How to Get Started On My Career: 90 Tips for Success

Cover of the book Getting from College to Career by Lindsey Pollak

In my book Getting from College to Career, I provide readers with an essential guide to succeeding in the real world. The book is organized into 90 tips to help orient and guide you. My book (and this post) don’t contain a step-by-step, all-inclusive guide to getting a job. Rather, it offers the best tips I’ve gathered on a wide variety of topics to help you stand out from the crowd and make a successful transition from college student to career professional.  

1.  Start Wherever You Are

Don’t worry about what you could’ve done, would’ve done, or should’ve done up to this point. Just get started right now. Make a commitment to work on your job search, starting today.

2.  Know the Numbers

When you’re comparing yourself to others, it may seem that everyone is getting a job faster than you are or no one is moving back home to live with their parents. The truth is that getting a job can happen overnight, or it can take a long time to find the right position. Experts say landing a new job takes about a month per $10,000 of salary you are looking for, but keep in mind it might take longer or shorter.

3.  Avoid the Biggest Mistake in Career Preparation and Job Hunting

You’ve heard the refrain, “There are no stupid questions.” Well, I would add that there are no stupid ways to gain experience and look for a job. The biggest mistake is doing nothing. Commit to taking action every day and you will succeed faster.

4.  Embrace Your Stereotype

I know that you’re a special person with many unique qualities; at the same time, you are also totally generic. What I mean by this is that you are in no way the first, the last, or even the fifty-millionth person to be in your current life stage. You’ve probably already realized this from the number of times people have said to you, “Boy, I sure remember what it was like to be in your position!” Instead of rolling your eyes every time someone says this, my advice is to take advantage of it and ask each person what they wish they had known or what actions they took that helped them land their first job. You’d be surprised how eager most people are to help when asked.

5.  Overcome Your Stereotype

Unfortunately, millennials (of which you may be a member) can get a bad rap as being the “entitled generation.” If many people—job interviewers especially— believe that young people are lazy, entitled, or ungrateful—then you can really stand out by being hardworking, respectful, and well mannered. Courtesy and humility count (and that’s true for all generations, of course).

6. Get Organized

You need a system to keep track of ideas, research, contacts, planning, and other information related to your job search. Use an app, a spreadsheet, a notebook, or whatever works for you. And if part of your organization includes needing to organize your day, this post has a great tip on my favorite time management and productivity strategy.

7.  Don’t Ignore the Obvious

Your college career center should be the very first stop on your post-college job search. Besides setting up meetings with companies that are recruiting on your campus, they also can help you with all elements of a job hunt, from assessment testing to resume and online profile critiquing. And, for those who have already graduated, note that almost 97 percent of career centers report that they extend services to job-seeking alumni, often for no cost. Get more great advice on tapping your college career center.

8. Subscribe to a Daily News Source

I honestly consider this to be my number one career development tip and share it with every young professional audience I speak to: read the news—of the world and your specific industry—every single day. You will be among the first to learn about new opportunities, companies, and industries—any of which could lead to a real job prospect. And you’ll never be at a loss for conversation topics at a networking event.

9.  Set Yourself Up for Success

You definitely need access to email and a phone to find a job, but there are a couple of other resources you’ll need as well. One is knowing a super-fast dry cleaner for last-minute opportunities and another is having a go-to coffee shop that’s good for meetings—a place that is relatively quiet, has good WiFi, and where it’s easy to get a table.

10. Use Your Helicopter

Heavily involved “helicopter parents” can be a nuisance, but only when they are not involved appropriately. There are some areas where it is totally appropriate and encouraged for your parents to help with your career planning and job search, such as proofreading application documents or conducting mock interviews to help you prepare. When in doubt about involving a mom or dad, ask someone outside of your family (such as a career services staff person, a professor, or a trusted professional friend) whether or not parental involvement would be acceptable. I wrote a post with more ideas on how you should and shouldn’t use a parent’s help in your job search.

11. Upgrade to Grown-up Contact Methods

E-mail addresses like GlitterGirl, LakersManiac, and KegMan don’t exactly inspire confidence when listed on a resume or posted on a job search website. For professional purposes, register a simple combination of your first name (or first initial) and last name at a free web-based e-mail service, such as Gmail. A campus e-mail address is fine as well, as long it contains your full name and you check it regularly.

