You’ve finally done it — you’ve graduated from college! Earning a degree is certainly a huge achievement and milestone, but you should probably know something: the real work has yet to begin. The pressure is now resting on your shoulders to land not just a job, but a career that makes good use of the college degree you just earned.
You don’t want just any job. You probably have loans to pay off, and you definitely want to live somewhere other than your old bedroom at your parents’ house. Getting hired for a professional position in your career field of choice can be a daunting task, but it’s absolutely necessary to achieving your professional and financial goals.
For most people, this is probably the first step into —real” adulthood. Here are some tips for the challenge ahead – your job search.
Don’t Wait Until After You Graduate from College to Begin Your Job Search
If you are truly interested in landing your dream job in your career field of choice, you must not wait until you graduate to start your search and send out resumes. The old saying that the early bird gets the worm is especially true when it comes to hunting for a job. Plus, there will be tough competition for jobs for college graduates after most schools hold graduation each May.
The companies you want to work for are not going to have their in-demand jobs posted for six months while they collect hundreds of resumes and then start the process of narrowing down candidates. The earlier you submit your resume, the better chance you will have to be called in for an interview. Most jobs are posted for only a month, maybe two at most – get ahead by being one of the first candidates to contact them.
If you are graduating in May, start your job search in January. This will give you a few months to find jobs that you will be interested in. If you are fortunate enough, you will be called in for an interview even before you have graduated. Perhaps you will even be able to land that job before you walk across the stage to receive your diploma.
Create a Resume and Cover Letter that Stand Out
You won’t be able to get your foot in the door when applying for jobs after college unless you have a resume and cover letter that make the hiring manager take notice. You can’t just put your name on a piece of paper along with —college graduate” in bold letters and expect to get a call for an interview.
Take your time and construct a resume that emphasizes all relevant experience in the field you plan to enter. Get rid of any unnecessary information on your resume; focus on your skills and accomplishments, not on adding meaningless phrases like —results-driven” or —passionate leader.” Make sure any references on your resume are aware they could receive calls from your potential employers.
Your resume should only be one page in length. Anything longer will lose your audience and is likely irrelevant given that you are just beginning your career. Take out the bits about earning the citizenship award back in eighth grade and how your team won their basketball tournament during your senior year. Those achievements might be important to you, but most employers could care less. Construct a professional resume that will get you noticed any time you apply for a job.
On the other hand, your cover letter needs to be written specifically for the job you are applying for. While resumes can almost be a —one size fits all” document, your cover letter is your chance to zero in on the position that you are interested in. You should come out strong in the opening paragraph and tell the employer about the type of person you are. Speak about why you think this would be the perfect job for you and also let them know that this is just the beginning of your career and that you have high expectations and goals. The people doing the hiring will only glance briefly at your resume, but they will take the time to read your cover letter — as long as it is good.
One last point, for both your resume and cover letter: with most employers, typos are instant death for your job application. If you can’t run a spell check and get some help proofreading, how is an employer supposed to trust you to do the important work they are hiring for?
Clean Up Your Social Media
The first thing future employers will do after reviewing your resume and cover letter and determining they may be interested in you is to closely examine your online presence. If you have anything questionable on your social media in today’s age, you only have yourself to blame when you don’t get called in for interviews. Remove all pictures that are not flattering to your professional life. Delete all posts that make you sound anything less than a desirable employee. Employers are not going to hire you if they believe you could be a liability and still seem to be living out your teenage years.
Attack the Job Boards
In the past, your main avenue to look for jobs was in the classified section of the newspaper. Now there are enough job boards online where you should be able to find plenty of suitable positions. Aside from the big national jobs boards like indeed.com, you may also be able to find local or regional jobs boards that are tailored to your specific location. Depending on what field you are pursuing, you may also be able to find industry-specific job boards. If your industry has a professional association, check out their website and see what you find.
