Graduation is an incredible accomplishment and an amazing day in the life of a young adult, but it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Once those flowing robes are hung away in the dark recesses of one’s closet, the reality slowly starts to seep in. Much like the dust accumulating on that once loved graduation gown, there are loans that must be paid back and so-called “adulting” must now take place.

Take it from me someone who has now graduated twice, and is still going back for more–which is another story entirely. That diploma that everyone thought would shield them from the horrors of the real world and guarantee a well-paying job for the rest of their lives? It starts to gather dust at some point, too. Eventually, people realize, no one is going to put success into their hands. It is simply something each person must figure out how to take.

How do you do that? You do that by having a plan. If you don’t have one now, here are things to do/consider in order to land your first job outside of college. It might not be your ideal job or what you expect, but it’ll get you used to a work environment, help you build people skills, help save some money, and hopefully help you put a dent in those soon-to-be loathed student loans.

1. Understand Your GPA and college degree are just one part of the puzzle.
If you spent the majority of your time studying, I promise you that it hasn’t gone to waste. However, don’t expect that to be all you need. Think of it as a first, necessary step, but only one of many. As I stated before, employers need more today than they requested before. Previously, if you had a degree, even an associate’s degree, people were impressed because it was incredibly rare. In today’s economy, where degrees are plentiful, employers are looking for people who have experience as well as a quality education. No one is going to ask you about your GPA. You likely won’t encounter many employers who ask you during interviews about your college experiences. You will likely have to hustle to get your opportunities. Knowing that is your first step.

2. If you already have work experience, you have an advantage.
As I stated before, anyone with work experience and/or internship experience is going to have a leg up on the competition. It is a wise move on the part of a recent graduate to enter the job market with some experience under their belt, especially since college graduates aren’t only competing against other graduates. They are also competing against people with degrees who have significantly more work experience. It isn’t too late; you can still use your connections and look online to obtain internships if finding a job is proving difficult. Every step you take to expand your resume will be helpful.

3. Think long and hard about what industry you want to be in and why.
I usually advise everyone in college to do this before they pick a major. Unfortunately, students tend to pick what they enjoy studying or feel is necessary they study before looking up job prospects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I spoke to recent graduates who told me they didn’t know what they’d be doing next after graduating. Truthfully, figuring out job prospects is the first thing students ought to do before graduating with a degree that isn’t as marketable as others. Figure out where you belong and what niche you want to fit in before your student loan bills kick in. Your wallet and your sanity will thank you.

4. Talk to people you know.
Once you figure out what industry you want to target, talk to people you know, particularly those in your industry. Figure out how they made an impression on their employers, how they got their jobs, what their jobs entail, if they are happy with what they do, etc. Ask them if their companies have job openings and if they’d be willing to look over or pass on your resume. Use your alumni association, LinkedIn connections, and other social media leads to find the best opportunities for you.

5. Visit career services to learn how to tailor your resume and cover letter.
Before passing on your resume to any company or friend, visit career services. They will give you feedback on your initial resume. They can also assist with writing a convincing cover letter, and initiate mock interviews for you. They will also notify you of when there are career fairs at your educational institution. In addition to using other online job application sites, taking advantage of your university’s career services job listings, typically online, will give you an idea of who is hiring and where. You can upload your resume there and apply to the jobs you’re interested in directly.

6. Browse books on the industries you are interested in.

Once you have a resume and cover letter you’re confident in, don’t just stop there. Visit a secondhand book store and browse through titles about seeking employment, the best jobs for recent graduates, and resume strategies. Ideally, you will want to tailor each resume depending on your new experiences and the industry you’re targeting at different points of your life. That means you’ll have to alter your resume many times. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a professional, buying a recent guide on resume writing (no older than two years at any given time, as resume standards change often and you don’t want to use an outdated format) will be very beneficial to you and save you a lot of money, and I’m sure as a recent college graduate you could use saving a few extra hundred dollars.

7. Consider international opportunities.

Don’t limit yourself to options only in your local city or state. Consider opportunities in other states and other countries. For instance, if you want to work at an NGO, joining a volunteer program abroad that you’re passionate about will really stand out on a resume. Not only will you feel great and make a difference, you’ll get hands-on experience that you are going to need later on as well. For teachers without a graduate degree or license, teaching abroad for a year or two may give you relevant experience to put you ahead of your peers when applying for teaching jobs later on. If you’re passionate about politics, join an internship program that pays you a stipend while you work outside of your state. There are many different opportunities out there, no matter your interests.

8. Apply–even if you think you’re not qualified for the job.

Don’t give up before you even try. Some professionals may not agree with this point. Perhaps some HR managers might be annoyed with this advice, but I stand by it. Whether you’re a new graduate and even when you are looking to crossover into a new career, many people have qualities, skills, and job experiences that are useful in many industries. For example, for a lawyer with a love for the law, becoming a police officer might be a decent fit. For a photographer looking to do something else, becoming a graphic designer incorporates some of the skills he/she already has learned. The point is, if an employer likes your personality, feels you would be a good fit, and is willing to train you, not having all of the necessary experience, or having experience in a different field, isn’t always a problem. Sometimes, it’s better to obtain a no than to never try. You’d be surprised how often this strategy ends up working in favor of the people who apply.

To reiterate the points:

  • Never believe your diploma alone will provide for you
  • Ask for advice from those around you
  • Research before you choose an industry–before you graduate
  • Take advantage of career services
  • Build a strong resume
  • Consider taking out of state or international opportunities
  • Apply even if you don’t feel entirely qualified

Trying to get aa job can be scary and daunting to many, but it doesn’t have to be. The better prepared you are, the better results you’ll have. Now, go out there and get the job you want, not the one you need!