A simple trajectory is hard to find after graduation. “We kind of lose our footing,” says career coach Elatia Abate, AB’99, MBA’08. (Photography by Dan Dry)

Below: Portrait of Abate. (Courtesy Elatia Abate)

You’re graduating. Now what?

What should rising fourth-years do if they’re unsure about the future?

There’s no small comfort in knowing the structure of every academic quarter for four years. Although students complain about midterms, reading assignments, and problem sets, the prospect of leaving the familiar and entering the wider world looms large over fourth-years. For those who are not on a preprofessional or graduate school track, it may be particularly daunting. Elatia Abate, AB’99, MBA’08, knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by the postcollege job search. “I had no freaking clue what I wanted to do,” says Abate, who considered becoming an attorney until working as a paralegal after college changed her mind. She’s since explored various professional paths, ultimately finding her way as a career coach. “Before we graduate from college, the way that our universe works is really linear, and our measures of success are clear,” Abate explains. But a simple trajectory is hard to find after graduation. “We kind of lose our footing,” she admits. Here are four steps to guide the journey.

Step one

Start exploring while you’re still in school. Begin searching right away—but don’t look for a job. Pick two or three fields that you might be interested in, and then allow yourself 10 weeks to “really be in an active process of discovery,” says Abate. Use this time to be inquisitive and research the career tracks, future opportunities, day-to-day challenges, and pros and cons of each field. Begin to familiarize yourself with vocabulary and industry jargon. “It’s in this process of discovery that not only will you get to learn about a potential industry that you’re going into,” Abate says, “but then you’ll get to compare how that industry fits with what you’ve studied, what you feel like you want to do, and what’s interesting, exciting, and challenging to you.”

Step two

Know—and reach out to—your connections. Scroll through the contacts on your phone, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Make use of your parents’ connections as well as your network from RSOs or Greek life. If you still find yourself stuck, look in the alumni directory. “The outreach is initially really brief and really simple,” Abate says. Send an email that says, "Hi, my name is x. I’m getting ready to graduate, and I’m thinking about going into this particular industry. Would you have 10 or 15 minutes to share some of your insights and experiences with me over the phone?" People are far more likely to say yes to a phone call than to coffee. Prepare for the conversation by coming up with a list of questions and ranking them in order from most to least important. That way, if the call is curtailed, the most important questions will be answered. 

Step three

Don’t rush into more schooling. If you are not sure, wait. “I would pause before spending all that money and time,” Abate cautions. Although this advice may seem obvious, many forgo it in favor of the track-driven structure of further education. “People are confused,” Abate says, alluding to her own foray into law. “We’re so lost that we pick the logical thing, or something that our roommate’s doing, or something that our parents recommend.” If you’re still uncertain, test the waters by working in a related field rather than going straight into that professional or PhD program; waiting is better than eventual dissatisfaction.

Step four

Just don’t worry. “I can’t stress this enough: there is no one perfect anything,” Abate says. So stop fretting about landing the perfect job, and focus on finding something that will help you discover your path in the world. If you think of the job search as an adventure, as a collection of experiences that you’re going to create throughout your life, a lot of the pressure goes away.