Your Undergrad To-Do List Before You Start Your Career

By November 9, 2017 April 28th, 2020 Tips to Improve Performance

Last Updated on April 28, 2020 by Dave Schoenbeck

As college graduation gets nearer and nearer, you’re likely getting excited. Finally, after years of waiting and wanting to just be a “grown-up,” you’re going to enter the “real world” with no one to depend on but yourself.


Did I say “excited”? I meant “scared.”Your Undergrad To-Do List Before You Start Your Career

While this time of your life truly is exciting, it can also be downright terrifying. Starting your life as an adult holds a lot of uncertainty. Your work will become a big part of your life and chances are, you won’t find your dream job on the first try.

But don’t worry – you made it this far and you’ve got great things ahead! As you prepare to start your career, here are a few things to think about and work on. Your future self will thank you.

Learn time and self-management skills before you report to work.  

By the time you start your career, you will have developed basic skills. As your job becomes more complex and you’re asked to accept bigger challenges, your world will also become more complex and your capacity compressed.

This is one of the biggest challenges you will face when you start your career. The sad news is that you’ll rarely ever catch up. The important thing is to create a system that works for you and that will help you stay organized. For help, read Michael Linenberger’s The One Minute To Do List. Here’s the biggest takeaway to remember: Tasks must be in your calendar or they don’t happen.

Tony Robbins said it perfectly: “If you talk about it, it’s a dream. If you envision it, it’s possible. If you schedule it, it’s real.”

Hone your goal setting skills.   

Knowing how to set realistic and attainable goals is so important to your future success. As you start your career, you need to be able to do more than just set goals and arbitrarily work toward them – you must focus on what’s most important to you, create a tangible way to track your progress, and take specific actions.

Read The 4 Disciplines of Execution and learn about WIGs and lead and lag measurements (KPIs). I highly recommend using a tool like Trello to keep you focused on tasks that support your goals.

Be – do – have.

This is an idea that is worthy of your consideration before you start. In order to HAVE what you want as you start your career, you may have to BE a different person, and DO different things.

As you contemplate these things, it’s also important to draw lines. What things will you not do to preserve your integrity? Who do you refuse to become simply to please others? These questions are equally as important as the others.

Write out your beliefs and values.  

I have interviewed hundreds of job applicants and even spent a year interviewing college seniors for my employer. Those interviews taught me a lot about what makes the best candidates stand out.

As you start your career, the difference between you and the people sitting around you is how well you can communicate why you are unique. What makes the difference is how you describe who you really are.

Sure, you’ll be evaluated by an interviewer on how well your job skills fit the open position. But more importantly, you’ll also be evaluated based on how your personality will fit into the company’s culture.  

The best way for interviewers to do this chemistry check is to probe you about your values and beliefs. So, ask yourself: What is your unique value proposition?

Be aware of your “identity iceberg.”

Think of yourself as an iceberg: Your actions and words are above the waterline and your beliefs, experiences, and values are below the water.  

Before you start your career, write out your values and beliefs and then check over your list with a friend that knows you well and will give you honest feedback.

Develop a marketing plan for yourself.  

When you apply and interview for a job, essentially, you’re selling yourself and your skills. You’re explaining to an employer why you’re the best candidate out of their lineup. In essence, you’re marking yourself in the same way a business markets itself.

Businesses write marketing plans, so doesn’t it make sense that you would do the same for yourself and your job search? Here are some things to consider:

  • Who is your specific target market? Who isn’t?
  • What fears might the hiring manager have about hiring you and how can you overcome that fear?
  • What tools will you use to generate interest?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What is your unique selling proposition?
  • What do you stand for? What are your beliefs and values?
  • What is your “why” statement?

Practice your stand-up skills.

I don’t mean you have to be a comedian, but you do need to be aware of how well you communicate and where you can improve your overall skills.  This is much more important than you realize.

The marketplace rewards leaders that can influence their employees and customers.

Master written communication.

Written communication skills are critical. Clearly written, succinct, and error-free reports, emails, and notes are very important. Like it or not, you’ll be judged on how well you can express yourself in writing.   Work on your skills before you start your career.

Harness the power of social media.

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for job seekers these days. No matter where you are in your job hunt or as you start your career, you need an active LinkedIn profile. The more effort you put into your LinkedIn presence, the better your potential return.

It’s also wise to clean up your Facebook page or to reset your privacy controls. All recruiters and hiring managers will search the internet for your name and look at your profiles. Will you be proud or embarrassed by what they see? Ensure your profile depicts you in the light you want to be depicted in.

Find your best way to burn off stress.

Every job comes with its challenges and there will be times when you feel like your head is going to explode! This is when it’s time to take a step back and do something else.

Find something you enjoy that can help you de-stress. Go for a run. Have coffee with a friend. Cook a delicious meal. Play your musical instrument. Whatever it is, focus on what you love rather than what you’ve been stressing about. Finding a de-stressing outlet will be paramount to your career success.

Relocate to the biggest city you can stand. 

Now is the time to be adventurous while you are young. It will also help if you’re willing to relocate in the future. Those who are willing to move get the bigger jobs, more opportunities, and the bigger salaries. 

It’s true that the cost of living will go up in a bigger city but the potential for personal growth and wealth will greatly offset the costs.

Work on your personal “why” statement.  

Read Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action ,to completely understand the concept. In short, the idea is this: The marketplace understands what you do and how you do it, but what intrigues and attracts them is why you do it.

Look for an employer that has a great culture.

Research the culture of your potential employer and ask questions from employees. What is the company really like vs. the corporate written cultural statement (if you can find one)? If it feels weird, don’t accept the job.

If you do get hired and find out that the culture is dysfunctional, be an agent of change and consider starting another job search. Nothing dictates how long you stay and you owe that company nothing. Do what is best for you and if you do leave, leave things better than the way you found them.

Despite whatever nerves you may be feeling, this truly is an exciting time in life. Make the most of it! Don’t be afraid to question things and challenge yourself. With a little thought and intention, you’ll be able to start your career off on the right foot.

Need some help making a plan for your career path? Sign up to receive my weekly blog articles in your inbox and get closer to finding your right trajectory.

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Dave Schoenbeck
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