Navigating Your Job Search During and After Graduate School

When's the right time to begin a job search during graduate school?

The first day of class.

That might sound daunting, but in order be in the best position to recoup the $24,000 a year you’ll spend for a graduate degree, the earlier you plan your job search, the better. Here are six steps you can take to get and stay on track.

graduate school job search

Reverse engineer your dream job

Even if you’re off the market, comb job postings in your field and with your dream companies. Keep a running list of the skills, training, and experiences listed. You’ll begin to see trends.

And these trends are your roadmap. Use them to create a punch list of what you need to accomplish in grad school and set out to check off as many of them as you can.

Optimize your coursework

Though you won’t have many options in your graduate-school workload, make smart choices when there is an opportunity for flexibility.

If you’re planning a career in human resources, an elective on employment law would not only give you additional needed knowledge, but also an advantage in a job interview if you’re up on the latest. Similarly, if you’re in a technical field, look for classes on data security or privacy protection. Pick up a few undergraduate classes if you need to. It will be easier now than after you’ve finished your master’s.

Put your skills to work now

This is more of a challenge for older students, particularly those who are juggling jobs and family obligations. If you want to stand out in a sea of recent graduates, though, it helps to leave school with more than a diploma and a capstone project.

Internships or externships are the obvious places to start. Reach out to former employers and see if there’s an opportunity for part-time or contract work. Also consider work as a research or teaching assistant.

Don’t overlook volunteering. Find an issue or cause about which you’re passionate, and put your new and old skills to work. Not many nonprofits are going to turn down free help. The same goes for small or new businesses.

Take advantage of your college’s resources

Check in with your school’s placement office far earlier than you think you need to—career services centers sometimes hear about internship opportunities as well as full-time positions—and stay in touch.

Start reading alumni newsletters, too. This will alert you to potential connections at companies in which you’re interested. Ask your professors if they could arrange an introduction if you run across a possible contact.

LinkedIn also does a great job at identifying alumni of your college or university, so keep an eye out there, too. Your LinkedIn profile is updated, isn’t it? If not, get to work.

Everything is a job-search opportunity

Aside from what you learn, a bigger advantage of grad school can be the people you meet along the way. Make sure you seize every opportunity.

When a guest lecturer is scheduled, buttonhole her afterward with an intelligent question. Ask for a business card and follow up with an additional question. Don’t feel guilty: Guest lecturers and students often are in symbiotic relationships. Many speakers are hoping to recruit, just as you’re hoping to be recruited.

Attend mixers or job fairs on campus. It’s an opportunity to talk to company representatives in a more relaxed atmosphere. Join professional organizations, too. Keep collecting those business cards and continue reaching out.

Make sure you make your job search a priority

It’s so easy to let the job search fall off the radar in the flurry of projects and papers. You don’t want to neglect family and friends either. Still, sustained attention now can help ward off that panicky feeling come graduation day.

Commit to spending a little time every week on your job search. Set aside a few minutes early Monday morning or, if you need to make a more formal commitment, set a recurring appointment on your calendar. Include a reminder so you’re not tempted to blow it off.

Proactive steps such as checking in with resources on campus, taking advantage of networking opportunities, and putting your new skills to use now won’t guarantee a job when you graduate. It will increase your chances, though.

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