12. E-mail Like a Professional

Remember that every interaction you have with a potential networking contact or employer, or his or her assistant, is contributing to your image and your chances of getting a job. So use complete sentences, proofread, and avoid acronyms and emojis in professional correspondence. You can’t go wrong using these professional email tips.

13. Get Carded

I never go anywhere without my business cards—and neither should you. You don’t need a title or a company or even a street address to have a business card. All you need is your name, cell phone number, and that professional e-mail address. If you have a professional LinkedIn profile, you can choose to include your profile URL as well. Still unsure about the importance of business cards?

14. Clean Up Your Internet Image

While sometimes you can’t control what information appears about you on the web, often you can—such as asking a friend to remove an embarrassing photo caption from his blog before you start interviewing for jobs. You can also control what image you yourself send out into cyberspace on social media and elsewhere. Make no mistake about it—employers are checking you out online.

15. Shine Online

Having an inappropriate web presence can kill your chances of getting a great job, but having no presence at all can be problematic as well. Depending on what kind of career opportunities you’re pursuing, you can develop an online presence by contributing blog posts to university or industry websites, engaging in professional social media discussions (especially on the professional networking LinkedIn), and commenting on blogs. Go here for more information on branding yourself online.

16. Become an Industry Expert

Once you determine what profession to pursue (or even a few options if you’re not quite sure yet), begin to read anything and everything you can about that industry. Know which publications are essential reading, which companies are in the news, which executives are being profiled, where the conferences are held, who has the most Twitter followers, what buzzwords are popular, and of course what job titles are available.

17. Start a Really Big List

When it comes to targeting jobs and employers to pursue, quantity matters. Start an ongoing list in your career notebook, or on your computer or phone, of every career possibility that comes to mind as a prospect. Try not to censor yourself at all; just write. Your Really Big List will come in handy in a variety of ways during your career planning and job search. For example, you can bring it to meetings with career services staff or informational interviews (see tips #31 and #32 below).

18. Get Rid of the “Shoulds”

It may be that you’re interested in some jobs or career fields simply because you know people or have heard about people who are in those fields, or someone told you that’s the career you “should” pursue. While it’s great to seek advice and to follow in the footsteps of those you admire, you may not want to limit your options to the careers of people in your immediate frame of reference—or to jobs that you currently understand how to perform. I guarantee there are thousands upon thousands of careers, companies, and job titles that you’ve never even heard of. One of those may just be the winning ticket for you, so keep an open mind.

19. Assess Yourself

Completing a career assessment is a helpful way to narrow down the entire universe of potential careers into a few manageable categories that fit with your skill set and interests. Assessment is a good idea for anyone, but it’s absolutely essential if you have a wide variety of talents and passions or you’re completely unsure of what you want to do. Many college career centers offer career assessment tests for free: take advantage!

20. Explore a Passion

Pursuing a passion now—before you have dependents, a mortgage, and years of experience behind you—should really be considered a career strategy. I am very serious about this. I have met with dozens of people at all stages of their careers and eventually everyone comes around to the same conclusion: to be ultimately happy in your career—which is a big chunk of your life—you have to work at something you find fulfilling. If you pursue something you don’t really enjoy, it’s highly likely you’ll eventually try to change careers to something you’re passionate about anyway. Check out this blog post for more advice and strategies for finding your passion.

21. Put Money into Perspective

Whatever your situation, it’s important to include your feelings and goals about money as a factor in your career decisions. Notice I said that money should be a factor. I did not say that money should be the factor. One of the most striking results of a survey I conducted with successful professionals was the number of people who commented on the fact that the best-paying job is not always the right job.

22. Declare a Take Yourself to Work Day: Job Shadow

The concept of job shadowing is simple: you ask a working person—perhaps a family friend or alum of your school—to follow him or her around for a day (or more) to learn about that person’s daily work reality. The goal of job shadowing is to learn what a person’s job and company are really like, and to scope out whether you’d like to be in the same shoes someday.

23. Tweet

Twitter is a great way to build your professional brand now and in the future. As a job seeker, you can build your professional online presence by tweeting out a link to an interesting article, talking about an event you’re attending, or commenting on a tweet by a professional in your industry or one of your desired employers. Just remember that, even though Twitter moves fast, everything you tweet is becoming part of your ongoing online reputation. This post offers detailed advice for making Twitter work for you professionally.

