By Lindsey Heller

You’re graduating college; now, it’s time to launch your career. But before submitting your job applications, think about the different paths available to you.

Here are some pointers I learned on my journey from college to my Masa Israel fellowship, and ultimately to a full-time job that I love.

One, don’t feel pressured to take the beaten path.

There’s no prize for being first in your class to line up a job, and what worked for your neighbor may not be the best way for you. Instead of submitting a flurry of applications, take time to explore. You may be better served by taking a year to invest in your personal development. During this time, you can acquire skills that give you an edge in the job market, like the ability to manage projects, navigate the business world, and deal with new situations.

You can even explore your passions and skills abroad, in a country that has personal significance to you, like I did with the Israel Government Fellows (IGF) program. Through IGF, I worked at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was part of a team that strived to strengthen the Diaspora’s relationship with Israel and other religious groups’ connection with the country.

Experience abroad will demonstrate to employers that you can adapt to different cultures and succeed in unfamiliar situations; for me, this meant interacting with ambassadors from around the world, and working with representatives from across the political spectrum. It will also mark you as someone cosmopolitan with a broadened worldview.

Two, keep yourself open to switching tracks.

As you accumulate a variety of work and volunteer experiences, you may find yourself drawn to a different area of your field, and you may even discover a new, hidden passion. That’s what happened to me. I always had my heart set on working in politics. But through my fellowship, I learned that I enjoyed planning trips, which aligned perfectly with my passion for travel. When it was time to decide on my next step, I found a job with a tour operator that specializes in educational travel to Jewish heritage destinations around the world.

For me, a fellowship was a great investment. I discovered my passions, expanded my skills, and gained experience. This was a career-building opportunity- a path I wouldn’t have discovered had I just settled on a job at home.

Three, don’t underestimate the power of networking.

You never know when your seatmate on the plane will connect you with your next big client. Networking landed me both my fellowship and my job, and all the contacts I made along the way stand me in good stead when I need information or an introduction.

To successfully network, you need to form a real rapport. Don’t be intimidated by someone’s title; at the end of the day, even public officials and CEOs are just people. The relationships you form with your coworkers and colleagues can have a great impact on your future. I’m much more successful at developing trips for acquaintances when I can base recommendations on our shared personal interests or my knowledge of their backgrounds. Also, remember that networking is a two-way street. Your connections might be just what someone needs to get off the ground.

Four, make the most of wherever you are.

Take the chance to prove yourself. My fellowship was much more than just busy work: it was a window of opportunity. I didn’t spend my time getting coffee. I built trust with my supervisors and developed relationships with my colleagues that empowered me to be a team player on big and important projects. Each one of us can become a full and valued member of a team, if we seize the opportunities thrown our way and proactively create new ones.

There’s no formula to successfully landing your dream job. But, building a career you are proud of can start with exploring untapped opportunities and developing a far-reaching professional network.

Lindsey Heller is an alumna of Israel Government Fellows, a program of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in partnership with Masa.

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