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Ag degree in hand, how do you take the next step?


Graduating college is a bittersweet time for most. I hope everyone can reminisce about their great experiences like I often do! It can be sad, or even a little scary, to think about transitioning from a college student to a professional — but the latter can have its perks as well (e.g., finally some extra money!). This article will focus mainly on recommendations for those of you searching for a job, but the tips are generally applicable to pursuing a graduate degree as well. Even if you already have a job lined up, following these simple rules can help increase your chances of landing a more desirable job should you so choose.

1. Make sure your resume is up to date and professional.

Before you start looking for jobs (if you haven’t already) you should make sure you have a top-notch resume. In many cases this will be the first thing employers see, and therefore may determine whether you even get considered for a job. Know what makes you stand out from the crowd and try to make your resume highlight those features and accomplishments. Speak with someone who has seen a lot of resumes to give you feedback on yours. An advisor or person in management at an ag company would be a good bet, since a “good” resume can be highly field-dependent.

2. Keep your head on a swivel when looking for jobs.

Unfortunately, there’s no all-encompassing, comprehensive list of available jobs. Finding the right opening may require browsing websites, looking through journals, and talking to local companies and/or agencies (see next tip). As a side note: Keep in mind that the more effort a job posting takes to find, the less likely it is to get a lot of applicants.

3. Network, network, network.

This is a big one — and potentially the most difficult for many of us. My perception of the ag industry so far is that we still value a handshake and face-to-face communication more than many other sectors. If you’re a natural “people-person,” then this may be simple for you. If not, it may feel unnatural calling or approaching people to ask about job prospects. This is a common feeling, but it almost never hurts to ask. However, knowing the proper timing, frequency, and method for job-hunting is important. Constantly calling a potential employer at home, for example, will almost definitely hurt your chances. Career fairs, on the other hand, are an obvious setting to sell yourself and ask about job openings. Even if you’ve already submitted an application to a company, putting a face to the name with the people screening applicants can give you a big advantage! If you know someone with a management position at an agricultural business then it may help to approach them about job availability first, even if you know they aren’t hiring. Like most things, practice and perseverance are important when seeking employment.

4. Think long term, because you may not find your dream job immediately.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic by suggesting this, only realistic. There is only a certain number of each job available at one time. So, depending on your dream job, an opening existing in your area at the exact time you graduate may be unlikely. But luckily, there’s an overall surplus of jobs in agriculture right now. This means you should be able to find a job, but relocating or starting with a less-than-ideal position may be necessary. This doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream job! I only imply that being flexible in the first few years may increase your marketability while waiting for your perfect career to become available. If you find yourself waiting for a specific position, then check with your future employer on occasion to divulge your interest and inquire about when it will be open. A company may begin thinking about a replacement for someone months, or even years, before he or she retires. Networking and planning for these opportunities could greatly reduce the amount of time before landing the job you really want.

5. Take a trip.

This may not seem like it fits in with the rest of the tips, but I think it’s worth including. You’re probably studying for exams, looking for (and hopefully accepting) a job, and maybe even getting ready for a big move soon. So before “real life” starts, it may be a good idea to take a quick trip and celebrate your accomplishments! It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, just something to clear your head and mentally prepare for the next stage in your life. Because on top of working hard and setting goals, I think being successful means taking the time to enjoy yourself.

Congrats graduates, and good luck!


Spartan-state native Michael Swoish is a Michigan State alum who’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. in soil science at Virginia Tech. Michael has taught classes on precision agriculture and has traveled the country to get as much dirt time as possible.

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