Dear Joan,

I know that as a career coach you’ve helped many young people launch from college to career. What are some of the best strategies to help make that transition a success? I’ll be graduating next month and really want to line up a great first job.



Dear Kelly,

Good question! And boy oh boy, do I wish I had had some good advice back when I graduated from college. I had no idea how to get into the world of work. Most young people don’t!  I knew how to be a good college student, but the skills necessary to be a good college student are different than the skills needed to be a good job seeker. In my case, I knew I wanted to take a few years off between undergrad and graduate school, but I had no idea how to get that interim job where I could leverage a bachelor’s degree. OK, a bit of humor to show just how out of touch I was with the job seeking process….

My friends told me about an upcoming on-campus job fair. It was  scheduled from 7:30 – 9:30 am.  I didn’t go because I thought it was too early in the morning! I assumed that just as in college life you could work around early classes by finding ones scheduled later in the day, I would find job fairs scheduled for later in the day. That’s not how it worked. In the work world, one typically has to accommodate to early morning start times.


1.REALIZE YOU ARE MOVING FROM SCHOOL TO WORK: You’ll need to change your mindset. There’s a big difference!! For one thing, in college you are oriented toward learning and growing. Yet, when you are interviewing for job, they want to hear how you are going to contribute to them! What skills and abilities are you bringing that will help grow their business or have a positive impact on their organization?? You see, you are paying for college and paying for an experience for you to learn and grow. But in the real world, they will be paying you.

During interview meetings you need to be prepared to focus on how you can help them. You need to know what this company or organization does and how you can play a role. Yes, over time your growth and development are important, but competing for a job, they want to see that you have thought about how you will be  contributing. They are paying you vs when you pay for your college experience. Many young people don’t realize this. They go on job interviews and focus on how the job will help them to grow and develop. The interviewer is silently thinking…next candidate!

2. PREPARATION: Identify at least three key college projects that demonstrate your capabilities, interests and skills. Prepare and practice narratives to describe each one. Show passion and enthusiasm! Discuss with clarity the objectives, strategies, challenges, peers, resources, outcomes, etc. It’s vital that you  have successful experiences and achievements to draw upon and discuss.

Explain how those experiences show skills that are relevant and helpful to the position you are applying for. Also be prepared with recommendations from professors or employers you had for internships, summer jobs, etc. Best to have those prepared in writing and the contact info for your recommendations in case they want to make follow up contact. Develop professional resume and Linkedin profile.

3. CONSIDER A STAIR STEP APPROACH TO CAREER SUCCESS: Do not expect to find a perfect job. First of all, no job is perfect and second of all, it takes time to develop enough skills and knowledge to even know what a great fit for you might be. Many first level, entry jobs are support positions but you can often learn a lot in those positions. Do them well, you are often being watched and evaluated for future development.

I had a client who knew she wanted to work in communications and she tried both for-profit and non-profit jobs before realizing she was much better aligned with the people and values in non-profit. Additionally, new college grads without career experience often need to try out different fields and roles before they get a sense of what and if they might want to study in graduate or professional school. One client was an art major and got a job as an assistant art teacher. She learned that she would prefer to have art as her hobby, her interest is more in  helping people.  She interned in a hospital and was attracted to the work that occupational therapists do. She is now preparing for an investment in professional occupational therapy school.

Kelly, your interviewers and prospective employers want to see that you have a mature mindset.  You are there first and foremost to work and contribute, not to grow and develop on their time. They also want to see if you are self aware and know what kind of person you are and what you have to offer. They will be impressed to see that you have put time and effort into preparing to present yourself positively with your background, capabilities and interests. The more you prepare, the more people will be inclined to hire you, and the more doors will open for your career opportunities.

Congratulations on your college completion, and onward in your successful launch to the world of work!

Coach Joan