5 things new graduates should do to plan their careers


Today’s graduates start their job search with a belief that they should enter their company or industry of choice immediately after graduation. At least that’s what we’ve observed in our experience advising thousands of college students over the years on how to launch their careers.

Research has shown that younger millennials and older Gen Zers – that is, those born between 1990 and 1998 – are motivated by roles that are meaningful and where they can be given responsibility quickly. They tend to change jobs often and are looking for ways to move up the ladder and increase their salary at a faster pace than other generations currently in the workforce.

From what we’ve observed, they are instructed by their parents and career advisers to look for opportunities that align with their passions, and to not compromise on interests or values. We have also found that they tend to want to focus on “hot” industries like sports, luxury goods or high-end consulting that are in line with their interests. Students often pursue these dreams with a short term mindset, thinking that they need to get started in their chosen area right away in order to be successful in their career.

Based on our own corporate experience and work with students, we believe this is the wrong way to go, especially given the current market turmoil from COVID-19 and the fact that companies are cutting an unprecedented number of jobs as they struggle to survive. Instead, we recommend a five-step process for new graduates to get on the path to their dream job.

1. Create a seven- to 10-year vision

College graduates should try and focus on the longer term, looking at their first job as a means to an end, and not the end itself. To do so, we recommend creating a seven- to 10-year plan. A great vision has a clear end goal in mind, such as aiming to be a chief financial officer or chief marketing officer in 10 years for a technology company. However, the plan should also outline skill sets and experiences that need to be developed in order to attain that “dream job.”

For example, if your vision is to be a brand manager for a key product at a big name athletic shoe company, you need to build out your skills in areas such as sales, branding, pricing, market research, product design and financial analysis. While you might yearn to start as an associate brand manager at a high-end shoe company, it can be equally as effective to start as a market research analyst for a retail chain because you will gain a lot of the same preliminary skills, such as product and pricing analysis. You will also gain a broader industry perspective that can be useful when you move into that associate brand manager role later on.

2. Research people who do your dream job

Next, utilize LinkedIn to research the backgrounds of people who are in your dream role (or close to it). Reach out to a few of them to ask advice and find out answers to key questions, such as: What did you do along your career path to get where you are now? Are there common roles or skills that stand out? Are there some unique skills that have propelled people forward faster? What kind of training and certifications do you need? The answers to these questions provide clues as to the types of roles that should be evaluated as short-term options.

3. Map out a path to the dream job

Spend time to identify different roles that can lead to your desired long-term goal. Examine company hierarchies and the benefits or drawbacks of moving across industries. Also, consider the role geography may play in your chosen field, the value of international experience, and other trends discovered in the research stage. You can even pull job descriptions from various sources and create a spreadsheet of job titles and position responsibilities with each advancing stage of your vision.

4. Modify your vision as needed

Recognize that each person’s vision and path will change over time, due to interests changing and markets evolving. You may find yourself off of your original path at some point, but the practice of consciously evaluating short-term opportunities against long-term goals will reduce the frustration along the way and lead to the ability to make better sense of each opportunity as it presents itself. It will also help you lean in to uncomfortable roles and stretch assignments with a more positive attitude, knowing that you will gain valuable skills along the way.

5. Share your vision with trusted mentors

Don’t treat the vision as a private document for personal use only. As your vision and plan comes to life, mentors and friends can help to shape and mold the vision by sharing advice and experience from their own career paths. They often see skills and abilities in you that you don’t see in yourself, thus enabling them to help you get a better understanding of your strengths and areas of opportunity. As you progress forward in your career, utilize mentors and friends from different points in your career as sounding boards for future moves. They can often see the areas in which you have grown and areas that you can develop in your next role.

Author Bios: Rebecca Cook is Executive Director, Undergraduate Career Services and Eric D. Johnson is Associate Director for Professional Development, Graduate Career Services both at Indiana University