24. Consider a Coach

If you needed extra help in a class or for a grad school entrance exam, you’d consider hiring a tutor. If you wanted to learn to play an instrument, you’d hire a teacher. If you wanted to get into serious shape, you might hire a personal trainer. Why not use the same strategy for your career planning? If you have the means or can find a free service in your area or on your campus, a career coach can be a valuable investment.

25. Hero Worship

Write a list of the people whose careers you admire in some way and then do some further research on Google and LinkedIn to learn more about them and identify some patterns. What can you learn from their career moves? What steps did they take in their career journeys that you might try? Then, if you’re feeling brave, actually contact a career hero or two to voice your admiration and ask for a bit of advice.

26. Seek a Mentor

In some ways, a mentoring relationship is like a long-term informational interview (see tip #31 below). It’s also a kind of friendship. This means that you and your mentor have to have a natural affinity for each other and genuinely enjoy talking and watching each other’s success. Check out this post on being a great mentee to ensure that any mentoring relationship runs smoothly.

27. Relax—A Job Is Not a Soul Mate

While I’m not entirely sure that there really is only one person on earth for each of us romantically, I can absolutely guarantee that this is not the case when it comes to jobs. I’ve met so many college students and recent grads who are looking for the one “perfect” first job. This is not just false, but a great way to stress yourself out. And this post talks about what to do if your supposed dream job turns out to be a bust.

28. Talk. Listen. Repeat.

Talk to anyone and everyone about their careers as often as you can. Ultimately, it will be a person who hires you, a person who promotes you, and a person who signs your paychecks. The sooner you get comfortable with meeting and talking with new people, the more successful you’re bound to be. No one has ever built a career all alone.

29. Be Able to Introduce Yourself

“So, tell me about yourself” may be the most intimidating phrase you’ll hear during your networking and job search activities. The best answers demonstrate confidence and leave the other person wanting to know more about you. And a successful answer combines preparation and presentation—it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. This post has more ideas on easy ways to start conversations.

30. Network with Your Neighbors

Ask your existing contacts—your nearest and dearest friends, classmates, professors, neighbors, and friends—for help. Don’t be shy about doing this. It’s really much easier to start networking with people you know, who already have an interest in you and your future. The best strategy is to ask your closest contacts to introduce you to anyone they know with direct experience working for the companies or in the industries that interest you.

31. Set Up Informational Interviews

An informational interview is a networking meeting where the interviewee (the successful professional) agrees to share some career advice with the interviewer (you). I conducted tons of informational interviews when I was a student and young alum, and now I’m often the one being interviewed. And here’s the thing: If someone impresses me, I’ll go out of my way to help that person find a job or connect them with other people I know. This post has some great ideas on how to (and how not to) ask for advice.

32. Make the Most of Informational Interviews

All informational interviews should conclude with one essential question—perhaps the most important of all: “Would you be willing to connect me with anyone else you know who might be able to offer some advice?” Here are some additional tips in this post for effective informational interviews.

33. Become an Active Alum . . . Even Before You Graduate

Sharing the same alma mater is one of the best affinities you can find in the professional world. And alumni are easy to contact, thanks to LinkedIn alumni groups and online databases at virtually every college and university. You can ask alumni for informational interviews using the same strategies in the previous tips, except that this time your connection is your school instead of an individual person. This post has other suggestions for networking with alumni on LinkedIn.

34. Associate

Professional associations always want new members and they particularly want young members to sustain their organizations into the future. I strongly encourage you to explore this world, which is entirely designed to facilitate networking, networking, and more networking. Check out an interview on my blog where I talked with the president of Connecticut Young Professionals (CTYP), about how valuable associations can be at the beginning of your career.

35. Connect with Diversity

The millennial and Z generations are the most diverse in American history, and there is no better place than diversity-focused organizations to find people specifically committed to helping various minority groups achieve great things. This post helps employers see why they need to embrace diversity, which may offer ideas of what programs to look for as you job hunt.

