The closer most college students get to graduation, the more likely it is that they’re thinking about how, and where, they’ll start their new careers. But how confident and optimistic are they about their prospects in today’s job market?

In Cengage Learning’s recent Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked college students: “Do you think you’ll get a job right after graduation?”

Of the 3,249 students who responded to the question, an overwhelming majority—92%—are fairly confident that they will find a job after graduation. Half of the respondents said they’d definitely find a job post-graduation, while 42% expressed that they believed that, more than likely, they’d find employment after college. We admire their confidence… but we also know that solid preparation will help them start their searches successfully.

College students' job-search confidence

Job-Search Confidence: Tips for Starting the Career Search on a Successful Note

As with most endeavors, it’s important to understand where you want to go—and how you’re going to get there—before setting out on the journey. For the job search, it pays to make time for self reflection and self assessment part of the process.

In The Ultimate Job Hunter’s Guidebook, Seventh Edition, authors Susan D. Greene and Melanie C.L. Martel recommend creating a top-ten list of potential careers that “…match your values, skills, temperament, and interests” (15). Where to begin?

1. The first step is to understand your values, skills, temperament, and interests. By knowing these things about yourself—which represent the core of who you are—you’ll be better prepared to home in on the potential careers that best suit you.

2. Next, based on this self understanding, brainstorm a list of ten (or more) careers that you may want to pursue. At this point, don’t be concerned about ranking them in a particular order. You’ll return to the list and re-evaluate it later.

Need a jump start? Work through the three exercises from the text that we’ve summarized below:

  • Journal about your dreams, ideals, and abilities. What did you want to be when you “grew up”? What talents and abilities seemed to come naturally to you? What kinds of jobs could bring you joy and fulfillment on a regular basis? Your answers to these questions will give you some direction; make note of any observations you have based on these responses.
  • Take stock of your personal strengths. It’s OK to take pride in the skills, talents, and character qualities that set you apart! What personal qualities have prompted compliments from friends, instructors, family members, and fellow co-workers or volunteers? What were your best classes in school? What awards have you won, and what achievements have you earned? Where and when do you feel most competent and confident? Again: the way you answer these questions will serve as guides as you start to identify potential careers.
  • Make a honest and realistic assessment of your priorities. If you want an entry-level job that will give you a jump-start on a particular career path, consider ones that would provide you with the skills and experience to take you down that road. As another example: If you have strong interests and significant responsibilities outside of work, then focus on jobs that would allow you to stay on a particular schedule or make flexible use of your time. As you evaluate your priorities, consider where such factors as family considerations, commute time, salary and benefits, vacation time, opportunities for growth and development, and job stability fit on the list.

3. Take online career assessment inventories to learn more about yourself and the jobs you may be best suited for. Many are free, and some cost money. (Do remember that the quality of the assessment may be reflected in its cost!) Complete as many of these as you can, and observe the trends. Do certain careers appear on several of your results? If they appeal to you, add them to your list.

4. Seek the advice of others. Stop in to your college’s Career Services department and make an appointment to discuss your career paths with a professional. These individuals can administer helpful and reliable career assessments, and they can also give you personalized advice and recommendations based on your results. (You might also enlist the assistance of a credentialed psychologist, but you will likely find that they charge a fee that may or may not be covered by health insurance.) Also consider taking a career-planning course or seminar.

Of course, “non-professionals” can provide valuable perspective as well. Make a list of the people whose opinions you trust and respect. Ask them to describe your strengths and share their thoughts about the careers they think you could be suited for.

5. Take action! You’ve evaluated and identified your strengths. Now, consider the areas in which you need to develop or improve, and commit to working on them. Are you lacking a set of particular technical skills? Take courses that will enable you to gain the skills you need for the jobs you want to have. Do you need to develop a larger network of contacts? Endeavor to get outside your “comfort zone” and attend gatherings of like-minded people in your desired profession. Need to improve your written or verbal communication skills? Take a class or seminar that allows you to build your communication competence.

6. Clarify your thoughts about the type of job you want… and where you want to work it. Do you want something full time or part time? Do you mind working on an hourly schedule, or would you prefer a salary? Would you rather spend most of your time working independently or in a group or team? Do you like working in an office setting, or would you want a job that allows you to work outdoors? How much stress can you tolerate? Do you prefer working with people, “things,” ideas, or information? Do you mind having a job that’s more than fifteen minutes from your home? Would you enjoy traveling for work? Questions like these will help you determine the types of positions you should seek, as well as the settings in which you would prefer spending your work hours.

Once you’ve completed these steps, Greene and Martel recommend that you conduct additional research on potential careers identified through this process. With this additional knowledge in hand, return to your top ten, and begin paring your list of options down to one or two career goals that represent the best avenues for you to pursue. (Greene and Martel, 15-26)

By following this process thoroughly, job seekers will be well prepared to start seeking employment with confidence!

How do you encourage students to boost their job-search confidence? Share your suggestions and advice in the comments.


Reference: Greene, Susan D. and Melanie C.L. Martel. 2015. The Ultimate Job Hunter’s Guidebook, Seventh Edition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.