The biggest reason why I thought it relevant for our Coffee Shop HR writers to offer advice to post-secondary grads is because of the unforeseen challenges you face once you start searching for work in your chosen field. Not only do you leave school with the expectation that the return on your emotional and financial investment into post-secondary school will be rewarded as soon as you leave, you add personal expectations of immediate recognition and achievement.
Having said that, this is my advice to post-secondary grads:
1. Network for long-term rewards
When I first started looking for full-time work in HR, I thought I could outsmart my friends by finding work through networking. I knew everyone was intimidated by the concept, and so I could find work right away since no one else I knew was willing to take that approach. So I read as much as I could about networking strategies, I set up a number of informational interviews, I attended formal networking events, and the list goes on.
Networking was my focus because I understood that the most challenging and interesting jobs – certainly those available for us with limited work experience – wouldn’t be posted online. Although I still appreciate and advise that networking is the best way to find work, I have learned to accept that your networking efforts will be rewarded in the long run, and not necessarily today.
In retrospect, I did find my first full-time position through a contact of mine, but it wasn’t a contact I gained through my intense, post-graduation networking phase. I gained access to that position through a classmate I had recently graduated with.
Make a point to network, and network in the smartest way you can (be strategic and genuine!!) but accept that networking is about building a positive reputation and learning from those you aspire to work alongside. Network to build a career, not just to find your first job.
2. Relax! Recognize that work is only one part of your life
I believe in setting goals for the sake of organizing in your mind what you really want. So when I first started looking for work, I set (what I saw as) realistic goals in terms of what my first job should look like, and when I should be able to acquire it. Although my goals were met to some degree, what was completely out of skew was the time.
I started looking for work in 2009. Through networking, the majority of the HR people I met had been laid off after 5 or 6 years with one company, and were now looking for entry-level work. This was effectively pushing myself (and my friends) out of job competitions that we were fully qualified for.
A breakthrough happened for me once I accepted the fact that I would find work eventually. It may not have come as quickly as I wanted it to, but it did come. You will find work in your field if you’re determined to find it.
So travel, get married, have kids! You will find work when it’s time to find work. Can it be more difficult to find work in specialized fields, at certain times of the year, in specific locations? Of course! But guess what: it will be equally as difficult to do the things you intend to do in your personal life while you’re working full-time.
3. Show the world what you can do, paid or unpaid
One of the most challenging things you’ll have to decide time and again is ‘what do you really want to do?’ This extends beyond choices directly related to your career.
So the leg up for you, new grad, is that if you know what you really want to do in your career, at least you have a direction. You might be holding a map with nothing but an X on it, but at least you’ve found the X, and your map isn’t completely blank.
The time you spend volunteering is invaluable! If you volunteer for an organization, you get a taste of how that company operates, and where its values lie. You also get to meet people who work there, and see how they work with people.
My greatest interest in human resources as a profession is improving the lives of working people by supporting them through training and development. In my eyes, this is supplemented best through performance management and engagement. One of my aspirations is to be a keynote speaker, and develop training workshops.
But I don’t work in employee engagement. I’m not an HR Manager. My current job doesn’t allow me to do this kind of work on a daily basis. But by connecting with people through my site, and working with volunteers, I know it’s moving me closer towards that goal.
Best of luck!
2. Agony and Elation: Searching for Work in a Turbulent Job Market by Nicole Davidson
3. What three pieces of advice should post-secondary grads take to heart? by Bonnie Milne, PhD