36. Work Some New Rooms

Professional conferences are the mecca of career development and networking opportunities. And you will put yourself at a huge advantage in the post-college job market if you have the experience of attending them. Conferences and events take place for virtually every industry and in cities and towns across the country, as well as on college campuses. Be on the lookout for events scheduled near you. Once you sign up to attend, study up on what topics will be covered, which experts will be speaking, and what companies will be represented as sponsors or attendees. Decide based on your research if there are specific people or organizations you’d like to introduce yourself to at each event. Here are some other ideas in this blog post for nailing your next conference or networking event.

37. Make Every Networking Event a Success

Having a conversation is simple; starting a conversation is challenging. If you feel paralyzed by the idea of “networking” (and rest assured many people I meet are turned off by that word), then it’s a good idea to memorize exactly what you’re going to say in such a situation. And I have the perfect opening line for you. It’s easy and it works every time: “Hi, my name is _____________. What brings you to this event?” This blog post I wrote has some more tips on why and how to network.

38. Nix This Networking Event No-No

The golden rule of networking is to give more than you receive. Nothing irks me more than meeting people who immediately launch into telling me all about what they need and how I can help them and then never showing any interest in me or anyone else. A good rule of thumb is to listen more than you talk and to always ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?”

39. Be the First to Follow Up

The best time to follow up is directly after meeting someone, while you’re still fresh in that person’s mind. Send a brief “It was so nice to meet you” e-mail or LinkedIn connection request (phone calls can sometimes be intrusive and Facebook friend requests can be too personal), and suggest a specific next step. Remember, it is easier for someone to say yes to a specific request rather than a generic “We should get together!” This blog post talks more about my favorite follow-up tip.

40. Keep in Touch

Just like any relationship, networking connections need regular attention. Remember to send a quick e-mail message to say hello once in awhile or to like someone’s social media posts to stay on their radar screen. You want to demonstrate to people that you are not someone who only reaches out when you need something. You may be surprised to learn, however, that regular attention in this situation means contacting someone just two or three times a year—once a quarter at most.

41. Be a Leader

Being a leader in any capacity is something employers tell me they look for in young job candidates, and it also builds real skills that employers will find valuable once you’re on the job. The trick is to take any leadership experience you have, from leading a tennis team to being the manager-on-duty at Target, and translate that experience into words, phrases, and stories that will impress potential employers. Check out this blog post for more ideas on how to develop leadership skills.

42. Be a Joiner

If you take the time to be part of an extracurricular activity in college, it’s worth making an effort to accomplish something in the process. Instead of simply participating in events, consider hosting a fundraiser for the group or club, coordinating an alumni reunion for former members, building the group’s membership, or balancing the organization’s budget. Make a tangible, measurable contribution to any student organization or extracurricular activity you belong to, just as you would if you took a paying job with an organization. Then add this accomplishment to your resume and LinkedIn profile.

43. Intern . . . Early and Often

Internships are, of course, an important way to gain job experience in college. Another great advantage of internships is that they can help you decide what industry you might not want to work in, and what jobs you might not ever want to pursue. This information can be just as valuable for you to learn about yourself. This post has great ideas for making the most of an internship.

44. Secure a Record of Your Internship Achievements

To maximize the value of any internship experience, ask your internship supervisor and any other professionals with whom you interned to write reference letters or recommendations on your LinkedIn profile to help with your future career pursuits. Here are some other tips on making the most of references in this post.

45. Temp

A smart way to expand your job search is to find temp agencies that specialize in the industries you might want to work in full-time. Then you’ll gain experience in that industry through any temp jobs you take on, and you’ll be in a better position to raise your hand if a job opportunity arises in an organization while you’re temping.

46. Volunteer

If you’re looking to develop or refine specific skills for your job search, consider volunteering with a nonprofit for tasks that will help build your experience in your professional discipline. In addition to taking on more specific tasks, consider taking leadership of an entire project, serving on a nonprofit committee, or even chairing a junior committee event for a charitable organization. This post discusses other awesome benefits of volunteering.

47. Skip South Beach

It’s important to take time to relax and recharge, but I also recommend considering an alternative spring break service-learning trip at some point in your college career, or even after you’ve graduated. These trips and projects are often available during winter and summer breaks as well. It feels good to do good, and you’ll also get the benefit of standing out from your job searching peers who spent their vacations lying on the beach.

