Congratulations, you've done it! You made it through college, have your degree in hand and are finally ready to make your mark. You are now in the real world and it's time to get your professional life started.
If you are in the middle of this crossroad, it can be scary, exciting, confusing, overwhelming or all of the above. Following are some steps to make a successful college-to-real world transition.
Step 1: Pinpoint Your Direction.
After four (or five, or six) years of college, you are completely certain about what you want to do, right? If not, now is the time to determine what your strengths are and identify what kind of careers suit you. Are you someone who loves to be around people? Or are you happier crunching numbers or creating computer programs? Consider all of your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and interests when thinking about your career plan. Read about fields that interest you and talk to others who are doing jobs that you find interesting. Focus your direction on positions and fields that match your interests and talents.
Step 2: Do Your Research.
It is vital to learn as much as you can about the companies that interest you and to consider all of your options, says Pam Webster, a recruiting manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. She should know: Enterprise is the nation's largest recruiter of college graduates.
"You should be open-minded about opportunities in companies and industries you might not have thought of before," she says. Once you have identified companies that you want to target, Webster suggests looking at their Web sites, reading news articles and talking to current employees to learn as much as you can. "You also need to look at a company's stability," she says. "Is the company going to be there for the long term?"
Step 3: Assemble Your Toolkit.
It is important to have the right tools for any task. The tools needed for a job search are a résumé, cover letter and a portfolio of your work. Take the time to develop a résumé and cover letter that clearly convey your strengths and experience. Here are a few tips to remember:
Think about the type of résumé you need. A functional résumé, which highlights your abilities rather than your work history, is a good choice for first-time job seekers.
Focus on accomplishments and results you have achieved, rather than simple descriptions of experiences.
Use action words in your résumé and cover letter to describe your experiences, such as "initiated," "produced" and "managed."
If you are low on practical work experience, look to your part-time work, school activities or volunteer positions. "Evaluate all of your experience and translate how it applies to any job you might apply to," Webster says.
Step 4: Network.
One of the most important tasks in any job search is networking. Take advantage of any resources you have, including your school's career placement office, friends who graduated before you and are already working, friends of your parents, former professors, and neighbors. Send e-mails to ask if your contacts know someone who can help you. Pass your résumé around and ask others to do the same. Call your contacts to see if they know someone who works for a firm you are interested in joining.
Step 5: Play the Part.
If you want to join the professional world, you need to act -- and look -- the part. Buy a business suit and wear it to all of your interviews. "Make sure your e-mail address and voice mail greeting are appropriate," Webster says. That means if your e-mail user name is "crazygirl2005," you might want to get a new account. Webster says you should also remember to be professional at home. "Be prepared for a phone call or a phone interview at any time," she says. The more you play the part of a well-trained professional, the more people will see you as a professional.
Step 6: Don't Give Up.
The real world can be a real challenge. Set realistic expectations and recognize that you will probably have to start at the bottom and work your way up. You will likely face rejection as you start looking for your first full-time job, but everyone goes through it. Just remember to be proactive, be persistent and remain confident that there is a great job out there for you!
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.