As a recent college graduate, I was eager to jump into the working world. I was ready to take the world by storm, but unsure exactly where to start. So like most recent grads, I moved in with a parent until I could figure things out. It was during this time that my dad shared some wisdom that has stayed with me to this day on how to pursue your dream career post-graduation.

After four years away from home, I wanted to move-out into my own place as soon as humanly possible. I was desperate to obtain any job in order to support myself, and set out to apply for the first position that would pay enough to indulge my independence…but my dad had other ideas, and it was a good thing he did.

1. Beginning the Job Search.

As I started my job search, my dad made me promise to organize my search into three tiers:

  1. The Dream Job
  2. Experience for the Dream Job
  3. The “Pay the Bills” Job.

At first, I was reluctant to do so. I didn’t see how following this advice would get me to my end goal of a career any faster. I wanted to just jump in and start sending out application after application, but my dad urged me to try things his way. So I did. Here is how he had me break out my search:

Tier One: The Dream Job

First, I applied to my dream jobs. These were the jobs where I really envisioned myself. While, as a child, I had dreamed of cruising through space as an astronaut, scuba diving as a marine scientist, and scouring the world’s historical sites as some sort of Indiana Jones adventure archaeologist, my dreams had been upgraded during high school and college to diplomacy and international affairs. Oooooh. Aaaaah.

You may wave your hand and say something to the effect of, “Nah, I would never be able to land that job out of school.” But don’t sell yourself short! Before closing out of that job application with an “I can’t” attitude, I’ll sprinkle in some of my mom’s advice as well. “‘I can’t’ never could do anything.” And you never know until you try.

Tier Two: Experience for the Dream Job

Next, I applied to positions that would help me gain the experience required to achieve my dream jobs, perhaps basic government or think tank positions. These are what I would call the “stair-step” positions.  

If you don’t get your dream job right away, don’t fret. Achieving your goals takes work, and your dream job should be a pretty big goal! More often than not, it is going to be necessary to build yourself a resume with a few years of experience, not just schooling. Although it is a frustrating conclusion to come to, a degree is not enough for many employers. They need to see a good deal of perseverance, hard-work and all-around grit.

Tier Three: The “Pay the Bills” Job

Lastly, I applied to everyday jobs that would pay my bills while I continued to apply and prepare for tier one and two jobs.

If you aren’t offered a position in one of your top tiers right out of school, there’s still no reason to fall apart. A response from employers regarding a specific position can, unfortunately, take months, during which most of us do not have the luxury to simply sit about unemployed.  Obtaining a “pay the bills” job is a great solution and can also teach you a lot if you are open to learn.

2. Moving Through the Process.

When I started the job search, I ran into a number of obstacles commonly faced by recent college grads. What does this job description actually mean? Why does every position require 5+ years of experience? How am I supposed to get that experience if no one will hire me? What was my degree even for?!  

I had a difficult time focusing on filling out pages of application documents, perfecting my resume and composing the proper references to apply for my dream positions. I felt that all of these things were slowing down my endeavors toward more immediate independence. But I needn’t have been so angsty.

After finishing my first and second tier applications, I realized that only a couple of weeks had gone by since my return home. I then applied en masse to my third tier “pay the bills” jobs and landed several interviews within days.

3. Realizing the Results.

While living at my dads, I applied to first and second tier positions I was interested in. After all my fuss, I had my basic “pay the bills” position within a month and ended up working for a dentist as a business assistant while I awaited responses from those first and second tier positions. I knew nothing about teeth and had no interest in dentistry, but I found an incredible person to work for and learned more than I ever would have imagined.

As a business assistant, I developed a knowledge base in marketing, financial analysis, administrative support, and a variety of other unexpected traits which not only contributed to my resume, but also gave me a much better understanding of the post-grad workforce.  

I received calls for interviews for my first and second tier positions during that month of working my third tier job. Ultimately, however, I had to wait over a year – between interviews and a background check – for my dream job with the U.S. State Department to come through, during which I was working another job to take care of my rent and student loans.

This system had allowed me to set the wheels in motion to fulfill my dreams, but also helped me attain a position to sustain myself in the meantime and gain additional experience.

Had I not applied to my first and second tier jobs at the beginning, it would have taken even longer for me to achieve my goals. Hiring processes can take longer than you want them to (though usually not a year), and educating yourself on how the application processes and interview procedures work early on is invaluable. If I had rushed into any old job right away, I may have become distracted and never applied to my dream job at all. When you obtain another position, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and focus on your greater goals.

4. Lessons Learned.

We live in a society that seeks instant gratification and lacks strategic planning. We must train ourselves to think and observe before acting or mimicking what everyone else is doing. Though societal norms in the U.S. often push college graduates to be independent soon after obtaining a degree, it is imperative to recognize that such norms are really just guidelines designed to prompt action. They should always be assessed in light of one’s own situation.

I challenge you to pursue your dreams. Dedicate the time to apply to your first tier dream jobs and your second tier stair-steps. Then do what you need to do to live your independence in the meantime. Good luck!

For more post-grad content, check out the articles below!

30 Life-Saving Tips for Crushing it in the Real World

7 Things No One Tells You About Post-Grad Life

5 Tricks For Paying Off Your Student Loans Like a Pro


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