48. Be Superstrategic About Part-Time Work

Many people take whatever campus job they can get, particularly if it’s part of a work-study program, but at many schools you can request the kind of job you’d like, such as working in an athletic facility or in the development office. What a great opportunity to explore some career options that interest you. Even the lowest-level job can expose you to the skills, language, habits, and people that can help you land a full-time job in the future. Or a part-time job can help you to discover that a particular field or working environment is not at all what you expected and steer you away from job searching in that realm.

49. Put Out Your Own Shingle

Starting and running a small venture, full-time or part-time, can give you phenomenal experience and skills, whether you aspire to be a lifelong entrepreneur, a corporate employee, a doctor, a teacher, a government worker, or a trapeze artist. Entrepreneurship can develop your financial acumen, networking skills, sales ability, confidence, maturity, creativity, and much more.

50. GOTV

Another creative way to gain experience is to volunteer to work for a political campaign at any level of government. In addition to getting out the vote (GOTV), campaign volunteers may have the opportunity to help fundraise (a crucial skill for a future job in sales, the nonprofit sector, or an entrepreneurial venture), design marketing materials, coordinate and attend rallies and speeches, research policy initiatives, answer queries from constituents, or help to design a website or social media outreach project. Political campaigns will give you as much responsibility as you are willing to handle. They always need free and enthusiastic help.

51. Go Global

If you decide to study abroad, choose your country wisely. If you are interested in theater, you may pick London so you can go to plays in the West End. If you’re interested in business, you may opt for a country with a fast-growing economy. If you’re considering a career in the nonprofit world, you may choose a developing country where you can better understand issues of poverty, global health, or environmental impact. Even if you choose a country for its nightlife or luscious beaches, you can still find a connection to your potential career interests. For example, you are likely to find chapters of various industry associations in foreign countries and may be able to attend meetings or involve yourself in volunteer projects.

52. Fail

You will likely fail many times during your job search and probably already have. My response is: Congratulations! This means you are taking action and going beyond your comfort zone. Get the help you need to get through any pain and disappointment (talking to friends or family, writing in a journal, seeking counseling if necessary) and move on. Consider each setback a learning experience, and you’ll be better at knowing how to recover the next time it happens. Because here is the truth: Everybody bombs.

53. Minor in Something Majorly Helpful

Four years of college offers many opportunities to take courses outside of your major, and it’s a smart idea to learn about some subjects that may position you for an easier post-college job search. If you’re a liberal arts major, consider a minor or some coursework in accounting, business, information technology, finance, economics, or something else that is vocational. If you’re in a vocational major, such as any of the fields listed above, or an industry-specific major like physical therapy or hotel management, consider a minor or some coursework in a topic that might give you a unique specialty—such as a foreign language (extra points for a language that’s particularly in demand today, such as Arabic or Mandarin). In today’s ultra-competitive job market, every edge helps.

54. Keep Learning

Consider taking a class or workshop on a random topic that you find fascinating or have always wanted to try, even if it doesn’t directly connect to your job search or career planning. You never know what talents you might discover in your Saturday afternoon fashion design class, what career opportunities you might learn about through your Introduction to Photoshop night course, or what confidence you will build by learning CPR. This post talks about why masters of their craft are always learning.

55. Become BRIC Savvy

Brazil, Russia, India, and China are collectively referred to as “BRIC,” and they represent some of the most significant global markets in the world today. Especially if you desire a career in business, you may increase your marketability if you educate yourself about these countries and their cultures. And keep an eye out for other regions growing in global significance.

56. Be a Winner

Employers love to see honors on student and recent grad resumes, both to show that you’ve been recognized and to show that you’ve taken the time to apply for recognition of your achievements. There are tons of awards, honors, and prizes out there, so lots of people, including you, have multiple opportunities to win something. All you need to do is conduct some research and you’re bound to find some opportunities to receive recognition for academic, extra curricular, or personal achievements.  

57. Take a Physical Challenge

Some of the most successful people take serious time to stay in good physical health. Completing a challenging event like a marathon or a triathlon can even be a job search differentiator. A recruiter once told me the story of a vice president of engineering she worked with who was seeking to hire a very results-oriented employee. “He ended up hiring an avid runner who had completed multiple marathons,” said the recruiter. “The VP saw that this was someone who was very goal driven.”

