After four (or more) years of hard work, you’ve finally graduated and earned that coveted degree. If you’re anything like I was after graduation, you’re pretty optimistic despite facing the overwhelming odds of landing a job right out of college. But amid all the optimism, a few questions likely muddy the otherwise bright picture — including how you’re going to land that first job.
If you’re entering this next step in your life, you probably have a litany of questions. Don’t worry — I did, too, and so do most graduates.
Today, though, I’m going to walk you through some of the basics and answer most of those questions … and help you consider a few things that you might not have thought about along the way.
Without further ado, here’s a look at six tips that should help you find, prepare for and land your first job after graduation.
Tips for Landing Your First Job: Networking
Networking is just a business buzzword for making relationships — whether it’s with colleagues, former co-workers, people you’ve simply met across your professional life and even friends. But it’s a powerful tool and a big first step toward finding employment.
Ideally, you start networking while you’re still in college, but if you’ve already graduated, it’s definitely not too late.
Why is networking so essential? Well, 85% of people get a job through networking, rather than on their own. Think about it: Most workplaces notify employees of open positions and incentvize them to find new talent with bonuses. And whoever is referred by an internal employee has a big advantage, as their resume is almost guaranteed to be viewed by a hiring manager.
That’s why you need to build contacts as soon as possible. Reach out to former professors, colleagues at campus jobs you held and fellow graduates. Connect with anyone you worked with while you were interning. Make a LinkedIn profile and add everyone you know/have a decent professional relationship with to it.
Never be afraid to ask for help in the form of a referral. Even the great Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) fame pointed out how asking for help was important to his long-term success and how taking action and reaching out often separates the dreamers from the doers.
Even if no one directly within your network has anything lined up, they may know someone else who does. Throughout my undergraduate career, I constantly visited all my professors during their office hours and built long-lasting relationships with them afterwards, which eventually led to my first job after graduation and another part-time opportunity later down the road.
If you put in the work to build professional relationships early on, you’ll discover more pathways to career success.
Tips for Landing Your First Job: Spruce Up Your Resume
Are you applying to a job within your field? Maybe you’ve decided that you want your next step to be something new. Either way, a proper resume will give you the best chance of landing a job interview.
By now, you’ve probably spent time crafting a resume that provides the basics — your work history, your education background, your honors. But there’s always room for improvement. Here are a few tips on that front:
A few basics? Use action verbs at the start of each bullet-point describing your work experience. Be concise; get right to the point in every description. Try to stay to just one page; you likely don’t have the breadth of experience to justify a greater length.Tweak the content of your resume to better address the demands of the job you’re applying to (if the job has a number of technical demands that you meet, don’t waste space listing your high school shifts at McDonald’s).
Elements you should leave out: inappropriate email addresses, spelling errors and grammar mistakes, and most — if not all — of your experience from when you were a teenager. If your experience is limited, deal with what you’ve got, but avoid including positions that are irrelevant to the prospective job.
Some people have wild stories about how adding in some sort of personalized flair or a unique email address name helped them land an interview, but when it comes to resume writing, it’s best to take a conservative and professional approach. Your personality will come through your actionable descriptions and the visual design of your resume (fonts can add character, as long as they are appropriate, and proper use of white space will add a sleek touch to an otherwise dull looking document).
Tips for Landing Your First Job: The Summary Section
Yes, the resume is so important, it deserves a second round of tips.
As I said before, you should try to avoid listing things such as work at a fast-food restaurant. However, if you have limited work experience, the prospective employer may overlook your resume anyway — unless you’ve explained how your work experience, in tandem with your degree, carries over to the skills required for the new job.
That’s where something like a summary section is vital.
Fast-food workers actually do pick up some important skills, such as learning the ins and outs of customer service, dealing with high-pressure situations (demanding customers) and other experiences that carry over into the office space. It’s up to you to explain through your resume (and in the interview) how these experiences complement your degree and will help you get the job done despite your lack of direct work experience.
A summary section allows you to take the experience an employer may overlook and paint it with a different stroke. For example, you can summarize yourself as a person with “x amount of years adapting immediately to constantly changing situations and interacting with 50+ customers daily.” Rather than just concede defeat, you’ve instead illustrated how your experiences are valuable.
Conversely, if you have several years of experience in your field (unlikely given that you’re just graduating college, but possible), then a summary section is overkill. Your professional experiences will speak for themselves.
Also, keep in mind that choices like including or excluding certain sections are part of a greater discipline: organization. Your resume’s structure should reflect how you want to be perceived by a potential employer.
As a fresh graduate, consider listing your education up top rather than immediately diving into your previous employers. Do you have pertinent work experience? Dive right into that instead and display it prominently. Everything depends on the job you’re applying for, so you may re-craft your resume several times before you land a job. That’s OK.
Tips for Landing Your First Job: Don’t Skimp on the Cover Letter
If you’ve spent any time browsing through tips on getting your first job, chances are you’ve read the anecdotes from employers saying they don’t even look at the cover letter.
