new year’s resolutions for upcoming graduates

If you’re still in college, you should make some new year’s resolutions that have nothing to do with getting more sleep or working out more often. As a current student, you’re in the enviable position of being able to make changes now that will put you in a stronger position to find a job when you graduate. Here are seven resolutions that you’ll be grateful you acted on once you’re out of school and looking for work.

1. First and foremost, get as much work experience as you can before you graduate. Employers are looking for experience, not just knowledge, and so students who come out of school with work experience on their resumes are at a significant advantage to students who only have classes and extracurricular activities to highlight. Do whatever you can to maximize your work experience before you graduate – internships and part-time jobs are often separates the new graduates who get hired pretty quickly from the ones who don’t. And that doesn’t mean doing a single internship during your four years of school – do two, three, four, or as many as possible!

2. Get a practical understanding of what your major qualifies you for in the work world. Too many students pick a major without fully understanding what jobs it will and won’t qualify them for once they graduate, and end up frustrated to learn that the major doesn’t open the doors they thought it would, or that the career paths it opens up aren’t ones they’re interested in. Even if you’re not job hunting yet, start looking at advertisements for the jobs you think you’ll want someday, and see what qualifications it will take to be a competitive candidate.

3. Find good sources of up-to-date job search advice. Too often, students simply rely on their parents, professors, and peers to advise them on how to find a job. Sometimes this works out just fine, but often parents and professors don’t realize how job searching has changed in the last five years and inadvertently dispense outdated and counterproductive advice – and your peers, of course, are generally as inexperienced as you are. So make sure that you’re taking advice from people in a position to really be helpful. (The best source? People who have done a fair amount of hiring of their own.)

4. Talk to people a few years ahead of you. Some of the best mentors can be people just a few years older than you, because they’re close enough to remember the challenges you’re dealing with but far enough ahead of you to have figured out how to navigate them successfully. Find these people and pick their brains: What do they wish they knew when they were getting ready to leave school? What surprised them when they entered the work world? What could they have done to better prepare?

5. Start reading industry news. Your field is a heck of a lot broader than just what you’re learning about in school. Start reading news publications for your field – including industry blogs, which often have the most up-to-date information and discussions. You’ll benefit by being able to talk far more knowledgeably about your field in interviews, and you’ll get a much more nuanced perspective than classes can usually give you.

6. Clean up your social media presence. Do you know what prospective employers will find if they Google you and whether it will stand up to scrutiny? If you’ve been less than discreet in what you post online, resolve to clean up what’s publicly accessible and to keep your professional persona in mind when you post in the future.

7. Create a map of your network. When you start job searching in earnest, one of the best things you can do is to reach out to your network – but to do that, you first need to know who they are. Sit down and map out who’s really in your network – such as friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers from your internship and summer jobs, plus everyone theyknow too. As part of this project, set up a profile for yourself on LinkedIn, which will make it easier to see your full network.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Sali*

    In addition to internships and work experience, it is worth emphasising how useful voluntary experience can be too. I made use of my university’s excellent student volunteering service and it has helped me acquire at least two jobs since graduating.

  2. Sunflower*

    Can’t stress 4 enough. Well-established people in my field came in at a totally different time with different standards and entry barriers. It helps talking to people a few years ahead who graduated in a similar economy and faced the same problems you are facing.

  3. Elizabeth West*

    #1–My writing program not only requires an internship, but the class projects are client-based as well, so we can accumulate items to put on our portfolios. It’s a bit scary to approach a client when you aren’t sure what you’re doing yet. However, we’re not getting paid for these, and being a student makes people very understanding and helpful. So getting some experience while you’re still in school is MUCH easier than trying to do it with just the diploma and nothing else.

    My biggest problem now is that I need to figure out how the tech stuff will fit into where I am now and what I want to do in the future.

  4. Anonymous*

    I was curious to open up Alison’s question to the readers! What do you wish you knew about the work world?

  5. perebe*

    #2! #2! #2!

    As an anthropology major I was always told that I could do practically anything and everything because it was so flexible and adaptable. It was disheartening to say the least when I realized that just because you can do something in theory, doesn’t mean it translates into reality.

    1. VintageLydia*

      My program profs said the same :/ The skills are pretty transferable to most industries but its hard to convince employers of that. Anthro has changed a _lot_ from the overly educated observers in the bush. Enough that I’m considering changing my major (which I love, but I’ll need to pay my bills in the future, you know?)

    2. It's About Who You Know*

      I know a project manager who makes around $80K and was shocked to learn that he graduated with a BA in Anthro in 2008. As a post-grad, he did a couple of year-long fellowships at his alma mater and then at a municipality, but neither seemed related to what he’s doing now (customer relationship management). Then I discovered that he’s part of the same fraternity as a few influential figures in our organization, and it all made sense. Still, $80k is a lot of money for someone with just a bachelor’s degree, let alone for someone with a BA.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think a BA is a constraint on your earning potential. It’s more about what field you go into. A lot of people with BAs and no higher degree are making six-figure salaries.