58. Present

Communication skills are essential to success in job interviews and the workplace, and many people could use some improvement in their speaking skills in particular. Presenting to a student club or for a class are both good opportunities to develop your presentation skills. Another suggestion is to join a group of professionals that meets exclusively to work on public speaking skills, such as a local Toastmasters International chapter. Check out this post for more presentation tips.

59. Perform Five Minutes of Stand-Up

Being a strong public speaker and being able to tell a joke or two, well, that’s golden. Any kind of stage training, including but not limited to stand-up, can help you to learn skills like poise, storytelling, and connecting with an audience of one person or one hundred people—all of which will help in professional situations like job interviews and networking events. This post talks about why humor is so vital in the workplace.

60. Have a Hobby

Participating in pretty much any group activity can provide networking, leadership, and learning opportunities that will help you stand out in your job search and once you begin working. And don’t be afraid to mention your hobbies in job interviews and networking situations—they make great conversation starters and help people remember you.

61. Blog

While it’s nice to blog about any topic that interests you, the only way a blog will help your job search is if you write about professionally related interests. If a recruiter checks out your blog, he or she must know immediately what you’re interested in. I wrote this post with a bunch more advice on starting a professional blog.

62. Open Your Mouth and Say “Om”

I recommend the experience of meditation, yoga, or any mindfulness practice, and here is why: job searching and the working world in general can get pretty stressful, so it’s important to learn ways to cope with that stress. You need a reliable method for removing yourself mentally and physically from high stress moments and calming yourself down. The sooner you learn how to do this, the better off you’ll be in your job search and your career. This post talks about some of what yoga has taught me about career success.

63. Make Over Your Resume

The quickest way to improve your resume is to include more keywords relevant to the job or jobs you desire: Not only will online job sites search for keywords on your resume, but so will potential employers. Employers’ eyes are naturally drawn to the words they’re looking for—the brand names, skills, and experience they need. The best way to find the right words to use is to look at online job listings for the kinds of positions you’re interested in and the LinkedIn profiles of people who have the positions you want. Then use some of the prominent (and, of course, accurate) words and phrases in those job listings and profiles directly on your resume.

64. Put Your Resume Through the Wringer

What is impressive on a legal resume is different from what is required on an artist’s resume, which is different from what’s necessary on an engineer’s resume. So, make sure your resume will pass muster in the industry you want to join. If you haven’t already, show your resume to anyone you know in your desired field(s) and get their opinion before you apply for jobs. This post has other back-to-basics tips for a better resume.

65. Craft Impressive Cover Letters

Your cover letter is a form of marketing: you need to show that you know your market (the potential employer) and that you’ve got the skills and experience they need. Companies don’t want to read letters about how much you want to learn or how you want to try something different. They want to know what you will contribute to their organization. A quick way to know if your cover letter is too focused on you? Count the number of times you use the word “I.”

66. Create a Brag Book

A brag book is a more detailed, in-depth, three-dimensional version of a resume. It takes some time to put together, but once you have the book (or online e-book) it can be an invaluable tool to update and use throughout your career. I heard about this from a friend who found employers were impressed with not only the accomplishments featured in her book, but also with the fact that she’d gone to the extensive effort to create such a sales tool for herself.

67. Become Professional Friends with Facebook

Facebook has gotten a lot of job seekers into trouble because of unprofessional photos or wall posts. But the reality is that hundreds of millions of people, including potential employers and other networking contacts, are on the site, so it could be an asset to your job search as long as you’re careful and always make sure that your profile and posts are appropriate. I know this might not be the most fun use of Facebook, but it’s crucial if you want to use the site to help, not hurt, your job search. This post talks more about what hiring managers might be looking for on social media.

68. Follow Every Rainbow

It is not necessarily easy to find your dream career, and it may take a lot of searching to find it. But don’t give up, because it’s out there. And you never know which mountain, stream, rainbow, website, or friend of a friend will turn out to be the right path—so you have to explore them all. In a survey I conducted, I asked responders how they came to find their first jobs, and I got as many different responses as there were responders.

69. Take Candy from Strangers

Don’t really go to recruiting events and job fairs for the free candy. But do go….and always do your homework beforehand to know which employers will have booths at any event you attend. It is a huge mistake to arrive at a job fair and walk through the aisles hoping to find an opportunity that looks interesting. And nothing irks recruiters more than students who walk up to their booths and say, “What does your company do?” Be prepared!

