Congratulations, graduate! So you’ve walked across the stage, tossed your cap in the air and taken off the gown. As you should – after the hard work that comes with earning a college degree, you deserve all the honors and respect for your travails! Now, you’ve taken a short break from the challenges of homework, midterms, and finals. So what comes next? The School of Life beckons. This moment is just the beginning – but whether you have already entered your chosen career or you are just starting out, there are numerous steps you can take to succeed in your field after obtaining your college degree.
Come up with a professional development plan with clear goals and objectives regarding what you will learn, the skills you will acquire, and where you want to be at appointed times (every 2 years or 5 years, for example) along your career trajectory. Consult trusted managers, the human resources department and other professionals in your field to find out what certifications, career moves, coursework and/or degrees are advisable for you to advance your career.
Seek Out a Mentor to Help Guide You and Become One in Return
Seek out potential mentors who can coach you towards success. In any field, it is extremely useful to have a mentor: people who have just a couple of years more experience or a more senior colleague often have a broad vision and the ability to advise you in many respects. And give back: as your career progresses, be a mentor to younger people or other less fortunate friends who haven’t yet found work. One never knows when they may be in a position to help you out in the future.
Be a Standout in Every Job You Have
In life we rarely have a second chance to make a first impression. This means that whenever you have an opportunity – seize it. When you find your first job, don’t be worried about starting on the bottom rung of the staff ladder – do your job proudly. Every person contributes to the whole, and no matter what your tasks, remember that doing a good job is the best way to get a great job. Approach every task with enthusiasm and attention to detail – regardless of how mundane, boring or beneath you it may seem. Your performance will be measured by your ability to carry out your initial role in a positive and effective manner.
Affiliate with positive people and make a concerted effort to see the bright sides in every situation while retaining a sense of practicality – the two can go hand in hand. There’s an old saying: “whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, you’re right.” In fact, your reality tends to reflect your mindset. No one likes being around those people who bring others down. So avoid socializing with or getting dragged into conversations with complainers, slackers, or mean-spirited gossips at all costs. And do not gripe or complain to co-workers: you never know who will quote you, cast you in a negative light, or take your comments directly to those in charge.
Keep Communication Lines Open – Solicit Feedback and Give Updates
Keep in mind that it is not just what you do, but how you do it. So make an effort to get to know the preferences and expectations of your higher-ups. Listen carefully to the directions that he or she offers and also ask other trusted colleagues for suggestions on ways to measure up to your boss’s expectations. Be on time, or even arrive earlier and/or stay later than your supervisor to demonstrate that you are ready to work hard – and be productive during those hours. Provide your supervisor with timely updates on the status of your projects so it is clear that you are making a solid contribution. Strike a balance between independence and guidance: ask for advice and help when needed, and then do your best to figure out the rest independently. That said, make a point to solicit feedback periodically and respond positively to constructive criticism.
Be Professional in Person as Well As Online
If you look the part at work, it’s important to look the part in your private life too – and today there is nearly no such thing as privacy. For this reason, review your social media imprint and be sure that any personal information visible to the public reflects a professional image. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t wear it, show it, talk about it or do it in front of your current boss or a potential employer, don’t put it on Facebook.
While at work, avoid continually checking your cell phone, personal email, or social media outlets. If it is necessary to do so, endeavor to keep it at a minimum and do so in privacy. Employers are paying you for your time and your productivity – not to keep in touch with friends and family.
Be Friendly and Respectful to All Your Colleagues
Always be a team player and treat others positively and respectfully, regardless of their position in the hierarchy. Give credit to others where due and congratulate co-workers when a job is well-done – this never takes away from your accomplishments – in fact, people associate someone who is positive with competence and excellence.
Introduce yourself to as many co-workers as possible. Make an effort to learn about the role they play and the work done by their department. This is not just a form of respect and collegiality: by scouting interesting departments, you will also be in position to make internal moves should the need or opportunity arise over time. Then keep in touch with all those people who have helped you, recommended you, or given you opportunities. People will feel more invested in you if you show gratitude and if they can follow along as your career develops.
Join a Professional Organization
Search out and join local, regional or national professional groups for your field. Attend meetings and training sessions, or volunteer for an event. Volunteering for committees is a great way to make contacts and raise your visibility professionally. In addition, many professional opportunities come through the network you can develop in such organizations.
Take Advantage of Professionally-Oriented Social Networks
Establish a complete profile on LinkedIn and ask a trusted colleague with more experience to look it over for you. Join relevant professional groups, add as many contacts as possible, and follow experts in your field or inspirational individuals. Ask for recommendations from colleagues, clients and other professional contacts over time. This set of credentials, centralized in one location for reference, will serve you well when you seek out your next job.
You could also take a look at these resources or contact an FNU career adviser who can help you build an individualized plan.