What Students Can Do Now to Get a Job When They Graduate

by Tom Cairns

I never get tired of answering this question. In fact, I am so passionate about the topic that I wrote a “how to” book titled All Systems Go: How to Launch a Successful Job Search. I realize that I am not the first or only person to do that, but I am the first to write it my way. I believe my book approaches the discussion from a different angle because I based it on my 30 years’ experience as a human resource executive. During my time in that role, I successfully assisted hundreds of professionals achieve their career goals, including CEOs of major companies and even some executives in the Office of the President of the United States.

When it comes to the job search process, those seasoned executives have one thing in common with, you, their wide-eyed college graduate counterparts—they all become overwhelmed. Regardless of their professional status, skill level, or dream job, the same questions begin to swirl around in their minds: When do I start? Where do I get help? How do I put my best foot forward? Fortunately, many tools and people exist to ease the panic, help you focus your efforts, so that you not only find a job, but land one you love. That’s right, love! After all, your goal is to discover a vocation that occupies your skills and talents as well as your goals and passions. And with the right information, you will find that such a dream is not only possible, it’s probable.

Let me tell you the true story of a young man I know.

Sam was a college student, like many of you, who needed to work while attending college to help finance his education. He found a job delivering pizza for Domino’s Pizza, where he eventually worked his way up to assistant manager. As Sam was about to graduate college, his boss approached him about an opportunity to purchase a distressed Domino’s store.

What? Pizza was not Sam’s major. Plus, like most college students, he was deep in debt and had no credit. Yet, with his boss’ encouragement and guidance, Sam eventually purchased the store. That was 20 years ago. Now, Sam owns 16 Domino’s stores with more than 400 employees and $13 million in annual sales. I understand that pizza may not be your passion, but this is not about pizza—it is about pursuing a fulfilling career. This is Sam’s story. What is yours?

Laura McMullen wrote an article in U.S. News & World Report on May 11, 2015, titled 10 Things New Grads Can Do Right Now to Get a Job She and I see things eye to eye on this, so I thought I would include her tips for you here:

  1. Use your college’s career services.
  2. Give yourself some credit (for sports, student clubs and activities, on-campus jobs, internships, and other work experience).
  3. Write a killer résumé.
  4. Create a LinkedIn profile.
  5. Reach out to alumni.
  6. Clean up your online dirt (the ghosts of Facebook past, present, and future).
  7. Create a personal website (or a portfolio).
  8. Practice for interviews (with friends, family, professors, in front of a mirror, video record them, etc.)
  9. Get out there and network.
  10. Take ownership of your job search.

While the list above will go a long way in helping you get a job, many job seekers still wonder when is the right time to put these ideas into action. The answer is absolutely, positively, unequivocally—NOW!

Most students will wait until after graduation. Yes, Sam did, and it worked out just fine for him. But, he also had a job that turned into a career. For most people—young or old, experienced or novice—the time is now. It is never too early to begin the process of preparing for your life’s work.

Most people remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was faster, but the tortoise won the race. Although the hare exploded off the starting line, the tortoise started at the same moment, but kept a steady pace the entire race. He stayed focused and on task, never losing sight of the goal. If you wait until graduation to start your job search, you will be like the hare scrambling to get things done, frantically seeking the path of least resistance, and panting and sweating as you near the finish line alongside approximately 2 million other graduates just like you doing the same thing.

So, start now and start slow. How? Visit the Center for Career and Calling. Consider this the starting point of the race rather than the finish line. The incredible staff there can provide you information and assistance with just about everything on the above list except one—taking ownership of your job search. That is up to you.

Make the Center for Career and Calling (East Campus – Building 22) your last stop before Christmas break or your first stop after New Year’s. The first 10 people to visit the Center for Career and Calling who mention this article will receive a free copy of my book, All Systems Go: How to Launch a Successful Job Search.

If you would like to discuss any aspects of your job search, please contact me at [email protected].

Tom Cairns, DBA, is a former senior vice president of human resources for NBC Universal and presidential appointee to Homeland Security under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He is an associate professor in the School of Business and Management.