Career advice for recent college grads

Kennedy graduates toss their caps into the air.
John F. Kennedy High School graduates toss their caps in the air at the end of commencement exercises on Thursday, June 2, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Graduates are in luck—the job market is the best it's been in a decade. So how can they take advantage of that?

MPR News host Chris Farrell spoke with Georgene Huang, founder and CEO of and Caroline Kitchener, the author of "Post-Grad: Five Women and Their First Year out of College." They provided these six tips for recent graduates.

Use the audio player above to listen to the entire discussion.

1. Find a good boss and mentor.

At the beginning of your career, the job itself is sometimes less important than who you're working for and with. During interviews it's important to ask about the culture of the work environment. A good manager or good boss will take that question seriously, said Huang.

"We grow up and still need role models," she said.

Kitchener said mentorship can't be forced and your boss won't always be your mentor. She wrote a series on mentorships for The Atlantic and said that finding a mentor is more than just asking someone. Pairing up with a colleague on a project can help develop that relationship naturally and is mutually beneficial.

2. Make your career path work with your passions

Pursue opportunities that could further your career but are still enjoyable.

Kitchener moved to China when she graduated, which didn't have anything to do with the career she ultimately pursued, "but it's something I can connect with people about," she said.

Yet, Huang said, some people don't work like that. Huang went into a traditional career path because it was important to her to have a job after college.

"There's a balance here," said Kitchener, "between wandering aimlessly and wandering with a direction in mind."

3. Apply for jobs, no matter your experience.

You're supposed to have experience to get a job, but you can't gain experience without a job.

Internships are a way to add a line to your resume, but most are unpaid and aren't an option for students graduating with debt. Huang said don't be afraid to apply for jobs you aren't qualified for.

"Make the case that you have relevant or similar experiences," said Huang.

Also, demonstrate that you can learn quickly.Programs like AmeriCorps and teaching English abroad are great ways to gain work experience.

4. Don't be afraid to negotiate your salary and research benefits.

Negotiating can seem awkward but can be worth it. If you're the sole person holding a job title in the organization, you have some leverage and negotiating is easier than ever before because of the internet. Research what salaries are appropriate for your job title.

Also, benefits are important even if they don't apply to you. "If a company has parental leave, that is an indication of how it treats its people," said Huang.

Benefits might eventually become important if you plan on working with that organization for a long time. Connecting with a benefited employee who is also a parent and asking about the programs available is a great way to get that information without having to go to human resources.

5. Create a network, even before graduation.

Making friends with professors is a way to develop a network of people with connections to the job market, said Kitchener.

At first, she didn't feel comfortable doing that herself. "It seemed disingenuous," she said. Then, one professor required that every person in their seminar meet with him every week. "And that person became hugely important in my career."

Students should go to their professor's office hours and get to know them. Professors can provide letters of recommendation and are often connected to jobs in the field they teach.

6. Keep in mind leaving a job isn't a sign of failure.

Thanks to the job market, recent graduates won't be penalized for leaving a job. They'll likely be able to find something else.

Huang went to law school, studied for the bar and spent six months at a practice before realizing that just wasn't for her. Leaving a job can also be because of bad experiences with supervisors or the culture of the work place.

It's a difficult lesson to learn but Huang says chalk it up to experience and move on.