Three job search tips for new and recent graduates

A young woman works on her laptop and mobile phone

As each semester closes and college careers conclude, many new (and recent) graduates are thinking about how to land a job in their new field. For many, job searching can be overwhelming.

We asked Counseling and Career Development alumna Katy Piotrowski (’92) for tips on how to approach the job searching process.

Three tips for job searchers

Tip 1: Focus, focus, focus

“If you’re a fresh grad and you don’t have a plan, you’re kind of at the mercy of job postings,” said Piotrowski. “More than likely, you’ll end up finding something that isn’t really a good match, starting you on a whole path of career frustration. So, new grads, almost-grads, or anyone who isn’t happy in their current career situation: if you don’t know what you want, then figure out what you want before starting your search.”

To find a job to focus on, Piotrowski suggests looking into any careers that seem appealing. After getting a general idea on what seems interesting and what does not, job searchers can use resources such as the CSU Career Center to find alumni in their desired career path. By contacting alumni and having a career research conversation, job searchers can determine whether or not they should invest in the job they’re interested in.

By focusing on a specific career, recent graduates are less likely to be at the mercy of job postings. Instead, they can find connections and fill open positions by using the connections they’ve gained.

Tip 2: Research and conversation

After deciding a career to focus on, the next step is research. Researching prospective employers and brainstorming with the decision makers at related companies to determine next steps allows job searchers to learn more about jobs and create a robust network. Piotrwoski suggests connecting with Human Resource directors or job recruiters on LinkedIn.

“Generally, people like to brainstorm,” she said. “One of my favorite job search networking phrases is asking if someone would be willing to brainstorm some next steps. Connect with individuals on LinkedIn and initiate that conversation. Ask them for other ideas and other workplaces to consider. That can lead to a helpful conversation which can build a relationship and develop a rapport, so you can build a potential group of people who are looking out for you. And when something does become available, you are more likely to be considered for opportunities.”

Knowing that LinkedIn can be difficult to navigate, Piotrowski suggests two specific activities. First, grow your network of connections. Keeping an open mind in connecting with others is essential to creating a large LinkedIn network.

“Once you reach 500 connections,” said Piotrowski, “algorithms kick in to boost a lot more views of your personal page. Contacting companies and recruiters for advice is a quick way to gain a larger network.”

Second, Piotrowski advises paying attention to LinkedIn’s “back end.”

“It’s important to pay attention to the preferences you select,” she said. “Recruiters can see much more about your profile than the average person.”

Tip 3: Leverage internships and practicums

To gain connections and find opportunities, finding or creating internships and practicums can jumpstart your involvement in a desired field.

“If you can swing it, get your foot in the door with a short-term internship or a practicum,” said Piotrowski. “If the position doesn’t exist at a company where you really have an interest, create it! My experience is that 50% of those do turn into regular, full-time work.”

Taking the steps to reach out to companies and recruiters through LinkedIn and to propose an internship if there isn’t one available will benefit your job prospects in the long run.

Expert knowledge gained through real experience

Katy Piotrowski

An alumna of the CCD master’s program, Piotrowski focuses on career transitions. After graduating, Piotrowski interned for Career Track, a company focused on helping adults with career progress.

“When I finished my degree, I wanted to work for a business that helped adults in career transition,” she said. “There was one here in Fort Collins called Bernard Haldane and Associates, and I thought it would be a good idea to do an internship with them. I contacted the head of the office – they didn’t have an opening for an internship, but the current career advisor had just given his notice. They asked me if I would be interested in the role, so I interviewed and was offered the job. I had zero real world experience and he pretty much threw me in with really experienced professional clients who were trying to make progress in their careers.”

Being new to the field, Piotrowski was tentative at first. But she was able to learn the ropes through experience and the advice of her colleagues.

“I remember, in one class, my CSU adviser Nat Kees said, ‘You don’t need to be way ahead of your client; you just need to be an inch ahead of your client,’” said Piotrowski. “That was how I felt – like I was an inch ahead of my client. I would check out resources and contact my former teachers at CSU when I ran into challenges.” 

A few short years later, in 1998, Piotrowski opened up her own practice, Career Solutions Group, to continue to aid adults through career transitions. Since then, Piotrowski has supported more than 5,000 clients, growing her client list through advertising, marketing, and building new relationships.

Along with her own practice, Piotrowski wrote a long-running career advice column for The Coloradoan, Fort Collins’ local newspaper. The column allowed her to learn about and educate others on various careers.

“I loved writing the column, because it kept me learning about new things,” she said. “I would spend my days considering what I could write about that would be helpful for readers. I was constantly on the lookout for information that would be useful to the reader which in turn was useful for me because it helped me grow.”

Her commitment to supporting clients by growing her own skills and understanding didn’t end with the column, however.

“The column was a very cool opportunity that led me to write a series of five books called The Career Coward Guides,” said Piotrowski. “The books were based on the fact that many clients are tentative about taking steps in identifying a career or making a career change. The books provided advice on real microscopic steps forward.”

Piotrowski is has also worked with New Belgium Brewery and other leading northern Colorado employers on a self-directed career tool to helpemployees advance and growtheir skills. This project led her to develop a series of self-directed career videos featuring ten forward-thinking organizations, which she converted to a set of training modules delivered via a Software-as-a-Service platform called CareerWow.

“70 percent of people are unsure about their next career,” said Piotrowski. “CareerWow helps my clients research careers to find one that interests them, then interview those who are already in that career to see if it might be a good fit. It provides a roadmap to help my clients connect with those already in the industry, helping them understand how they might transfer their knowledge and expertise into a new career.”

The Counseling and Career Development master’s degree is offered by the School of Education, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.