The First Step
A key first step will be establishing a coherent career interest that you can articulate clearly to prospective employers. This will be critical in order to counter any perceptions they might have about you being an aimless wanderer given your hiatus period.
Research careers to identify some areas worth considering further.
Conduct informational interviews with family contacts, college alumni, and local professionals to gain an insider's view of fields of interest.
Meet with college friends who graduated and moved straight into careers to learn about the nature of their work.
Set up job shadowing experiences in the fields of greatest interest to develop a very concrete understanding of the roles that entry-level staff play in those arenas.
Once you have completed this career research process and narrowed your options, you should know enough about one or two career fields to prepare a compelling presentation for employers. You will need to convey in a detailed manner how entry-level roles in those fields tap your skills and relate to your interests.
Start a Networking Campaign
The next step will be launching a full-fledged networking campaign so that you can get in front of professionals in your chosen field and convince them that you have the right stuff to excel in their sector. Let's say that you decide to launch your career in human resources. You should reach out to all your family and neighborhood contacts (ask parents to put together a list of people who would be invited to your wedding) and ask them for an introduction to anyone they know who works in human resources. Let them know that you would like the opportunity to engage their contacts for information and advice about launching your career in that field.
Let all your Facebook friends know that you would like introductions for informational interviews to any of their contacts in your chosen field.
Reach out to your college career and alumni offices and ask for referrals to alumni in the field and any networking events or alumni club events in your area.
Reengage your favorite college professors and ask them for referrals to alumni in your field. A professor's introduction can go a long way towards creating a positive connection with an alum.
Establish a presence on LinkedIn, join groups for your college and fields of interest and reach out to professionals for information and advice.
Ask for frank feedback from professionals in your chosen field about the viability of your credentials for an entry-level job. If you learn that you are lacking in an area of knowledge or skill, explore ways to bolster your background. For example, you might learn that many candidates have done internships during college in your field and in order to compete you will need to do so yourself. Reach out to contacts with whom you have developed a nice rapport and discuss the possibility of arranging a short-term internship.
Need to generate some income? Set up a part-time internship and work an interim job at a hotel, restaurant, call center, etc. during the evenings and/or weekends. An added benefit is that service-sector jobs often bring you in contact with the public, allowing you to meet people who might be helpful with your search.
Start a Job Search
Once you have laid this foundation to your quest for a first post-college job, you will want to conduct a comprehensive search for employment in your field. Supplement your networking efforts with traditional job search strategies like applying directly through the websites of employers of interest, tapping the best online job sites and attending job fairs.
Keep Connected to Your Future Career
If you are currently entertaining the possibility of a break before launching your career, you will benefit from taking some of the exploratory steps outlined in this article prior to your departure. If possible, integrate some thread of connection to your future career with your interlude and it will be easier for you to make your case to employers when you return.
For example, the ski bum with a future interest in marketing might do a part-time internship with the marketing department at a local ski area. The future healthcare professional might chose a volunteer experience with a public health organization that encourages prevention of STDs in Africa.