Making the transition from academia to professional life is a milestone that our four-year undergraduate degrees often don't prepare us for. If you're getting ready to make the jump from backpack to briefcase, here is a week-by-week plan to help prepare you for your first month of job searching.
Week 1: Self-reflection
Before diving into your job search and applications, it's time to start reflecting about what you want your first career move to be. Until this point, it's likely that your choices and variability have been limited, as academic curricula can be restricted to your core courses and electives. This is a unique time to explore your life, network, and take the time to learn about yourself and your interests.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
In the last few years, what courses, projects, internships, or part-time jobs have "sparked joy"?
In the last few years, which of those same elements have I strongly disliked?
If time, money, and resources were not a barrier, what would I want to pursue?
What professionals, professors, or classmates inspire me? If I could emulate anything about them, what would it be?
Once you have those elements figured out, you can research which jobs exist that would create alignment between your work and your areas of interest. Start by listing 10 jobs that might include key ingredients that excite you.
Week 2: Informational interviews
Once you've started exploring and have that list of 10 jobs, seeking out informational interviews will help you develop a better picture of what your desired profession could look like in real time.
If you want to reach beyond your network of professors, friends, family, and classmates for informational interviews (which you should!), head to LinkedIn and get networking!
Speaking to people about their careers and learning about how they got from A to Z will help you build your own roadmap and expand your professional network. It will also give you a realistic idea of how to emulate certain careers or accomplishments.
If you find yourself getting excited about someone's job or achievement, it might be because their values and interests align with your own. Listen to that inner voice when it's excited as you start searching for your first job.
While going through this process, you should keep track of all the conversations you have. Mark down who you've spoken to, what the interaction was, and what the outcome was. This helps build meaningful relationships early on, fine tune your messaging, and serve as a journal for self-reflection.
Week 3: Look toward your own network
Now that you've explored yourself, spoken to some professionals, and have some guidance about where you want to go, start going through your internal network.
Open up a new spreadsheet and build out a company list of 20 places you would want to work. Once you have that list, start talking to your friends, families, colleagues, alumni, professors, and anyone you've spoken to in step one and two to see if you know anyone working in any of those organizations. See if any of your contacts, or any of your contact's contacts, know anyone who can put you in touch with the right people.
Get your name out there and tell your network you're looking for a job! If people don't know you're looking, and don't know what you're looking for, they won't know to refer you. Everyone has been where you're starting out, and most people will be willing to help you land that first gig.
Week 4: Head to the job boards
Once you've moved through your network, it's time to hit Glassdoor's job search.
Rather than sitting home hitting refresh on the job boards every five minutes, give yourself a schedule and a routine that will help you build good habits and avoid any toxic behaviors. For example, you can say, "After 2 p.m., I'm not applying for jobs anymore, and instead I am going to spend the afternoon improving my French speaking skills." Also, you should set up a Job Alert for the term or terms that may be contained in your ideal job. For example, if you're on the hunt for a writing job, set up job alerts for the words "writer," "editor," "content," and "content creator."
At this stage of your career, the focus should be to find a job that will give you skills and experience to help you build your foundation. While you shouldn't be too picky early on (ex: rejecting a good job because it's not your dream job), you should try to only apply for jobs that you feel will help move you in the right direction professionally.
Give yourself benchmarks, and reward yourself along the way. For example, you might say, "If I get five really good applications done in the next two days, I'll take myself for a pedicure." Celebrate yourself!
While academia provides a linear framework for you to work within, you'll have to get used to the ambiguity and uncertainty that exists when job searching and building your career. Finding the right job will not happen overnight, so keep calm, and remember your career will be a journey and not a final destination.
This article originally appeared on Glassdoor.com.