That’s all they are: anecdotes.
Many employers try to get insight past the resume via the cover letter, where applicants have a lot more flexibility to show off who they are. Or, hearkening back to our earlier tips, you can use it as an opportunity to better explain your limited experiences.
But most importantly, the cover letter allows you to distinguish yourself as someone who really wants and deserves the job, versus those who put in minimal effort. “C’s may get degrees” — one of my least favorite sayings — but half-hearted cover letters will prompt employers to look elsewhere.
Approach the cover letter as a narrative version of your resume that explains how the experiences listed translate to the position of interest. Yes, there’s room for personalization; just don’t get carried away, and always remain professional. Demonstrate your passion for the field, your awareness of the company’s mission and your understanding for the work the job entails.
For example, I applied for an editing position for a video game company, and in my cover letter, I described the various journeys their games had taken me on. My love for the industry and the work itself landed me my first phone interview out of college — despite my extremely limited experience.
A few basic tips for any cover letter: Introduce yourself and state your interest in working for the company, in the capacity of the job for which you’re applying. State your degree, university, years of experience and current professional definition (or aspiration). Describe your work and education experience, and emphasize your passion for the work you want to take on. Conclude by re-emphasizing the most important points, and restate your interest in the position.
Keep it short — three or four paragraphs — and be direct, and you can’t go wrong.
Tips for Landing Your First Job: Be Aware of Your Online Presence
You’ve heard the basic social media tips. If your Facebook account is public, make sure you don’t have a ton of photos showing your beer bong prowess. But if you’re anything like me, you read these suggestions and thought, “Who’s dumb enough to do that?”
I thought I was a relatively good guy, so I didn’t have to worry about anything … right?
My first in-person job interview right after graduation was for a technical editing position at a firm that worked with high-level military clients. The interview started with a zinger question (check out the next page for more on those), then devolved into an exposition of all the things they had discovered based on my online/social media presence.
Thankfully, it wasn’t anything “bad,” but what they did find — along with my Facebook profile picture and banner — was a website I designed for a course that featured several academic essays.
This led them to think that my career interest was in writing, not editing. They then told me that they had passed an essay (on the psycho-sexual elements of the film Alien) around the office and everyone read it. According to the interviewers, everyone loved it … but it wasn’t enough to overshadow the effect of my writing-dedicated website, which kept the interviewers questioning my career aspirations, and ultimately, my interest in the job.
If you put something on the internet, no matter how innocent or innocuous it might seem, you’d better be prepared to explain it in an interview. And more broadly, take the tip to clean up your act seriously. It’s vital to be cognizant of your social media and online presence, as there are numerous ways they can give prospective employers the wrong idea.
Tips for Landing Your First Job: Prepare for the Interview, But Don’t Overprepare
“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.” I’ve quoted this Dune passage countless times in my writing, and it remains one of my favorites to this day.
You may have had some experiences interviewing for a job at your local Barnes & Noble or even an internship at a nearby law firm, but chances are, you haven’t yet interviewed for a position that could possibly kick-start your career.
It’s serious business, and understandably, it comes with some stress.
As a recent graduate, you’re in a paradoxical position in which you’re going after a professional-tier job … most of which tend to require (or at least favor) previous professional experience that you don’t have but are trying to acquire. That’s maddening, and it also causes a lot of fresh graduates to overprepare and really lose their cool.
The basics? Wear a suit, don’t chew gum, don’t over-spray cologne (or even wear it at all). But you need to do more than just look the part. Some more substantive tips:
- Be knowledgeable about your own experiences. Don’t just regurgitate the information on your resume and cover letter; have explicit examples in mind that express your skills and be ready to share them.
- Know how to navigate seemingly tough questions like “what’s your greatest weakness?” (Hint: You do have at least one weakness, so figure out what that is and use the question as an opportunity to tell a story and describe how you’ve started to overcome it).
- Have an idea of where you want to be within the next 5 or 10 years. (Hint: It’s probably not smart to be arrogant and say you see yourself as the CEO of the company for which you’re applying, though you can express general belief in long-term, high-level success).
- Be prepared for the unexpected “zinger.” (Hint: This is an odd-ball sort of question, usually not asked with the intent of you getting it “perfect,” but rather for you to verbalize your critical thinking process. Take it slow, don’t panic and think things through).
But don’t overprepare for the interview. Know what to expect, but don’t review every detail to the point where your interactions will be completely rehearsed and manufactured. Authenticity is key, too, and overpreparation can turn a smooth persona into a robotic mess — especially if something unexpected tears it all down.
One last thing to calm your nerves: Remember that while you’re being interviewed, you’re also interviewing your prospective employers. Not every work environment matches your own career expectations, so go into the job interview knowing that, if it’s a really bad opportunity, you can reject them. And as everyone else says, have some thoughtful questions of your own.
Robert Waldo is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.