Career Tips

I’ve Graduated! What Do I Do Now?

By Dave Isbell

Right about now I’m sitting in an auditorium wearing a black gown and a silly looking square cap. There are over 200 other graduate students sitting in my section, and a few hundred undergraduates sitting across the aisle from us. Every one of us is here to walk across a stage, while shaking hands, and walking away with a piece of paper that is symbolic of the real one the registrar’s office at MSU holds. Something in this ritual is supposed to help us to close the door on all of the hard work that earned us the right to be here and to celebrate what comes next. Personally, the ceremony doesn’t really do much for me. I’m more impressed by being in a room full of people who have high hopes, aspirations, dreams and are still so close to the sacrifice they gave to get them that it seems impossible they would never be fulfilled. I’m also fully aware that this is something that few people in our world, even in the U.S. get the chance to do, and even fewer get to do more than once and I’m grateful that I’m able be among the latter.

I’m also very thankful for all of the people who helped me to get this far. Though I recognize that no one else could write for me all of those long-winded essays, complete with APA citations, I also know that I could not have finished graduate school alone.

So, with that in mind, I decided to reach out to my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for this post which is aimed at every person who is changing over their tassel from one side that says “student” to the other side that says “alumni.”

To that end, when I asked for a few words of advice to share with you, the following is what my network has to say (by way of disclaimer, I don’t necessarily agree with every idea; and some may contradict others, but I’m also willing to admit there is value in looking at different ways of thinking in order to come up with your own.)

I also think there is alot of wisdom here that applies to people who have been out of school for awhile as much as it does for new graduates. Now, I’ll get out of the way so you can hear what these people have to say:

“Earn your paycheck. No task is beneath you, no matter what your role is in an organization. Volunteer for things you’ve never done before. Show people respect even when you don’t think they deserve it. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you & then learn everything you can from them.” Jillian T.

“Take risks; you may discover you live doing something you always thought you’d hate! Surround yourself with people who are there to provide a service, not to earn a paycheck.” Kat S.

“Never say, “Never!” Reana M.

“You have to relentlessly pursue opportunities. When you think you have enough job leads go get ten more. Follow up with your opportunities…never be in a position where you wait for them. Always ask “what’s the next step…when should I follow up with you. You have to be persistent, enthusiastic and positive!” Sean G.

“Do what inspires you.” Paul T.

“Nothing lasts forever. This is can be a positive and a negative. A bad situation isn’t never ending but neither will be a good one. Live every moment and experience everything in front of you!” Tammison S.

“You may not get your dream job immediately, but explore all avenues to launch you towards your dream job. Be prepared, be honest, NETWORK!, attend all conferences, workshops, forums that are available to you (you never know who may be there that you can network with and conferences help you gain additional knowledge and information). Finally, you must truly have a passion for your chosen career path.” Jeannette P.

“Be tenacious, stand out from the rest and work hard.” Lisa E.

“Don’t be afraid to move where the jobs are. It will never be easier to relocate than when you first graduate. Network with your friends and reach out to the MSU alumni organization or individual alumni in the industry or location where you want to find a job for help. Be persistent and be prepared to talk to a lot of people.” Jeff H.

“Consider geographically hot areas for your career. Areas with growth and volume of jobs in your field will increase your odds of getting a position in your field sooner, than sticking to an area you are familiar with, but being one of hundreds of resumes in the pile. Like Jeff said, it will never be easier to relocate than now, before you accumulate a house, mortgage and rooms of furniture to account for. Larger companies may have room to grow and to observe how things are done, while smaller and/or startups often have fewer layers to work through and may be easier to take a more active roll and open to your contributions outside of a specific job title. Good luck!” Joe M.

“Never lose heart. Try diversified positions, wherever luck favors you.” Anwar M.

“Ask a lot of questions. Many new engineer think that asking a lot of questions means that you’re unknowledgeable, but the opposite is true. Asking questions shows that you care, you want to do things right, you’re interested and you want to learn more. Don’t let your ego get in the way!” Scott E.

“Take the risks while you are young, go for it. As you get older, those risks could affect others in your life (e.g. wife, children, etc.) and you may be less inclined to take them.” Darin M.

“Job searching in the 21st Century is like having a job. Early to bed and early to rise, get out early in the morning and begin your search. Take the free resume and interview classes held at your local Michigan Works Agencies. Do not take “No” for an answer. If you receive a “No” answer, ask what is it going to take for a “Yes” answer!” Michael W.

“Don’t just fill out an application and wait on them. Set a timetable for you to get back with them on the potential job status. This will show real interest on your part and maybe give you an edge over others.” Mark K.

“Keep all of your options open, be flexible, and do not lose hope. Good things will come if you keep trying. I also suggest setting a deadline for getting your dream job and create plans B, C, D, and E as your backup plans. These backups are alternative paths that will eventually lead you to your dream job. If you haven’t gotten your dream job after six months, start plan B. The job market is still an employers market and jobs are scarce. Look at other countries if your US search is not bringing solid opportunities. Good luck and GO GREEN.” Shelley J.

“NETWORK! Use social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to network with friends in the field you are interested in as well as employers. Contact your local One-Stop Center (i.e. Michigan Works). Research the employer(s) and state(s) in which you are interested. Keep in touch with MSU ALUMNI organizations especially if relocating out of Michigan. Make sure you contact the local Alumni chapter (i.e. MSU Tampa Bay Alumni in Tampa area, FL). There are chapters all over the world. Most of of ~ Best of luck to you as you enter the “real world.” Julie H.

