Congratulations! Now What?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not singing the Andy Williams song (although it’s appropriate for the season). I’m talking about college graduation. Most people think of graduation only in May, but there are more and more students graduating in December these days. I don’t know if it’s because they’re a semester late, or if they’re ahead of plan. With this economy, most students are drawing out their education longer so they can pay the bills. I was a December grad (one semester early) and this past Saturday, my youngest sister graduated from college (three semesters early).  My wife snapped a quick picture of little sis and her proud big brother to the left. I caught myself thinking about student preparation and the wisdom they’ve gained through their academic experiences.

When I think of this topic, it really comes down to three stages: college seniors, recent graduates, and alumni who have been out of school for over one year. I’ll break down each stage with a few highlighted points on how to maximize the experiences. Some of the points in each section can be carried over into the next one. It’s not a one-size fits all approach. Feel free to add your own points below in the comments section!

College Seniors

  • Have a little fun, but more importantly, have a plan.
  • Do the research on your targeted industry; know the plan, your options and what exactly you can do with your college degree.
  • Ask for help. Use the resources available in your career center and wisdom from academic advisors.
  • Network like crazy, but have a focus and follow up!
  • Join professional organizations that are relevant to your field. Student memberships are cheap and well worth it!
  • Pay it forward as much as possible. It’s good karma.
  • Know you’ll have to start somewhere and be willing to work your way up.
  • Find a mentor or two and learn from their life experiences as well as their career experiences.

Recent Grads (with jobs)

  • Inform your alumni network, whether institutional (college) or organizational (fraternity, sorority, SIFE, etc.) where you’re working and update your contact information. This is important! Don’t assume they know – help them report and share your success as a college graduate!
  • Ask questions. Don’t assume anything. You’re not expected to know everything on the first day of your new job.
  • Keep networking. It shouldn’t stop when you land the job. Get settled and stay engaged. You never know – you could land that business deal, learn something new, or make new friends. And, you never know when you’ll be back on the job hunt. Don’t be a user.
  • Keep in touch with your mentors from college. Find a new mentor in your field and one that is completely unrelated to what you’re doing now. Challenge yourself to learn something in addition to providing your own value.

Recent Grads (without jobs)

  • Stay positive. Until you’ve landed a job, think of the search as a full-time job.
  • Keep your network informed. If you’re seeking opportunities, let them know! Don’t assume your network contacts automatically know you’re looking.
  • Stay in contact with your college professors, alumni association, and university career center. These people can help you if you just ask!
  • Pay it forward and get involved in your community. This goes for grads with jobs, college seniors and alumni. Find a cause that you’re passionate about and help others. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Reach out to your mentors. Learn from their experience and wisdom. It’s all about the network.


  • Continue your mentor relationship. Offer to be someone’s mentor and share your experiences with a new grad, helping them past the obstacles you faced.
  • Keep your network informed. Again, this pertains to all of the above, but is important to repeat. If you keep them informed and updated, all sides benefit.
  • Pay it forward. Whether it’s community involvement or simply helping a struggling job seeker, pay it forward every day. It’s a wonderful feeling and believe me, people notice. But don’t do it for the recognition. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

All these points are recommendations to help you maximize each stage of your career or job search. As you can see, several are repeated throughout each stage. This was intentional. Find what fits for you and create your plan. If you need a little help, just ask. That’s the beauty of having a network – they’re there when you need them, especially if you’re offering value to them first.

If you’re a college senior, know that the power is in your hands when it comes to your career preparation. The tools are there – use them. Recent graduates, congratulations on your academic success and welcome to the real world. Don’t forget about those that helped you get here and remember to pay it forward. Alumni – help the new kids on the block get past the challenges you faced. When everyone works together, we’ll go far!


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