You graduated college and got your diploma. Congrats! That's something to be proud of. Unfortunately, it's usually only minutes after you toss your cap and finish celebrating that panic to starts to creep in. Because yeah, you got your degree—but now what? If you don't have a job lined up, it can be easy to spin into a cycle of self-doubt. But don't! You aren't the first person to graduate without a job, and you won't be the last. We talked to experts Nancy A. Shenker, author and CEO of theONswitch®, and Carlota Zimmerman, career coach and success strategist, to keep the terror at bay and to help you land your dream job. Here's the advice they had to offer new college graduates on the job hunt.
1. Don't Panic
"Remain calm, and do not compare yourself to others," Zimmerman says. "Maybe you have a job, an internship, maybe you have an idea of getting a job. But then on Facebook and Instagram you're seeing your friends and this one's going to grad school, this one's getting married, and there's this feeling that you should have known yesterday what to do for the rest of your life."
There's absolutely no reason to torment yourself over your friends' successes. If you have to, shut down social media for a while, but we're willing to bet even your most put-together bestie is freaking out a little bit, too—she just doesn't showcase it on social media.
2. Don't Box Yourself In
Shenker says the degree on your diploma not limit you to that one, single career field. She would know: Shenker majored in English and psychology and spent more than 15 years working in financial services, eventually rising to be Vice President of the bank she worked for. She insists that unless you're going into a very specialized field that requires skills like coding, science or engineering, there's a lot of wiggle room as to where your degree can take you.
"I think many employers are looking for soft skills," Shenker says. "Are you motivated, respectful, committed to finishing projects? Do you have strong attention to detail? It's more about what you're going to be like at work than what your diploma says."
3. Use Your Resources
"You're probably only six degrees separated from any job in any field," Zimmerman says. She recommends joining your school's alumni network, which gives you access to a ton of different professions in a huge variety of different fields. They're often free for new grads and can open you up to a world of possibilities.
Also, it's important not to ignore connections you already have, like friends and relatives. If your uncle is friends with the CEO of your dream company, don't assume he won't introduce you or hook you up with an information session. Ask and find out. Likewise, if your best friend's aunt works in an industry you're interested in, politely ask her if she's willing to go to coffee with you and talk a bit about her job and the industry. If you think of your network beyond your purely professional connections, it can expand greatly. As Zimmerman says, "Your network is as big or as small as you want it to be."
Speaking of networks...
4. Network Like Your Life Depends On It
Nobody likes to do it, but it's so, so important. You never know who might remember your name and throw it in the hat when their company is hiring. Making connections with relevant people your friends and family know is important, but you have to go beyond that to be successful. Go to the alumni mixers and talk to people, no matter how awkward you feel. Send the occasional email to stay on people's radars. And used LinkedIn like your life depends on it.
"LinkedIn is way more important than everybody thinks," Shenker says. Getting as close as you can to all-star status on LinkedIn means more people are seeing your profile, and the more, well-polished content you have, the more likely they are to be impressed. Most of us use LinkedIn to connect with professionals we already have a personal relationship with, but Shenker says we should be doing more than that. She compares using LinkedIn to network to going to an alumni mixer for the first time.
"You're not going to know anybody [at the mixer], either," she says. "It's no different from that. It's just social media rather than the real world." If there is a company you're very interested in, and you find someone on LinkedIn who works there that you'd like to learn from, go for it. Shenker says most people will accept requests from recent grads if they send a note. She recommends sending something like this: Hello, I'm just starting out in my career, and I'd like to work in your field, please accept my connection request.
Yes, it's really that simple. Some people might not accept your request or respond, but if you don't ask, you'll never have the opportunity to create those valuable connections. If you reach out to somebody you admire in your field via email, be courteous and respectful, even acknowledging their busy schedule in your second or third email (which should be separated by at least a week). Shenker recommends trying to make contact three times before calling it quits and moving on to something else. They key here is to be persistent, not pushy, but if someone isn't willing to give you any of their time and energy, they don't deserve yours, either.
5. Always Be Interview-Ready
Sitting across from a hiring manager isn't the only way to get a job. Oftentimes, casual meetings over coffee can yield just as exciting results. If a friend or relative manages to arrange lunch between you and someone you want to work for, be prepared to impress.
"If you show up to that lunch and you've prepared questions, and researched, and you show up like an adult and you're professional, that's networking. In a sense you're almost having an unofficial interview, and it's likely that at the end of the interview, this person will ask you to send them your resume," Zimmerman says. "If you present yourself as smart, purposeful, intelligent and curious... What a breath of fresh air! Who doesn't want someone like that on their staff?"
6. Take Constant Steps Toward Your Goals
Don't let starting your career fall to the back burner after graduation. Rejection will happen, and it will suck, but it's important not to let it deter you from going after the jobs you want. When Zimmerman works with clients who are trying to get a particular job, she asks them to create an action diary to keep track of what they're doing each day to work toward that job.
"Monday through Friday, make the decision to take a bare minimum of three positive steps toward getting your first job a day," Zimmerman advises new graduates. "Make them three intelligible, comprehensive steps. It's a way of being honest with yourself, keeping track, and being accountable."
7. Brand Yourself
If this isn't something you invested your time in during college, now is a great time to start. Shenker says your personal brand should be consistent across all of your platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you use these accounts for friends and family, that's fine, but make sure you amp up your privacy settings and keep the accounts clear of co-workers. You might think that picture of you sipping from a giant margarita is cute, but your boss probably won't. Shenker also advises new graduates to have a personal web page to showcase their work, and a digital resume ready to go for potential employers. As you work on these things, keep in mind what you bring to the table that is unique and capitalize on them. If you're detail-oriented, deadline driven, and fluent in three languages, find a way to make those things a part of your personal brand.
Moral of the story? You absolutely can get a job, it just takes a bit of effort. Constantly striving for your goals and making new connections is incredibly important, no matter what industry you want to work in. Whatever your dream company is, don't count yourself out of getting a job there because you're young and inexperienced. Work for it. Show the hiring managers why you're the best person for the job. And above all, don't give in to fear or let anyone shut you down.
"A lot of people are quick to put young people down and make them feel like morons for chasing their dreams because they didn't fight for their own dreams," Zimmerman says. "But if there's something you feel passionate about, chase it. Go for it. Successful people commit more to their hopes than their fear."