Are you worried about graduation day? Are you working hard in school so you can ignore the fact that you have no idea what to do when you take off the graduation cap?
So was I.
In fact, I was so worried about not getting a job as a freshman, that even though I was already swimming competitively 20 hours a week and going to school full time, I still applied and worked an unpaid internship.
Fast forward 5 years later to my last year in university.
The CEO slid two offers across the table: one to renew my part-time contract for another 4 months and another for a full-time permanent position for my dream job when I graduated.
In this article, I’ll teach you the 6 steps you need to take so that you can have your dream job when you graduate, too.
I’ll also cover the 6 qualities you need to develop to support those steps so you can succeed in the real world.
Let’s dive in.
Step #1: Face Your Reality
Before you can pick a destination to travel to, you need to have a clear picture of where you’ll travel from.
Maybe you’re in a liberal arts program and your career opportunities are less defined than say, someone who has a business degree. You’ll need to give yourself more time to figure out and lock in those opportunities.
Maybe you’re really good at networking, but don’t have any functional skills to offer to your new contacts. Give yourself a few months to a year to try out different interests and find something you would want to become an expert in.
- What do I want my future to look like?
- What do I have to work with? What are my strengths?
- What’s standing in my way? What are my weaknesses?
This requires self-awareness and honesty. You need to look in the metaphorical mirror and assess your current situation, even though it might be hard to look. To do that you need…
Quality #1: Hyperrealism
When you summon up the courage and force yourself to face reality again and again, you develop the quality of hyperrealism or brutal honesty — a trait that billionaire Ray Dalio highlights in his book Principles.
He built one of the biggest investment funds in the world, but to succeed in doing that, he had to stare reality in the face time and time again, whether that was a rising or falling stock market.
He couldn’t just ignore and sweep facts under the rug because he was scared. His success depended on him accepting reality and dealing with it.
You may not run a multi-billion dollar hedge fund and have hundreds of employees. But your personal success depends on your ability to be brutally honest about your situation, your strengths, and your weaknesses and to do something about them.
Step #2: Have a General Direction (But Start ASAP)
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today. — Chinese proverb
Once you’ve faced reality and taken stock of who you are and where you are, you should start executing on your plan right away.
If you start early enough, you will have enough time and room to course-correct when you make mistakes.
For example, for my first job, I started asking professionals out for coffee 3 months before summer applications even opened. Starting early gave me the time to really dig into which jobs and companies I wanted to work for.
If a professional talked about their job and it turned out to be more boring than I thought, I didn’t have to waste time applying or working an entire summer for that company. I could just reach out to a professional in a different industry and learn more about that.
To get my dream job I did something similar: I applied and started working part-time for my dream company a good 7 months before I graduated.
Quality #2: Daily Urgency and Long-Term Patience
We get overwhelmed because we tend to overestimate how much we can get done in a day, while underestimating how much we can get done in a year.
I stole this line from Gary V, who calls this concept “macro patience and micro speed”:
The idea is that once you start working towards your goals, whether that’s a dream job out of graduation or a spot in a prestigious MBA program, you need to be plug away day in and day out, while never taking your eyes off the prize.
While I was applying for my first job, even after doing 10-15 coffee chats and making countless connections, I still got rejected from companies. Fortunately, when you rack up a dozen coffee chats, the useful ones tend to outnumber the ones that go nowhere.
For me, one of those coffee chats turned into a phone call with the recruiter for a bank. And that phone call turned into the recruiter fast-tracking my application and landing me an interview before the job application deadline even ended.
Step #3: Build Multiple Safety Nets
You can only learn from the mistakes you survive. — Jim Collins, Great by Choice
Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are not bigger risk-takers. They just perceive risk differently. They also work to avoid and minimize as many risks as they can.
Similarly, I had a trump card that effectively removed the risk that the interview posed: I wasn’t afraid of losing the job because I had other options and side hustles.
For one, I knew that I could always interview for another company if this didn’t work out. By this time, I’d built up a resume that spanned 2-3 industries in every size of company, from small startups to Fortune 500 firms. I also had my blog and freelance writing on the side, so if I didn’t get a job after graduation, I could always do those.
This allowed me to relax, talk freely, and treat the interview as a meet-and-greet with my future boss. In fact, I told him about my side hustles, too, because I wanted to be honest and lay all my cards on the table.
And the reason I had all these safety nets in place was because I (unknowingly) practiced…
Quality #3: Productive Paranoia
I picked up this principle from Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice. In it, he talks about the concept of “productive paranoia.” Productive paranoia means identifying and dealing with the What If’s in a situation and being more than prepared should those What If’s happen:
- What if you’re planning on getting a 6-figure job after you graduate to pay off your debt, but the job market crashes?
- What if you spend so much that you only have less than $5,000 in your bank account at any given time… And then you suddenly need to pay for car expenses? (Based on a true story)
- What if AI got so good that companies stopped hiring engineers? (Hey, it could happen.)
I’m not saying you should be like your mom and worry all the time (love you, mom!).
Instead, you should let yourself worry and go do something about your fears in case they do happen.
Step #4: Learn to Network Your Way
Your network is your net worth. — Porter Gale
Building a professional network is the best safety net you can have. Talking to professionals in the field will help you know which hard skills to develop, help you hone and showcase your soft skills, and maybe even get you a job (but don’t ask for it directly! There are more finessed ways of doing this).
When I talk about building one your way, I mean meeting people professionally in a way that suits your personality.
Maybe it’s coffee meetings. Maybe it’s networking events. Maybe it’s signing up for a service like TenThousandCoffees.com
Learn what works best for you and do that because if you do what everyone else is doing, you won’t develop…