Tips for Recent Grads: How to Find a Great Career, Not Just a Good Job

August 2015 | Riviera Partners

It’s the time of year again when recent graduates test the fiercely competitive job market and look to begin establishing themselves professionally. The good news is that college hiring is expected to increase 9.6% for grads in 2015. Still, it’s a competitive market out there,...

It’s the time of year again when recent graduates test the fiercely competitive job market and look to begin establishing themselves professionally. The good news is that college hiring is expected to increase 9.6% for grads in 2015. Still, it’s a competitive market out there, and you’re going to want to stand out. In my experience, there are key traits that differentiate good careers from great careers. The leading industry executives you see today have not earned their positions by accident. What some may view as overnight success is often the fruit of driven people making intentional decisions about which companies they work for, who they work with and where they see themselves going.

My greatest piece of advice to new graduates looking to start their careers is to always have a plan. Be proactive. Take chances and make stuff happen. Here are a couple of recommendations that will help a new graduate to not only find a good job, but begin a great career.

Get the education you need

It’s no secret that there’s an ongoing talent war waging in Silicon Valley. Nearly every tech company is on the lookout for tech-savvy engineers armed with the right skills to grow with them. Needless to say, graduating with a degree in the Computer Science/Engineering fields will help your resume find the top of the stack.

The competition is fierce, and it’s always in your best interest to brush up on the current tools of the trade. Consider taking supplementary classes, courses or trainings to strengthen your programming–Java, .net, Ruby on Rails and Mobile platform development are all skills that are (and will continue to be) in high demand.

Remember that you’re playing in a crowded pool

Think you have the next great startup idea? Maybe you do–but maybe you don’t. There are tons of new startups popping up everywhere and a lot of them have some really interesting ideas. However, to truly differentiate yourself from them all, where does your idea take the playing field where those others don’t? The hottest markets (gaming, mobile, cloud storage, e-commerce and social networking) are driving the creation of new services and applications on a daily basis; while they are great niches that will see a lot of growth in the coming years, if your idea can’t blow away the competition, you might want to reconsider.

Don’t just look for a boss, look for a mentor

A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go. Look for someone who has had great successes and is now currently doing what you would like to be doing some day and get some pointers. A mentor can also help maneuver against obstacles early in your career. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, says one of his mentors, the late Professor Rajeev Motwan,  I was able to help guide he and co-founder Larry Page through early technical and organizational challenges. Spending a couple of years under a good mentor who can teach you the small nuances not found in training manuals will help you acquire the experience that no title can bring.

Find a great company

And not just the companies you see on the news, or the next hot ticket going public. While researching open positions in companies, ask yourself does this company have good investors? Have they done great things before? What are their past successes? What is the opportunity for future success? Do they address a large market? Do they bring creativity to the table? Look for “yeses” in multiple categories.

People are key

When Kevin Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite, was asked how he became such a successful investor and entrepreneur, he credited a majority of his success to “trying to find really talented, smart people and [staying] close to them.” Remember that you will spend more waking hours alongside the people you work with than you will with your family (especially in a startup environment). Find great teams where you can do something you love with people you enjoy being around.

Passion is everything

If you ever have to make the decision between passion or money, choose passion every time. It wasn’t money that inspired Andrew Mason to come up with Groupon. Rather, it was a $175 cell phone cancellation fee. Mason, co-founder of Groupon, felt that the Internet could be leveraged as a great resource to help people come together and solve problems collectively. The rest is Silicon Valley history–Groupon eventually came to be because of Mason’s passion behind rallying people toward a common goal.

Passion gets you the things money can’t buy. It will keep you invigorated when working long hours or through the weekend. Passion keeps new ideas flowing and motivates you and the team around you to keep pushing the envelope and reach the next level. Simply, passion fuels greatness.