        1. It's About Who You Know*

          I agree, but isn’t that usually after several years of experience (I’m thinking decades)?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Depends on the field and the geographic area. I can think of some roles where someone with a BA could earn $80K after around five years of experience. Of course, I’m in D.C., which plays a role.

            1. It's About Who You Know*

              We’re in the south (lower salaries) and this is a government position (even lower salaries).

            2. De Minimis*

              Public accounting is a good example, someone at a Big 4 could very well be a manager in 5 years and earning six figures [if they were in one of the major metros], and you only really need a bachelor’s in accounting.

              I actually don’t know if there are many other fields where people have the opportunity to be promoted as quickly…but the trick is that very few people make the cut, I think the stat they like to trot out is that only 20% of so make it to the manager level [though most leave of their own accord for private companies.]

          2. VintageLydia*

            Hubby makes six figures with no degree and about 5 years experience, but he’s in an industry where formal education isn’t necessary and a location where the COL is high (DC metro area) so salaries are higher. He got his start because of his connections, but now he’s at a completely different company where he had none. He’s an excellent negotiator and also pretty damn good at his job.

      2. VintageLydia*

        Actually anthro would be perfect for that type of job. The heart of it, as it is now, is relating to people who you may or may not have a lot in common with and facilitating communication between two or more very different groups (customers and companies, tribes and academia, soldiers and citizens, etc.)

          1. VintageLydia*

            Anthro works with all sorts of data. Mostly qualitative, sure, but statistics is another really strong skill set of a successful anthro grad. Not to mention the person you know may have other experience or skills you don’t know about. Is this person bad at their job? Because otherwise I don’t see the problem you’re having.

            1. It's About Who You Know*

              I don’t have a problem at all. I do believe my point stands; it’s about who you know both in terms of getting a job and also in getting considered for the job in the first place. They could have just as easily found an economist. As for how well he’s doing, I’m not his supervisor nor a direct colleague, so I can’t judge his performance. I’ve only worked with him on one project, really. From what I know, that whole team is failing to meet their goals, but he isn’t the only one responsible for that.

  6. It's About Who You Know*

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think having a BA makes anyone less capable. I hold one myself, but after having several doors slammed in my face and being told to go to grad school, I’m always surprised to hear about those who are able to get their foot in the door with a great position.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What field are you in? Grad school is only a good idea if you want a job that actually requires a graduate degree. Otherwise, it can actually make your search harder.

  7. It's About Who You Know*

    Public Administration. I don’t think it will necessarily hurt – almost everyone I’ve networked with has an advanced degree. But I know it won’t automatically make me more hireable. I’m still building strong connections to get to where I’d like to be.

  8. De Minimis*

    I have a master’s, but only because I had to start all over in a new field and it made more sense to just get a graduate degree since I was looking at at least 2-3 years of coursework. I think that can sometimes be another reason for grad school, to get into a new field, but only if the degree is a well-established part of the career path.

  9. College Career Counselor*

    YES to all of these, but particularly the first one. Get an internship, then get another. And another. And if you don’t know what you want to do, these will help you figure out what you like (and don’t like) far more than most of your classes will.

    1. Chris*

      I touched on this a little below, but the short answer is that getting an internship is not that simple, especially if you don’t have experience.

  10. Chris*

    Morning time. Starts job hunt. Sees nothing open. Sighs. Browses blogs. Sees this one. Feels like commenting.

    1) Generally good advice: pretty much everyone I know who had no trouble getting jobs out of college had an internship of some sort before graduation. The only real issue that isn’t often addressed is that getting an internship in college can be a major chore. I’ve interviewed for internships and have been told there are about “8-10 other people behind you that I’m looking at as well,” and I’ve also been rejected from internships throughout college because “I lack experience in the field.” It doesn’t help that some internships demand a 3.5 / 4.0 just to get looked at (otherwise you can get filtered by the online system). Googling “Engineering Internships”, I get 648 matches from InternMatch. Googling, I get 1089 positions available. There is some bias here because some positions closed awhile ago, but, let’s put it this way, in 2009, you had 468,000 undergrads enrolled in engineering majors:
    (go to “engineering enrollment”)

    In other words, you are going to have tight competition whether you like it or not. And this is just engineering. And, of course, if you don’t have experience, it is going to be tough to get one. Also, once you graduate, it is even tougher to get one it turns out since many internship applications require you to still be in school when you apply (on some job sites, the system boots you from finishing if you answer “No, I graduated” to the question).

    The tl;dr version of this is that getting an internship is just as difficult as getting a job. You’re still competing with a ton of people and employers seem to gravitate to those that already have relevant experience for the position.

