“One Great Leap”: Your First Steps After College

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“One Great Leap”: Your First Steps After College

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (Neil Armstrong)

Many of my fellow graduates may have felt as if they were stepping into the unknown after receiving their diploma — they probably didn’t feel much different than Neil Armstrong before his first step out of the Lunar Landing Module Eagle and onto the moon’s surface. Armstrong later expressed that the landing was his greatest concern, as the “unknowns were rampant.”
Much has changed in the engineering and technology world since that day in 1969. And while Millennials face a task not quite as daunting as Armstrong’s, they’re still facing a mission that requires the same meticulous planning and foresight. Jobs, especially good jobs, are hard to find in the competitive engineering and technology employment market: the “unknowns are rampant” there, too.
If you’re a Millennial trying to get your first engineering job, you have a lot of competition. You spent years trying to figure out what you actually want to do and making sure your major aligned with your dream job. Now you’re up against peers graduating with you and those already experienced in the workplace. It’s a challenge: but here are several ways to gain an edge as you prepare to land your first career:
Here are several ways to gain an edge as you prepare to land your first career:
1. Get some pertinent work experience.
Any professional work experience will help you skip ahead of other candidates, but engaging in an internship or co-op within your field of study is paramount.  An important determining factor for any hiring manager is previous experience.  My pertinent work experience began in my sophomore year of college as a technical writer with a large local company.  This was not my dream internship, but served as a resume builder and a source of income.  By the time I graduated, I had the advantage of three years of work experience, a combination of two internships.  The second internship is where I am landing for my first career step.
You can present a professional edge by interning and learning as much as possible. Pay attention to what kind of work you enjoy as well as the kind you don’t to narrow down job possibilities. And remember that even if you don’t start out with your dream job, there is plenty of time to work, gain knowledge, and find out what you actually like to do.
2. Don’t be afraid to try something new or share your ideas.
As an entry level employee, you’re part of the “new workforce” — a generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and new-venture owners. While your career goal might not be to become CEO of a large corporation, you might just have the next idea for a startup or mobile application. Each of us is unique and brings different ideas and experiences to the table. Remember that management might not be able to look at a project, job task, or solution from every angle. Learn as much as possible and don’t be afraid to share your unique perspective.
3. Network, network, network!
I went to every job fair on campus and beyond, collecting business cards and enough pens to last a lifetime. In fact, my first internship was the direct result of a conversation I had at a career fair. Seek out and attend professional events, join professional societies (many offer student discounts), and build your professional network. Find out how other professionals are presenting themselves online and in person. Create a profile on LinkedIn, start conversations, and gain connections through any medium. I cannot stress how important this is.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask “why?” (or “why not?”).
As you began to gain experience in the work force, don’t be afraid to dig deeper and ask questions. It’s important to learn how processes work, especially if you’d like to start your own business one day or rise in a company’s ranks. As you ask questions and understand the logic behind a company’s decisions, you’ll learn how to provide solutions. There’s a lot to learn when you’re first coming out of college. Even though you may have spent years in the classroom, actually getting out into the “real world” is different: you’re doing something far more serious than working for a grade. I learned that while some courses applied to my job description, positively affecting the revenue stream at my company is a much bigger responsibility than trying to get an ‘A’.
5. Take the initiative.
Are you looking to advance? Work your way up to management from an entry-level position? The way to make your skill set indispensable is to become a problem solver. Identify your employer’s problems and find solutions. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond to present yourself as a valuable employee. Whatever you set your mind to, make sure you do your absolute best. Excellence will set you apart in the workforce.
Am I a “lucky one” to be offered a full time position at the very same company where I interned? I don’t think it was luck, because I had a plan for both college and the next step: my career. As graduation approached, my years of hard work and dedication to meticulous planning paid off, because I was free of the burden of a daunting job search. I did not face the “rampant unknown” because the company acknowledged my dedication to excellence.

Best of luck to all new graduates in landing your dream career, and taking that first “giant leap!”
Image Source: Freepik

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