4 Ways to Kick-Start Your Career After Graduation

Now that your college days are behind you, it's time to get serious about your career. Here's how.

Image source: Getty Images.

Congratulations! After years of hard work, you can finally call yourself a college graduate and get ready to tackle the working world. And if you graduated college with a heap of student loans, you'll definitely want to land a job sooner rather than later.

That said, you don't want to take any old job and call it a day. Rather, you should aim to find a role that'll be professionally and financially rewarding. The latter is especially true if you're entering the workforce without much in the way of savings (which, let's face it, is the case for most recent grads). With that in mind, here are a few steps you can take to propel your career in the right direction.

1. Network aggressively

When it comes to your career, the people you know may be just as important as the things you know. That's why networking is crucial. The more contacts you meet, the more likely you'll be to learn of opportunities you might otherwise never have known existed.

Of course, networking is easier said than done when you're first starting out, but you can begin by reaching out to your former professors and asking them if they have any professional contacts in your area of the country. At the same time, create a LinkedIn profile and use the site to explore potential connections in the field you're interested in. If you identify prospective contacts through mutual connections, you can ask the people you already know for introductions. Otherwise, send a quick introductory note explaining who you are and why you’re interested in connecting online. For example, you might try, "I see you published a paper on rare diseases that emerged in the past 10 years. I'm applying to research lab positions and would love to learn more about your experience."

Attending local meetup groups is another good way to network, so be sure to search online for events for young professionals. Many of these are free or charge a modest cover to attend. And much of the time, attending will feel more like a social outing than an awkward hour of stilted conversation. Finally, you might consider investing in a few business conferences if you're eager to expand your professional network quickly. Just know that those tend to be expensive, so they could eat up a large chunk of your limited savings at this stage of the game.

2. Invest in a resume service

You're probably aware that a solid resume is your ticket to more job interviews, but getting that document just right is easier said than done. Not only must your resume be clean and free of errors, but it needs to excite hiring managers and grab their attention. And if you're fresh out of college with limited experience, you might be somewhat of a hard sell as a candidate.

That's where a resume service can help. People who write resumes for a living know what language to use to attract employers, so the fee (which could be a few hundred dollars) may be worth it if it gets you hired faster. That said, it pays to give your solo-crafted resume a shot before hiring a professional. If you find that you're getting lots of responses, you can save your money for something else.

If you're not sure how to approach your resume, start by finding a template online and working from there. Your goal in creating your resume should be to highlight the experience and skills most relevant to the jobs you're applying for. As a recent grad, you should feel free to focus on the classes you took in college and the courses you excelled at that pertain to the field you're exploring. For example, if you're hoping to get hired as an accountant, mentioning that you majored in accounting and got an A in every course isn't a bad idea.

If you don't have a ton of work experience to show for at this point (and chances are, that's the case), include the jobs you did hold down during your studies, even if they mostly involved waiting tables or ringing items up at a cash register.

3. Build an online portfolio

If the work you do is creative in nature, showcasing it in an online portfolio could be your ticket to a great job offer. There are numerous platforms available that will help you show off your work, whether it's writing, graphic design, or website development.

Having an online portfolio will also give you a chance to tell potential employers about yourself in a more creative forum than a resume allows for. Remember, when companies look to hire, they don't just seek out employees whose skills match the roles at hand; they also want to onboard people whose personalities are a fit, and an online portfolio might speak volumes about who you really are.

4. Consider an internship

Many college grads want to start off their careers with a paying job. But if that doesn't seem to be panning out, or you're not getting offers in your preferred field, then an internship might be the next-best thing. The benefit of taking an internship is that you'll get an opportunity to learn about your industry, grow your skills, and make important connections that could prove invaluable in your quest for paid work.

Further, while many internships don't pay a salary, some do offer compensation. And while you probably can't accept an unpaid internship if you're living on your own, it's an option to consider if you've moved back home after college and therefore have limited bills.

Now that you have your diploma, you're ready to take on the "real" world. Follow these tips, and you'll be well ahead of the competition.