10 smart pieces of career advice for recent college grads you don’t always hear

Linda Le Phan

Graduation and entering the working world full-time for the first time is both an exciting and overwhelming time for most new graduates. That’s because: 1) it means no more homework and finals(!), 2) it marks the end of a huge part of youth and the beginning of “adulthood”, and 3) it opens up a whole world of possibilities that you get to make all of the the decisions on.

If this is where you’re at in your career, make the most out of it all and kick off your career on the right foot by heeding these 10 smart pieces of career advice for recent college graduates:

Pick your industry wisely.

You may not be able to land your dream job right out of school, but staying in the target industry where you want to be in the long-run is critical for building your experience and subsequently, making your resume stand out when your dream opportunities open up. For example, if you have a degree in healthcare administration, apply for jobs in the healthcare sector, even if the roles you find now are not exactly what you want or are more entry-level than you hoped.

“Great experience. Lots of independence in how I do my job. Good job right out of college. Decent pay for St. Louis.” – anonymous employer review at Washington University School of Medicine

Don’t stop learning.

Regularly read up on industry articles and subscribe to email newsletters in your area of expertise so that you can grow your level of proficiency and stay current in your field. Even though the job market is more candidate-driven than it used to be (there are more jobs open than people to fill them), that doesn’t mean companies don’t have high expectations for who they’ll hire. Being self-driven and a self-learner also helps companies overlook inexperience.

Recognize that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Organizations who welcome new grads prefer those who recognize the value of experience. Regardless of your college degree, you won’t really understand many aspects of work life until you live them – sometimes multiple times. In an interview, it’s good to say something like, “I’m really looking forward to mentorship from colleagues who’ve been in the business since I have only my education and internship to rely on.” This type of attitude reflects way better on you than overestimating your knowledge straight out of college, even if you’ve had an internship or two.

Treat every job like your dream job.

It’s common to start a few steps below where you want to be and a ways away from the ideal role your degree was intended for, and it’s even more common to view that starting point as just a job. This perspective can lead you to miss out on the big opportunity when it arises by not putting your best foot forward in the more junior opportunity. No matter how humble your beginnings, performing at the highest level with personal accountability will lay the road for you in the future and will more likely open doors for you when you least expect it.

“Chubb is an underwriting company, good place to work right out of college as an underwriter trainee & work your way up.” – anonymous employer review at Chubb

Don’t play hardball.

New graduates pose a risk to organizations, specifically because they’re both inexperienced and confident – the perfect combination for disaster. New grads who make unreasonable demands of employers who have extended them offer often lose that offer in a hurry. While negotiating is sometimes okay, making demands that don’t match your experience will hurt you in the long run.

Practice your interview skills.

A quick Google search (i.e. “retail manager interview questions”), or a quick look at our past roundups of common interview questions and answers can help you prepare for what might be thrown at you while interviewing.  Take time to work through your responses for each question, and try reciting your responses to a friend with experience to get feedback. Practicing builds your confidence and helps you avoid saying something you’ll later regret, and it’ll also help you go into the interview with less stress and nerves.

Meet with a financial planner early.

Whether getting your foot in the door in a company after graduation leads to a solid annual income or something that barely gets you by, lining out a budget for yourself will help you start your career right, living within your means and planning for the future. This is especially helpful if your starting pay isn’t exactly generous but the job is great – it’ll help you survive until you can grow your income a bit more.

“They paid me extremely well for being right out of college. Work schedule is flexible with work from home/remote options. There was a good corporate structure that was not too hard to climb.” – anonymous employer review at The Lewin Group Inc

Check for new opportunities daily.

Companies sometimes post positions for a very short duration of time to fill them quickly, avoid having to sort through hundreds of applicants, or perhaps even because they already have a candidate in mind. Checking company career pages, Google job listings and job posting sites daily and applying promptly to positions that interest you can help you stay at the forefront and get your name in for more positions.

Ask for mentorship.

Getting your footing in the career you want is just the first step. Once you’re there, ask as many questions as you need to in order to be successful and continue to grow. Lean on those with more experience than you and Google as often as is helpful to guide your decisions and work.

Steer clear of drama.

The employees who advance the fastest are those who have integrity, work hard, and take personal accountability for their experience and their results at work. This includes helping your teammates rather than working against them, leading and welcoming change instead of resisting it, and look for ways to improve yourself instead of trying to change others.


Are you a recent graduate trying to navigate a job search and ultimately find your dream company? Take a peak inside companies before you work there on kununu.com to make sure you’ve got the right fit!


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