Finding the Right Career Path: 3 Tips for New Grads

By Robert Half June 5, 2018 at 10:00am

The job market awaiting new grads is a good one. Low unemployment coupled with millions of job openings means that many employers are having a hard time finding skilled talent for open roles. There are a lot of opportunities out there for workers with in-demand skills and experience. Of course, you might not have much of either yet. Yes, candidates who have relevant skills and experience do typically have an edge in the hiring process. However, employers look for other qualities and attributes, too, like outstanding interpersonal skills and a solid work ethic.

Strong evidence that you’re passionate about learning — and therefore able to quickly pick up new skills — is also an attractive quality to many employers. Businesses today are more willing to provide training and development opportunities to promising new hires. Many employers are also snapping up candidates who they feel are the right fit for their work environment, even if those new hires will need extra ramp-up time.

Your involvement in activities on and off campus will be of interest to many employers, as well. Were you the student union president? A member of the orchestra? Did you spend your summers volunteering for a nonprofit or working at the local garden supply store? Don’t be shy about shining a light on activities that you’re proud of and that speak to the type of worker — and person — you are.

Now that you have a better idea of the job market for new grads, let’s talk about how to find the right career path for you. Here are three key tips:

1. Be strategic

If you’re like most new grads, you’re under pressure — self-imposed or otherwise — to find employment soon after graduation. That can lead you to make hasty (and poor) decisions when applying for jobs or considering job offers.

You’ll feel a lot more confident about the whole job search process if you do some homework before you start sending out your resume. Research by our company shows that many factors go into job satisfaction — from company culture to the challenge that work provides. Figure out which factors are most important to you. Then, as you evaluate job openings, determine which opportunities are most likely to provide the factors you value.

Be realistic, though. There is no perfect job or company, and holding out for one is a mistake.

2. Explore different on-ramps to your career

Applying for full-time jobs is by no means your only path to the workforce after you graduate. Internships — which aren’t just for students, in many cases — can provide inroads to full-time opportunities.

Another route to consider is temporary, freelance and project work. Working on an interim basis can help you to earn new skills and experience (and income to keep up with your student loans) and build your professional network. Through these employment opportunities, you can also determine what type of company you’d like to work for over the long term.

3. Don’t fear the pivot

Even with careful thought and planning, you’re likely to make some major changes in direction during your career — especially in the early stages. If you leave college with a degree in one area but end up working in a completely different career track, you won’t be the first. That’s OK. People change.

I’ve seen this process unfold time and again with the college students and new grads I mentor, as well as those I meet through my involvement in organizations like Enactus and Beta Alpha Psi. And it’s happened in my own career. I started in public accounting before transitioning to recruitment. I’ve spent 30 years with Robert Half, and I could not have imagined this is where life would lead me when I walked off campus for the last time.

If your immediate career outlook is a bit murky after graduation, don’t be discouraged. You will likely experience some stops and starts and unexpected turns over the next few years. That’s normal. A smart approach, I believe, is to consistently pursue work you believe will make the best use of your talent — and likely to leave you feeling fulfilled. It might take a while to discover the right career path, but with persistence, patience and flexibility, you no doubt will.

Paul McDonald photograph
Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

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