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Finding a job can be a bit of a mystery for new grads. Despite years of preparation and schooling, the big step from the graduation stage to the front door of their first job can often be the most challenging. Increasingly however schools are providing students with additional resources to help with the transition.

Recently I was invited to be a part of a “Job Searching & Developing a Career Strategy” panel at the University of Washington. The panel gave students a chance to inquire about the “real world” and what former students learned from the first few years of working. There were quite a few great questions asked by the students but the ones that resonated with me the most were how to build a network and what tools do you use for job research?

Below are expanded answers to the questions.

Informational Interviews
Getting coffee isn’t reserved just for interns inside of offices. Coffee or informational interviews as they’re often described are a tool graduates can use to connect with working professionals and start a professional network. As a new graduate your immediate network is often limited to your peers and family members. This can initially make it challenging to connect with people who actually make hiring decisions. While the first person you pitch about grabbing coffee may seem intimidating, keep in mind most professionals are willing to share a bit of their time with you to discuss what they do.

A few rules of the road to keep in mind when pursuing this approach.

  1. Don’t directly ask the person for a job. Doing so could put them in an awkward position and might come off as a bit too opportunistic. Instead, share your interests and talk about places you’re looking into. Professionals are likely more able and willing to help once they know a bit more about you. The information will also help them get a better idea of what you’re searching for, allowing them to pass on opportunities which might be a good fit for you.
  2. Be sure to do your research before your meeting and make sure you have an idea of what you’d like to discuss. While it doesn’t need to be a formal interview, you should have a few key questions in mind to keep the conversation flowing and make the person you’re meeting with feel like you’re making good use of their time.

Exploring New Jobs
The wealth of information available online for career research is astounding. Two of my favorites are LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

LinkedIn is an excellent resource to learn about new companies and professionals working in fields you’re interested in. It’s also a good place to stay connected with people you’ve met in the classroom, workplace, or networking events.

A friend of mine once joked, “you know someone is job searching when they update their LinkedIn profile.” Don’t be that person. LinkedIn like other social media is supposed to be an active place where you share your professional passion and display the qualities that make you a “rock star.” Keep your position descriptions up-to-date and treat it like a living document. After all, it’s easier to add an award you recently received vs. backtracking and digging up content from the past.

Also keep in mind, “Googling” people before interviewing or even basic social interactions is very real. Outside of Twitter and Facebook to a lesser extent, LinkedIn is a place people will start their research about you. The last thing you want is a recruiter, new business partner, or contact to only have outdated information to base their initial assessment on.

Culture can be hard to understand. While companies often publish marketing materials about company culture, what it’s like to actually work in a company can be difficult to nail down. Glassdoor gives job hunters a peek behind the doors of a company. Each company profile provides detail about the pros and cons of the business, average pay, and general perception of the CEO and future outlook for the company. Most of the information about the company is provided by past and current employees. Glassdoor is an excellent place to learn about companies before you start job hunting and is a must visit when entering final negations about compensation.

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While there are countless talks and presentations about the difference between school and the “real world” each year at commencement ceremonies around the world, the execution for many is often still a mystery. Honestly there is no perfect guide. A lot of the transition has to be lived and experienced to be fully understood. That isn’t to say there aren’t any pointers available for those looking to ease the transition.