70. Start Small

Small-business employers, and women- and minority-owned businesses and start-ups in particular, are an untapped mine of entry-level job opportunities. Any smart job search strategy should explore this diverse and growing community of companies. Most small-business owners I know rely on referrals from their personal and professional networks when they’re hiring. If they do post job opportunities online, it’s usually on LinkedIn, Craigslist, or association job boards, not on the big national sites.

71. Look Up the Best

If you strongly identify with a certain ethnic group, gender, cause, or lifestyle, you may want to pursue opportunities in companies that are particularly noted for advancing employees like you. When you apply for a job at such an organization, mention the company’s achievement (and some specific pieces of information that interested you, such as its women’s mentoring programs, its environmental sustainability initiative, or its minority affinity groups) in your cover letter, to acknowledge that you are aware of it and that you are applying to the company in part because of it. This shows that you have done your homework and that you plan on being the kind of employee who contributes to the company’s place on such lists in the future.

72. Consider

What kinds of jobs does the government offer? Pretty much anything you can think of, from engineers to scientists to editors to administrators to diplomats to park rangers to social workers to federal agents. And government jobs generally provide excellent benefits and job security. Uncle Sam even helps you find your place by listing government jobs by academic major.

73. Work to Change the World

Many national and international service programs last one, two, or multiple years, such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and Habitat for Humanity’s International Volunteer Program. Note that although these programs generally pay lower salaries than comparable work in the private sector, some of the government-sponsored programs offer loan repayment assistance plans when you commit to a year or two of service. And they can be excellent resume and skill builders for a multitude of future careers.

74. Tackle a Project

If you’re having trouble finding a full-time job in the industry you want to join, but you’ve been successful in your networking efforts, it may be a good strategy for you to offer to do some project work—unpaid (freelancers refer to this as working “on spec,” in the hope that more business will come) or for an hourly rate—for one of the professionals you know or have met. This is a wise way to build experience, learn skills, get feedback, and possibly even impress people enough to hire you full-time at some point in the future.

75. Look Online

Many people, and especially younger workers, make the mistake of spending way too much time looking for jobs online. In reality, your chances of finding a job through networking are much, much higher. Experts estimate that 70 to 80 percent of jobs are found through networking, so 70 to 80 percent of your job-hunting efforts should take place through networking. However, this means that approximately 20 to 30 percent of your job search energy should still be spent searching online job sites. So do it, just don’t overdo it.

76. Think “And,” Not “Or”

Whether you’re in college, graduating tomorrow, sure of your direction or completely clueless, hoping to pursue a creative passion but not sure now is the time, one thing is certain: there is no reason not to keep lots of options open at this stage of your life. While it certainly takes time to pursue several opportunities, you have absolutely nothing to lose by keeping several doors open. As long as you have the time to follow a variety of leads, do it.

77. Conduct Company Research

I once received the advice to spend at least an hour researching each of the following four areas before showing up for a job interview, and I still conduct a form of this research with potential new speaking clients:

  • The industry to which the company belongs
  • The company itself
  • The major competitors of that company
  • The particular job function for which you are applying

This blog post talks more about using LinkedIn to help research the above information and to benefit your job search overall.

78. Know Your Value

It’s important to know your salary expectations when you start applying for jobs. Online resources like and Glassdoor are helpful for getting a ballpark salary estimate for a potential job, as is talking to your career services office or any professional associations you belong to. The very best way to get an accurate assessment is to talk to someone who actually works in the type of job you want. Tap your personal and alumni networks for recent grads in your field who might be willing to share some numbers with you. I have some other negotiation tips in this blog post.

79. Figure In Work-Life Fit

If work-life integration is important to you—because you eventually want to get married and have children, because you want the opportunity to take classes at night, because you want to take a sabbatical in the near future, or because you just plain want personal time in your life—then you have to plan for it. Don’t assume that every employer will be happy to give you extra days off or let you work from home once in awhile, even with today’s multitude of technologies to enable this. This post talks about why work-life integration is so important.

