job of getting to work.