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A graduate degree opens doors to new opportunities, but the degree alone doesn’t guarantee you a job. I’ve worked with many students who think that if they get an advanced degree in a particular field, they’ll immediately be qualified and marketable. That’s just not the case in many career fields — the gold standard in the hiring process is still relevant work experience. Here are five recommendations I make for students embarking on a new career after earning a master’s degree.

First, be realistic.

If you have a master’s degree but no relevant work experience, it can be difficult to find a job in that field, even an entry-level one. Hiring managers tend to be leery of applicants with advanced degrees when the position doesn’t require it, suspecting that person is probably going to move on as soon as he or she has gained the requisite entry-level experience. Most employers don’t want to hire someone who’s only going to be there a few months before looking for their next career advancement.

Instead, get work experience before you graduate.

This is harder for students who have career and family obligations, but if possible, complete an internship as part of your graduate program, which can serve as your de facto first job and position you for the next step after graduation. If time is too tight for that, take on a research or consulting project that involves working within your chosen field outside the classroom. Be sure to add such accomplishments to your resume and LinkedIn profile and mention them during interviews. Even if you weren’t paid for this work, it’s still an example of the practical, hands-on experience employers are looking for.

Talk to the counselors in your graduate school’s career center — and don’t wait until your last semester.

Most master’s programs prepare you to go into a general career field rather than a specific occupation. Career counselors can help you narrow that field down to particular occupations you might enjoy and can suggest tools, like informational interviews and job shadowing, for finding out if the day-to-day reality matches your expectations. They can also explain what it takes to be a marketable candidate for that position — something you don’t want to discover at the end of your program when you’re already applying to jobs. If you talk with a career advisor early, you can identify skills or experiences that are lacking and develop a plan to acquire those while there’s still time.

Find out what skills and experience employers are looking for by studying job postings in your field.

Read the LinkedIn profiles of people whose careers you admire. Research the jobs they held, and observe the point at which they acquired a graduate degree. If you see patterns in their profiles, those may be a clue to what it takes to advance in this field.

Use the momentum of your graduate program to enter your new field immediately.

If you wait several years after completing your degree to seek work in a new career field, it’s probably going to get harder. Applying for advanced opportunities or changing career fields close to the time you complete your master’s degree will demonstrate that this is part of an intentional, long-term plan. If your work experience is limited, you can show your commitment by joining relevant professional associations while you’re in school (be sure to add those to your resume and LinkedIn profile). Explicitly communicate to prospective employers that you are moving into a new field and detail all the things you’ve done while in your master’s program to prepare.

Ray Rogers is the director of Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University.

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