How to Prepare for Your First Job After College

How to Prepare for Your First Job After College
portrait of Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
By Melissa Venable, Ph.D.

Published on June 9, 2021

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College graduation is a time for big celebrations. While this accomplishment may mean that one phase of your life is ending, another adventure is just beginning. (That's why they call the ceremony "commencement," after all.)

The authors of "Year One: How Young Professionals (and Their Managers) Can Thrive in Their First Job After College" explain that "the experience of full-time work and adulthood are structurally unlike anything else you've done previously as a student," and graduates new to the job market should be prepared for different "rules of success."

Making the move from college student to employee takes time. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to lay the foundation for success in both your first job and your future career.

Connect With Your New Employer

If you've already accepted a job offer (congratulations!), start getting ready now for your first day on the job. Create a list of questions you have about the role, such as how you'll be evaluated, where to find opportunities to connect with co-workers, and whether there will be an initial training period.

You may even be able to ask some of these before you get started, working with the company's human resources office or your new supervisor as they coordinate your arrival.

Strengthen Your Soft Skills

Soft skills are competencies that aren't related to a specific job but that are still strongly valued by employers across industries. Examples include skills like time management, communication, teamwork, adaptability, and creativity.

According to a recent BestColleges survey, 50% of working Americans reported using soft skills more than any other skill type in their current or most recent jobs. And in Cengage's 2019 survey of employers, three quarters said listening skills and attention to detail were in demand.

Sometimes called "transferable skills," soft skills will benefit you now and into the future. As you prepare for and begin your first job, look for opportunities to practice these skills through internships, volunteer activities, and projects and tasks that include communication and collaborative components.

Ask for Advice and Feedback

As you get settled into your new role and workplace, a host of questions and concerns might arise. How can you find work-life balance? Should you pursue professional certification? How can you manage difficult conversations and situations with co-workers?

Finding an outlet or sounding board for questions and frustrations, along with sources of encouragement and celebration, will serve you well in your first job after college and throughout your career.

Look to your existing support network of friends and family, and try to identify possible mentors in your field. You might also join a relevant professional group or association, many of which welcome students and young professionals with reduced fees and special programming.

Be Open to Unexpected Opportunities

Keep in mind that this is your first job after graduation, and it likely won't be your last. Changing jobs is not unusual in many industries. As you launch your career, avoid making assumptions about or placing limitations on what you think your path should be and what job titles you should have.

Explore invitations to specialize, gain experience, and perform relevant work. Don't be afraid to stretch yourself a bit and accept tasks that may be new to you, especially as you get started. You never know what you'll learn from the experience or who you might meet. Taking on opportunities can expose you to unexpected — but interesting — options.

Embrace the Transition From School to Work

You've worked hard to graduate and to get that first job after college. Life is a series of transitions, and your experience with this particular shift will help you navigate those that follow.

Take the initiative now to prepare for success so that you can hit the ground running. Remember that you have a lot to offer, but also a lot to learn.

Feature Image: Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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