Lastly, don’t ignore the —careers” pages on individual companies’ websites. Many larger corporations don’t publish their open positions on third party websites. If there is a company in your area you would like to work for, keep an eye on their website.
Extend Your Search to Other Locations
If you are not receiving the responses to your application that you hoped for, it could be time to extend the job search to places outside your current location. Jobs for recent college graduates could be tight if you are looking in the city that you just graduated in, as many of your classmates are likely flooding the job market with their resumes, too. Taking your job search to other locations could be very beneficial in getting hired faster.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Ever hear the saying that it’s often not what you know in life, but who you know that matters? When it comes to getting a job, it’s all about networking. Friends, family, family friends, and even your college professors are all fair game when you are trying to network yourself into a position to start your career. Let them know you are searching for a job in a certain career field and they may just surprise you with their connections. You may be placed on the fast track to employment just because someone else can make a phone call and vouch for you.
Don’t be shy about going to career fairs, either. Making a great first impression in person goes a lot farther than sending an email to a recruiter.
Be Prepared for Every Interview
The interview is your chance to sell the company on why they need to hire you. You only get one chance at a first impression, and this is it.
Once you are fortunate enough to land an interview, do your homework on the company so you are prepared when you walk through their door. If the company has grown from a place that originally employed three people into a business that employs a hundred, make sure you know this and mention it in the interview. This is the time to wow them. Start planning out how you can help the company, and be prepared to explain your plans.
On the interview day, make sure you dress the part. If you are dressed professionally, you will feel more confident and you will be more likely to make a good impression on your potential employer. The dress code for an interview can vary a bit depending on location and industry, but a general rule of thumb is that if the job you are applying for requires a college degree, you should be wearing business attire to the interview. For men this means a suit and tie, and for ladies this means a dress or skirt and blazer. Even if you know the company has a casual dress code, you must dress up for the interview.
When walking into the interview, look everyone in the eye, speak confidently, shake hands with a firm grip, and sit up straight. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions throughout the interview. Let them know that you are an active listener and always thinking.
Keep in mind that while they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them. You bring a lot to the table, and this is your chance to see if the position — and company — is a good fit for you. Ask why people love working for their company, and what the culture is like. Ask about the role – what you will be doing, who you will be working with, and what will make you successful? What you should not ask about (yet) are things like salary and time off. If you receive a job offer, you can ask those questions, but if you bring up these topics during your first interview, they may think you are only in it for the money and paid holidays.
Immediately after the interview, send a thank you note to everyone involved in the interview process. This is a good opportunity to bring up one more point about why you would be a great fit or why you are excited about the role.
If they let you know they have chosen someone else a few days later, don’t despair. There really is no such thing as a wasted interview because you can learn something each time you go through the process. Look at it as a learning experience that could come in handy down the road.
Negotiations Are Key
Usually during an interview, salary, benefits, days off, and those sorts of things are not mentioned, or they are only discussed vaguely. If you get offered the job, you may feel so lucky that your instinct may be to just accept anything they throw at you. This is not uncommon when entering a new career. But do not act so hastily. After all, what good is a job if you aren’t getting paid enough to survive?
Trying to negotiate the best terms for your first real job in your career of choice can be tricky, so it’s important to do your homework first. Ask around and try to find out what an entry-level salary is in your industry and location. You can also sometimes find this information online, for instance on glassdoor.com.
If your offer is way below the norm, it may be in your interest to ask for more money, or even to move on somewhere else. Just remember, there’s a balance to this – if you demand too much, the employer may get offended and offer the job to someone else. A good rule of thumb here is that if you think the initial offer is fair, you should happily take it. For your first job, don’t negotiate for the sake of trying to squeeze more out of them — this can backfire.
Hunting for a job straight out of college is stressful, but it should be exhilarating as well. The butterflies will constantly be flying around your stomach and you will probably lose your self-confidence a little more each day the job search continues. But once you score that first job in your career field, it will be hard to wipe the smile off your face.