    The tl;dr : tl;dr version: See this commercial: Everything you need to know about life, the universe, everything, and job (internship) hunting:

    2) Agree with this, although not just for work reasons. College is getting expensive:

    Basically, if you’re in college, I suggest you decide immediately what you want to study since any meandering time is money lost. Looking at books and seeing if anything captivates you or talking with a counselor about things you like are good ideas if you’re undecided.

    3) Agree. Personal story time: in college, everyone told me I’d be fine: careers services people, professors, parents of kids, person I volunteered with, parents, hiring managers, other students etc. No one told me that I’d have trouble. (“You’re smart. You’re majoring in Aerospace Engineering. You’ve been involved with a lot of projects, and all those extra curriculars and your years of dedication to some of them make you well-rounded in ways employers love. You’ll be fine.”)

    Haaaaaaaaaa…….If I had a quarter for every time I was told this…

    Anyway, the other part to this is that the best thing you can do here is find a hiring manager in your network and get them to check your resume. Normally, I’d say go to a career center, but, I’ve gotten bad advice, unnecessary advice, or advice that a Google search can tell you on resumes from several of them. Your best bet is to find a real life hiring manger and get them to look it over.

    4) I’d say this advice depends on the person. Thing is, some people have never had problems getting work before. They’re easy to identify: (“Cover letters? Yeah, I think I had to write one for that technical writing class. I got a C- on it I think. “). This is partially how you find yourself feeling really lonely really quickly since a lot of people have not faced difficulties in getting jobs, and thus, aren’t great sources of job hunting advice, or, what works for them won’t really work for you.

    5) Kind of wish college classes were more geared like this. You can’t really talk about shear flow and the different equations for it in an interview setting. As an aside, I feel like this is one weakness of engineering classes; You get 5000 different equations thrown at you that you need to analyze and in the process may lose the purpose of what you’re trying to solve for.

    6) If you’re someone that needs job hunting help, clean it.

    7) Yeah. Nothing to add here.

    More thoughts, this article is also a fantastic read for new years:

    1. Anonymous*

      What branch of engineering are you in? My (non-civil/environmental) engineering friends don’t seem to have any trouble securing internships after freshman year.

      1. Chris*


        I’ve been playing this game for a very very long time Anon. One day, this game will end. Sadly, that day isn’t today.

        1. Anonymous*

          Ah sorry I didn’t see that. As someone who stopped short of pursuing aerospace engineering because of the state of the industry here in Canada, believe me I’m not judging you at all.

  11. Ashley*

    I see SO MANY resumes from new grads – people who are no doubt bright, energetic, and awesome. Unfortunately for them, I almost always pass them over for people with a few years experience. As a small nonprofit without a lot of training resources, it doesn’t make sense to put resources into training when we don’t have to. When we do look closely a new grads, the biggest barrier I see is that they often feel that internships have qualified them to do things they aren’t ready for.. I had one position that required (by law, it’s complicated) that the person have four years of professional experience in field. I talked with one new grad who applied to ask if she was interested applying for a different open position since she didn’t meet the basic qualifications for this one. She was SHOCKED that 4 years of after -school volunteering for 5 hours a week did not qualify her. Regardless of the required number of years, she had nowhere NEAR the knowledge needed to even attend the training for this job – she could not have learned how to do it in any reasonable amount of time (4 years, maybe). Schools are setting students up to believe that volunteer and intern work qualifies them for high level positions – when, in reality, it may barely make them competitive for entry level roles.

  12. SA*

    #7 Again what is this magical thing called a “Network”? What is networking? I worked all the time and just don’t get it. I had to work through college and never partied, couldn’t go to extra curricular activities, and couldn’t do “extra credit” work due to conflicting work schedules. If I wasn’t at school I was working, working on school projects or in class. Poor students can’t afford to network. Now the rich kids never had to work, always partied and had a lot of time to goof off. Guess who had jobs when they graduated? It’s not the poor students!

    I’m not in touch with anyone, lost access to my social media accounts and found them to be a huge timesuck anyway. There’s no industry for me in the place I currently live in and volunteering is only church-based – nothing secular, and the decent paying jobs are taken up by kids whose parents are friends with the owner of the business. Qualifications were optional with them and they make more than I do hourly with the qualifications AND the degree to prove I have the skill set they need.

    In some states people assume you’re the same denomination as the place you volunteered at so you may be “disqualified” for a job based on that alone if the employer doesn’t approve of that religion/denomination. Yes the South is not fair but employees here have no Unions and therefore, no rights either. Our pay is a joke and employers will do or say anything to ensure an employee they let go even if downsizing can’t collect unemployment.

    I would LOVE for some information that would actually help with networking. That has become a four letter word for me and I can’t stand it. Everyone I know is scrambling to work just to pay student loans, nevermind networking when you have massive debt to pay down. Every minute you goof off talking to someone is a minute you could have spent making money.

    Not to sound ungrateful but I heard networking all throughout college but never heard any way to go about actually DOING it. It’s impossible when you’re a poor student and many students had to pass up internships due to the cost to them, myself included.

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