Real World Advice for Undergraduates In Job Search

There’s been a great deal of change in my life lately. Two months since my college graduation and seven weeks into my first career job, I have had to adjust from a life of classes, part-time work and my closest friends living near me. Nowadays, the routine consists of commuting twenty hours a week and trying to navigate the largest city in America.

Change is always difficult and dealing with it can, at times, be overwhelming. Below are 10 approaches I have taken to become more proficient at work while helping myself adjust to this new life.

  1. Commit yourself fully to your job. Remove yourself from student organization listservs and anything else that reminds you of college. Don’t look back, look forward and focus on what’s in the present and what lies ahead for the future. Nothing saps your focus and energy more than harkening back to the good old days of playing catch on the quad. Dedicate all your energies and focus into the task at hand.
  2. If you’re able to, take an easy second semester your senior year and dedicate the majority of your time job hunting and networking. Build relationships with those in your industry and free up your schedule to take impromptu informational interviews.
  3. Always have a side project, whether that be networking while at work, researching a new topic or learning a new skill. You will have a ton of down time as an entry level employee, use it!
  4. Understand that what you are doing isn’t forever. Look vertically and laterally within your company and look outside your company at what your peers and their bosses are doing. Never stop learning about your industry and those working within it.
  5. Take a lunch break. Most at my office take lunch at their desk—use this time to recharge. Don’t fall victim to a routine of remaining glued to your desk chair for 8-9 hours a day, five days a week. This isn’t healthy and frankly is counterproductive.
  6. Find ways to utilize your best skills. Be creative and suggest projects to your boss that fit your skill set. Seek to impress by thinking outside the box, you’ll accomplish more and feel more satisfied at work.
  7. Speak up during meetings. You are new and most of your superiors are more knowledgeable in their position than you are but that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. It’s better to ask questions and be intuitive than to sit back meekly and take notes.
  8. Networking does not end when you find a job. Continue to maintain the relationships you forged in college and use your company and others around you to build more connections across other companies and industries. Each week I make it a point to click a random floor on the elevator and walk around another department and strike up conversations about what that department does. At the end of the day, the quality of your work will get you far, but the quality of your relationships combined with the quality of your work will get you even farther.
  9. Understand how people in your value chain make money. Understand if your boss makes a base salary with commission for every sales target he/she hits, or if his/her salary is lower with more incentives built in. Also know how your company is structured, who owns it and in general, the current state of your industry.
  10. Do not spend more than 30% of your salary on rent. Too many recent graduates see their first paycheck and jump at the opportunity to live in a big city and experience all the excitement that comes along with living in a city. Be prudent with your money and recognize that rent is an empty investment and something that adds zero value to your personal equity.

These are just some of the methods I have implemented to improve my productivity and sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. What steps did you take early in your career to help facilitate your transition from college to the working world?

Jim Armstrong is a recent graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.  He now works for New York City-based advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather as an assistant search planner.


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  1. 1

    Transition from college to a full-time job is not easy and the 10 approaches you've given are priceless. Going back to campus and college parties after graduation makes the transition harder.
    Some recent graduates may believe that working harder, without taking lunch breaks will make good impression to the top management but tired employees are less productive.
    Remember Pareto's Principle (the 80/20 Rule) – focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of your work that is really important. Don't just “work smart”, work smart on the right things. 🙂

  2. 2
    Monique Rizer

    Great advice! I would only disagree with your first point on removing yourself from student listserves; I've found that to help keep me in the loop and maintain my networks 🙂

  3. 3

    Terrific post you have here. 🙂 These are practical tips graduates can appreciate and hopefully help them focus on the road ahead instead of constantly reliving “the good old days” (when the fact is they didn't happen too long ago lol). One thing I would like to add is to develop a love for continuous lifelong learning…which never stops after you leave school. Take every opportunity to learn new skills, new methods, new technology or new approaches to work and productivity.

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

  4. 4
    Jim Armstrong


    Thanks for the feedback. I absolutely agree with you…an insatiable desire to learn is a central tenet to success.

  5. 5


    Great point about maintaining your networks through your student listservs. For me, these served as constant reminders of college, so I felt it necessary to completely remove myself from this “college chatter.” Good for you, to see these listservs as beneficial to you and your career.

  6. 6

    I couldn't agree with you more. Funny that you mention Pareto's Principle. I blogged about this a few weeks ago in a book review for “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferriss. You can find my post here, Excellent tips you provide here, thanks for sharing.

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