“Make new friends and keep the old! You’ve met a wide array of interesting people during your time at MSU – keep in TOUCH with them. Network! You will make interesting new contacts as will your friends!” Ann K.

“If you’re not able to find a job in your field, keep your time (and your resume) filled. Look into doing volunteer work in a field that interests you. Potential employers will be much more impressed with this than they will be with moving back home and playing video games for six months while you were “looking” for a job.” Michael K.

“I recently gave a “Careers in Chemistry” talk to college students and one piece of advice I gave them was to spend their summers interning. An internship or two will have two big benefits. They will get to see how “the real world” looks for somebody working professionally in their field and that bit of experience makes them way more valuable to prospective employers. As a bonus, they get a chance to distinguish themselves and grow their network at a prospective employer in what is often a summer-long interview. I also warned them to apply for internships very early. Many students go looking in the spring, when most companies have made their decisions in September or October.” Paul P.

“When you interview ask questions. You should be assessing the company and job for how they fit with what you want as much as they are assessing you. If you have no questions you will appear uninterested, unprepared, or just plain desperate for any job.” Elizabeth B.

“Interview the company you are applying for. Ask questions. negotiate. Don’t be the only one in the hot seat. They need you just as much as you need them.” Yuliya D.

“Keep working towards a job in your field. This might mean you need to work at something else for a while to pay the bills, but just keep networking. Volunteer for any organization where you can get job skills and network. Use the Alumni Assoc and go to any trade associations in the field you want to be in. Call the President of the organization and let them know who you are and what your are looking for. ( My nephew did this with the PSU Alumni Assoc and the President of the association stood up, introduces Jeff, and said, ” Here is a bright PSU grad who needs a job. Someone in this room should be able to use their networks to help him!” Jeff got a job in two weeks!) Print up business cards that have your contact info, skills and what you are looking for and pass these out at all events you go to. (This is easier than handing out a resume.) Offer to volunteer with organizations where you could meet prospective employers — chambers of commerce, trade associations, etc. Learn job skills by volunteering as well. Remember that 80% of ALL jobs are NEVER advertised….people hiring often go to contacts in their networks or file drawer where, they keep resumes that get mailed to them, first. Research companies you want to work for and use Alums, and Linked in to make connections. After you meet someone, send them a hand written (so it stands out) thank you card with your resume. Good luck!” Janet C.

“Target companies you want to work for and learn all you can about them and the leadership in them through research, meet people who work there through Linked In and volunteer work and see what community causes they support. Make yourself visible and find connections that will get you into the conversation when an opening does occur. take the work you have to but do not lose sight of the goal and associate with people in your daily life who are equally goal oriented.” Kathleen V.

“CLEAN UP YOUR CYBERSPACE, SPARTANS! Seems like yesterday I walked the stage at the old auditorium in May 1994… And it’s a much different world 19 years later, especially with social media. Companies are smart, and will fully take advantage of the fact that social media is free domain. They WILL Google you, and look at your Facebook page. They WILL read your tweets. Suffice it to say, you don’t want pictures of keg stands at Cedar Village, or tweets of four letter words to be the images your potential employer will see. If you think it necessary, erase your accounts, and create brand new ones- this will eliminate tags you can’t control administratively. Maximize your privacy settings, and most importantly, use discretion in your postings. It’s a new world, where information isn’t as private as it once was. I get it- we were all there on campus at one time and had our, ahem, less distinguished moments. It was all in fun- but don’t be naive and fail to acknowledge employers will look unfavorably on these things, and will use them to weed you out of a pile of qualified applicants. You can stay in cyberspace, but you have to be smart… Cheers, class of 2013! The world is yours for the taking! GO GREEN!” Robert C.

“Don’t give up. With each application and interview comes a new opportunity for learning and growth. Take advantage of connections through social media, friends, family, and network opportunities through the college or university you attended.” Amber E.

“My advice is to start volunteering while you’re still in school. Find a company or organization that you love and start volunteering. It’s a great way to build connections, learn, and gain experience. If you don’t find your dream job right out of school, don’t give up. Keep volunteering, even if you’re working another full time job. Those connections are invaluable for learning about new job openings quickly and gaining the experience that many jobs require.” Courtney R.

“Stay positive & keep at it. Half the battle in finding a job is believing you will find one. You will!” Amanda E.

“Don’t try to plan your entire future on day one. Keep your options open & never lose sight of what you really love doing.” Chip M.

“Find a company/position that will enable you to learn from someone with experience.” Gerard W.

So there you have it, alot of advice from professionals who have been out in the “real world,” some for a few years, and others for decades. I’m hoping you can take away a few new ideas from this. In summary, in case you are curious to know what my thoughts are, Louis Pasteu said it better than I ever could: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” To expand on that, you will never see the right opportunity if you are not ready to turn a circumstance into an opportunity. Finally, you may gather fans and critics when in front of an audience but you can only win friends one person at a time. Let that one sink in, it may be the most important thing I’ll ever be able to tell you.

To each of you who have just graduated, I say to wear your green and white proudly because you are now a part of an elite group of people who, if they take their Spartan status seriously, are never elitist but instead are always glad to help a fellow Spartan.

Get out there and enjoy life!

Go Green!


Dave Isbell has been a Career Coach since 1999 and is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has just finished a Master’s in Social Work at MSU and in June will begin as a part-time contractual therapist in the counseling department at St Vincent Catholic Charities. When he is not working, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, serving as a leader in his church, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Michigan State University.


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