WashU Expert: 7 job search tips for graduates — and stressed out parents​​

​Stay flexible, positive and organized, says the Career Center's Mark Smith

For 25 years, Mark Smith, JD, associate vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University in St. Louis, has been helping new graduates – and their parents – cope with the stress of finding that first job.


Smith said there is no one right way to find a job, but experience has taught him graduates should stay flexible, positive and organized.

“The process can be scary, but it is also exhilarating,” Smith said. “And it is one that we repeat throughout our lives.”

Here, Smith shares seven tips for graduates and their parents:

1. Don’t despair

Graduates, you are not alone and your situation will change. Remember, this can be a difficult time, and your friends and family can help you through it.

Parents, remember that a lobster grows by shedding its exoskeleton and crawling under a big, safe rock until it can grow a new shell. Your little lobster has just shed his student exoskeleton. You are that big, safe rock your child may need to crawl under until he or she develops their new professional shell.

2. Change your way of thinking about your job search

Graduates, don’t model your job search on your college application process. It’s easy to fill out applications — most likely online — and wait to hear what happens. While that process works well for college or graduate school, it typically will not work for a job search. The appropriate job search paradigm is dating. It is all about meeting lots of people and finding the right fit. That means lots of networking and probably lots of rejections before you find the right position. This is particularly true in this market. Most positions won’t be posted.

Parents, think about people you know who could advise your child about his or her career search.

3. Figure out what you want to do

Graduates, this can be the scariest but also the most enjoyable part of the process. If you are unsure about your future, think about what you value, what you are good at, how you want to spend your life. Go to a good bookstore. They will have hundreds of books on different careers and career search strategies. When it starts working for you, it can be an incredibly exciting time of exploration and discovery.

Parents, help your child think about what makes him or her passionate and how that passion might convert to a career.

4. Get organized

Graduates, create a plan of attack with small attainable steps. Dedicate a certain amount of time each day to your search and make a job search folder. Keep various iterations of your cover letters, resumes and thank-you notes there. Also, create a spreadsheet to help you track contacts.

Parents, help your child break the process down into achievable goals.

Smith recommends students meet with experts in their campus career center. (Credit: James Byard/WUSTL Photos)

5. Use your college career office

Graduates, even if you never visited the office while you were a student, use their services now — but set your expectations appropriately. Don’t expect them to have a magic drawer full of jobs. What they do have is an ability to help you focus and execute your search – and they tend to have more time to work with you during the summer.

Parents, encourage your child to reach out to their career center — but know you can’t do it for them.

6. Don’t apply to grad or professional school unless you know why you are going

Graduates, it is tempting to go back to school because you “need to do something.” But be aware: graduate and professional school can increase your debt load without increasing job prospects. Don’t go to grad or professional school unless you know why you are going, where it leads, and that you want that career.

Parents, there are lots of law school graduates who don’t have prospects and are not sure they want to be lawyers. Don’t let your child be one of them.

7. Consider a volunteer or a part-time position

Graduates, while you are looking, volunteer on a political campaign or with a local agency or advocacy group. You will meet people who can help with your search. The experience will also prevent a gap on your resume. Also consider a post-graduate internship. If you can’t afford to be unpaid, take a temporary job. Remember though, your first priority should remain your job search.

Parents, while you certainly didn’t pay all of that college tuition so your child could take a volunteer position, this will help in the long run.

Many individuals never take the time to really think about what they want to do and how to do it. They just fall into something and either stay with it or bounce around without direction. While you can’t control everything in your life, this is your chance to think, learn, and discover opportunities that could result in a satisfying and exciting career rather than a mind-numbing job.