What every 22 year old graduate should know about the job market

Maybe it鈥檚 because we鈥檙e taught to find an older mentor. Or maybe it鈥檚 because people who are gray around the temples simply look wiser. Whatever the reason, when you鈥檙e fresh out of college, it鈥檚 tempting to seek career advice from the most accomplished people in the field you鈥檙e hoping to break into.

But in reality, those execs chalked up most of their accomplishments in an entirely different economic, technological and professional landscape. So Fortune talked to more recent college graduates鈥攎illennials who entered the workforce in the years after the economic crash and the invention of Twitter鈥攁bout what they wish they鈥檇 known about getting a toehold in their career when they were 22.

Before you accept an internship, especially an unpaid internship, ask the employer this one question.

鈥淗ave you ever hired an intern?鈥

Internships have become a necessary inconvenience on the path to full-time, paid employment鈥攅ven though they can sometimes seem more like a cruel prank to get recent graduates to fetch coffee and make copies for free.

Occasionally an unpaid internship turns into a solid job, but often it doesn鈥檛. Before you gratefully accept someone鈥檚 offer to work for them for free, ask about the company鈥檚 track record of hiring from their intern pool, and weigh their answer before you accept. If they鈥檝e only ever hired one intern, but have 60 working for them at any given time, it might be best to walk away.

鈥淪ometimes it is worth it to wait and really vet these organizations. Expect better,鈥 says Justine Dowden, who graduated in 2010 and has had six different internships or jobs since; she鈥檚 now pursuing a master鈥檚 in public health. 鈥淭ry to work for a place that wants you to really grow from the experience of working for them, not just use you as expendable cheap labor. That will connect you to people. You really can鈥檛 wait around forever, but you can wait around for an internship that鈥檚 not just tweeting.鈥

Sometimes bigger鈥攁nd more established鈥攊s better.

A creative startup with only five employees or a scrappy nonprofit looks cool from the outside鈥攁nd it鈥檚 easy to think that you鈥檒l be able to add a wide range of skills to your resume if everyone on staff is doing a little bit of everything. But it can also be maddening once you鈥檝e been hired. Small upstarts often 鈥渄on鈥檛 have the same HR structures as corporate places or law firms. All of the lines are blurred so it鈥檚 harder to know your position,鈥 says Meg, a first-year associate at a law firm in Chicago, who watched many of her undergrad classmates unexpectedly struggle with the loose nature of their jobs at creative upstart companies. 鈥淏ecause the hierarchy wasn鈥檛 as clear, it was also harder for them to get mentors,鈥 she adds. Beware of companies that lack a human resources department or won鈥檛 give you a concrete job description.

You don鈥檛 have to move to New York.

It might seem like all of your friends are moving to Bushwick, but take a wider view. There are good jobs everywhere. 鈥淛ust try to look beyond NYC or Boston or SF,鈥 says Dowden, who counts an internship in Amsterdam and a public-health job in Sacramento among her most valuable professional experiences.

Don鈥檛 wait for permission to put your ideas out into the world.

It鈥檚 never been easier to show employers that you have ideas worth listening to. Can鈥檛 get an informational interview with a company you鈥檇 love to work for? Sometimes it doesn鈥檛 hurt to publish your thoughts online about what the organization could be doing better.

鈥淲hen I was a junior in college, I had some ideas I thought Google should work on, and I wrote this blog post,鈥 says Ted Power, who graduated in 2007. 鈥淚 mocked up this concept and put it out there, and got very lucky because someone at Google happened to see it, and said oh, you should apply for an internship here.鈥 His internship turned into a full-time job at Google GOOG 0.48% , which he later quit to instead work at a series of startups. Companies pay attention to what people say about them online, and if your tone is professional and your ideas are sound, you just might get lucky like Power did.

Meet as many people as you can. And keep in touch.

It might make you feel like a nag or a phony, but 鈥渁ll the bullshit you hear about networking is so true,鈥 Meg says. When she first interviewed at her law firm, it went well. They told her they really liked her, but they wouldn鈥檛 be hiring any new associates that year鈥攁n all-too-common interview response in tough economic times. She kept in touch, calling them after she took the bar exam and again after she got the news that she鈥檇 passed. After her third or fourth call that ended with a polite decline, she got a call back from one of the partners, offering her a job. Meg鈥檚 pretty sure that never would have happened if she hadn鈥檛 gotten in touch with them after their initial 鈥渟orry, but we鈥檙e not hiring now.鈥

Also, don鈥檛 be afraid to work any personal connection you have鈥攅ven if those connections aren鈥檛 people who are directly hiring right now. That fellow intern you befriended last summer? She might not be a hiring manager just yet, but she probably will know before outsiders do when her company is hiring. Don鈥檛 unfriend her on Facebook just because you鈥檙e annoyed she found a job right away and you didn鈥檛. Stay in touch.

Put your Google-stalking skills to work.

Your talents are wasted on your ex. Instead, read up on the places you want to hire you and the people who work there. This is what LinkedIn LNKD -1.53% is made for, but you can do better than that. Googling and combing social media can yield a surprising amount of information鈥攕o much that it鈥檚 almost like having a contact within the company. A lot of hiring managers are pretty public these days about what they look for in a new employee. Pay attention to what they鈥檙e saying.

It鈥檚 ok if you don鈥檛 know what your dream job is.

In fact, it might be better that way. The point of your first few jobs is just to try out different roles, responsibilities and different types of work environments.

鈥淭here鈥檚 a lot of pressure to find your dream job, or something that you absolutely love,鈥 Power says. 鈥淭hat can almost be counterproductive because you have such high expectations. What鈥檚 more important is trying a bunch of stuff and figuring out what you like doing day to day. There are a lot of jobs that sound amazing, but the day to day is working in Excel or something.鈥

And if you do have a dream job, don鈥檛 write off an entry-level position just because it鈥檚 imperfect. After an internship at the White House, Meg landed a job at the Department of Justice, 鈥渨hich wasn鈥檛 my first choice,鈥 she says. But in retrospect, it looks a lot better than the other political jobs she wished she鈥檇 gotten at the time. 鈥淚 made $20,000 more at DOJ than you鈥檇 make at the White House,鈥 she says. She also met a fantastic mentor at the Department of Justice, who convinced her to go to law school and ended up changing the course of her career.

Remember to have fun.

This is going to sound almost ridiculous, given that your first few jobs are likely to be less than ideal. But if you鈥檙e working super-long hours and finding yourself too busy to even see your friends, take a step back. You have plenty of time to work yourself to the bone later. 鈥淵oung professional life is trying to figure out balance between trying to get ahead and enjoying your life,鈥 Meg says.

Sure, you have loans to pay off. You want your next job to be a fantastic one. But you shouldn鈥檛 be more stressed than your boss who makes ten times as much. Your twenties are 鈥渢he time you鈥檙e supposed to be going on disaster internet dates and going out and finding excellent hangover breakfast restaurants before work the next day,鈥 Meg says. Make the most of them.