80. Buy a Dark Suit

I firmly believe it is better to be overdressed than underdressed in professional situations (and most personal situations, too). So when in doubt, wear a suit to a job interview. Even if the office dress code is corporate casual. Even if it’s the hottest, most humid day of summer. Even if it’s the coldest, most blustery day of winter. Even if you just broke your leg. This is particularly important if you have a young-looking face (trust me on this one; I have dimples). The only exception is if a particular company specifically tells you not to wear a suit. Check out more about dress codes in this blog post.

81. Take Your Elbows Off the Table

Make no mistake about it, if you are invited to a business meal with potential employers, they are watching your manners and how you interact in a social setting. And keep in mind that what you learned at home dining with your family might not be proper etiquette. Luckily, dining etiquette “rules” are well defined, and you can practice anywhere—in the dorm, at home, or even at Applebee’s. Find out more tips about business etiquette in this post.

82. Mock Interview

You can anticipate the majority of questions you’ll be asked in a job interview, so the more experience you have answering those questions succinctly and successfully, and the more feedback you’ve gotten about your performance, the better you’ll do on the Big Day. Never let your real interview be the first time you talk out loud about your experience and what you want in your career. Practice really does make perfect.

83. Never, Ever, Ever Arrive Late to a Job Interview

Showing up late to a job interview is a red flag to an employer that you’re either not that interested in the job or you’re just not professional and respectful enough to show up on time. I know that life happens: traffic jams occur, public transportation runs late, security check-in lines at big office buildings can snake around the lobby. Take every precaution you can (e.g., do a dry run of the drive to the interview rather than trusting your GPS directions, bring a spare shirt in case you spill coffee on yourself), and then give yourself gobs of time to get to the interview.

84. Be Nice to Receptionists

The minute you walk into the building where you’re interviewing for a job, or any time you call that employer, you are being assessed. Be polite and kind to security guards, receptionists, assistants, everyone. Any interaction you have will likely be reported to the hiring manager—positive or negative. I know of many companies where hiring managers ask their assistants or receptionists for their impressions of a candidate.

85. Go with the Flow

If an interviewer throws you a curve ball (such as asking an unexpected question or talking about a job you hadn’t known about previously), do your best to stay in the moment and go where the interviewer takes you (as long as it’s appropriate and legal, of course). Listen carefully to what the interviewer is telling you or asking, and take time answering questions, especially if they are unanticipated. Feel free to ask for clarification on any questions you don’t understand or for more information about anything that is new to you. This post has more information on interview best practices.

86. Be Available

Once you start putting yourself out there and interviewing, you have to make sure you’re available when all of your hard work starts to pay off. Check every e-mail account you have (including inboxes on social media sites like LinkedIn—better yet, set messages on these sites to forward to your regular e-mail inbox) and listen to every voicemail message as soon as possible.

87. Persist (Without Being a Pest)

Wait at least a week to ten days before making any additional contact with a company once you’ve sent a post-interview thank you note. Be patient. Often it can take at least this long, and often longer, for a decision to be made, particularly at a large company. If you don’t hear from an employer in the time frame they’ve specified, try sending an e-mail instead of picking up the phone. When you do follow up, a great strategy is to do some additional research on the company and point out another fact you’ve learned that makes you eager to contribute to the organization’s success

88. Ask for Help When You Need It

There is no situation too small that you can’t ask a few trusted friends or advisers for guidance or reassurance. For example, if you’re not sure whether to call your interviewer John or Mr. Smith, before the interview day ask a few people you trust to share advice on what’s appropriate. You are not alone, and friends and family are usually more than willing to provide support.

89. Become a Lifelong Expert on Finding Your Own Bliss

If your career is an important part of your life and you hope to express yourself through your job, then it’s worth investing the time and effort to continue discovering your strengths and goals throughout your life. Luckily, bookstores and the Internet are chock-full of content for you. Even better, many books, blogs, podcasts, and social media communities are geared toward supporting particular segments of the population—people of color, women, LGBTQ professionals, liberal arts majors, adventurers, and career changers, just to name a few.

90. Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

Think about it: people want to hire someone who will walk into the workplace every day with a smile, a real desire to be there, and a genuine wish to contribute. All things being equal, an employer will hire the person who appears to want the job most, who is passionate about the company’s products, who can’t help but read all of the industry journals and trade publications in his or her spare time. Be that person. Show that you want it. And don’t forget to smile!


What’s something helpful you can share about your college-to-career job hunting experience? Share on Twitter or in the comments below.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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