Finding your first “real” job after college can be an experience that provides a mixture of excitement and trepidation. On one hand, you’ve graduated from college and earned your degree, but on the other, new (and perhaps uncertain) beginnings await.
Though you may lack several years of work experience, there are still ways to demonstrate to employers that you’re a quality candidate. And just keep in mind, job searching is difficult for everyone right now. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities. It just means that you’ll want to develop a strategy for finding a job after college. Here’s how to get started.
Prepare and Stay Calm
Finding a job after college is nerve-wracking at any time. Current events likely aren’t helping. But, even though we’re all hanging out at home right now, there are still plenty of ways to find that first job.
Build Your Network
Networking is a big buzzword and an intimidating prospect in some respects. Although building a network takes time and persistence, it is one of the most valuable tools in any job search. Considering that online networking is the way to meet contacts these days, brush up on your skills and make sure that your digital presence is clean and professional.
Networking means speaking with strangers and moving out of your comfort zone. While you may think networking starts after you land that first job, it’s never too early to grow your professional network. As a new grad, you can add friends who are employed, people who were part of your student groups, and even trusted faculty members.
Harness the Power of Social Media
Networking during the pandemic is slightly different. You can’t go to big events, or even conduct an informational interview with someone over coffee. However, you can start to grow your online network. And, you can still schedule informational interviews via video conferencing or the phone.
Up until now, your experience with social media may have been limited to your primary group of peers. But now it’s time to use its power to reach out for professional reasons.
If you’re not already, you should have an optimized profile on LinkedIn, which is one of the best ways to showcase your education and work experience online. Make sure that all of your other social media profiles are set to private, and then consider starting new, more professional ones on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Do some housekeeping, too! Since the vast majority of hiring managers will do a social media check, clean up your social media profiles and keep your information accurate, clean, and relevant. You want the HR manager to see things that are positive and professional that promote you and showcase your abilities in the best light possible.
Don’t Ignore Your College
You may be off campus until graduation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tap into the resources your school can still provide. There may not be in-person job fairs right now, but that’s not stopping colleges from having them altogether.
Many colleges are organizing and holding virtual job fairs and virtual resume drops. This gives seniors a chance to connect with companies that are hiring and later have a virtual interview. And some colleges are also planning summer job fairs to help students find jobs after college.
Join Professional Organizations
Now that you have your degree and a starting point of where you want to go professionally, take a look at professional organizations in fields and industries that would be a fit with your overall goals. Professional organizations offer many resources and host numerous events to help professionals with career development and job searching.
Make Your Job Search Your New Job
It might seem tedious but put together a job searching plan. Looking for a job can feel like a job. As such, it requires the same amount of time, dedication, and focus that you needed to get through your finals.
So make sure that you spend quality time looking for a job. If you want a flexible job, strategize your search to use niche job boards (like FlexJobs) and work with your natural rhythm. For example, if you’re a morning person, search early each day so you’ll feel productive and build momentum. And don’t forget to set alerts so that you’ll never miss a job opportunity.
Organize your job search by blocking out time to truly focus. Make daily to-do lists spelling out what you’d like to accomplish, such as revising a cover letter, sending out three applications, and spending a half hour on LinkedIn exploring connections. Consistency yields results and promotes sanity.
Give Them Something to Talk About
You’ve found the “perfect” job and you’re ready to apply. But before you hit “apply,” make sure you’re doing everything possible to stand out among the other candidates.
Build a Personal Brand
Finding a job after college is tricky because you’re still trying to figure out exactly everything you stand for in terms of your career. However, a personal brand is essential to communicate with employers about your abilities, goals, and skills. Develop an elevator pitch to help convey your brand when faced with time constraints.
Not sure how to create a personal brand? Start with what you want to do and why you want to do it. From there, explain how you’re the best person for the job by highlighting the unique skills only you have. You’ll also want to highlight your personality and interests outside of work.
Create a Portfolio
Many employers look for past work or achievements when reviewing candidates. A well-crafted portfolio is a great way to show what you’re capable of with real results. The type of portfolio that is appropriate for you depends on what your academic and career interests are.
Many computer science students use GitHub to share their code and past projects, Art students may use Behance, Carbonmade, or another type of portfolio to share their past works. English or Communications students may use blogs. Even your LinkedIn profile can include samples of your achievements.
Either way, you’ll want this to serve as a hub for your projects.
Showcase Your Passions
Employers want to know that you have that spark in you and that you’ll bring that passion to work. Discuss your soft skills in terms of any activity you really excelled at or showed leadership in. Describe your transferable skills in a way that would be helpful in a professional atmosphere.
Update Your Resume
It’s time to ditch your high school resume listing your first job. Update your resume to reflect internships, volunteer activities, and school-based activities you have participated in. You also need to update your education, as well as any employment you had during your college years.
When it comes to your skills, think about the side projects you worked on outside of class. You’ll be amazed at just how skilled and experienced you are!
Customize the Cover Letter
Yes, it can be one of the most time-consuming tasks of the job search process, but it’s necessary to tailor each cover letter for every job you apply to. Be sure you address the correct person and talk about the specific job you are applying for. Mention why the job interests you and what you like about the company. Visit their social media profiles and website to get a better feel for the company and their industry.
Also, look over the job listing and make sure you include a few keywords from it in your cover letter. This will help ensure your application makes it past the applicant tracking system. As a new grad, putting in this extra effort can set you apart from other entry-level candidates.
Know What You Want
Sure, that English lit degree means that you can do anything from copyediting to writing to blogging. But when you’re applying for a job, hiring managers want to know why your skills and education make you a shoo-in for that position—and more importantly, why you want it.
If you’re wishy-washy about your intentions, you won’t impress a potential boss.
Utilizing your resume, cover letter, and the job interview, be specific in how you’d be a perfect fit for that position and the company.
Keep the Momentum Going
A big mistake that some college grads might make is thinking that a job interview means they are super close to a job offer. The hiring process for a job can take a long-time. Pre-pandemic, it could take months of searching, applying, and interviewing to find a job. During the pandemic, it may take even longer.
If you stop your search because you think you’ve found The One, you might miss out on other job opportunities that could result in getting hired. You should only stop your job search when you accept a job offer—and not sooner.
Job Searching in the Pandemic (And All the Time)
Job searching during the pandemic is tough for everyone. And, the reality is that it will probably be tougher on new grads. While it might be easy to blame the pandemic for your lack of job offers, new grads always face obstacles when looking for that first job.
As a new grad, there are certain things you may need to do during your first “real” job search. Some of this advice is specific for the pandemic. However, it’s great advice for every new grad, no matter when they graduate.
Align Your Expectations With Reality
Most professionals have been in your shoes and know what it feels like to have the world at your doorstep. Don’t lose that feeling, but remember that you are just starting out.
Be careful about turning down a job offer just because you think it’s “beneath you.” They’re called entry-level jobs for a reason, and you’ve got to start somewhere. There’s plenty for you to learn in any and every job! And that first job could open doors to opportunities you wouldn’t have found otherwise. Be open-minded, and even though you don’t want to devalue your abilities, you want to be realistic and understand that your first job likely won’t be your last job, and that your learning is really just getting started.
Consider Other Types of Work
You might want a full-time job as a fashion writer, but once you’re in the throes of a job search, you may discover that there are only freelance or part-time positions available. Don’t despair.
When trying to find a job after college, understand that many people who want a full-time income attain it by combining a variety of flexible jobs. For example, you might accept a contract job and a part-time position that, together, equals a full-time salary but also affords you a whole lot of work-life balance, freedom, and exposure. Plus, a variety of jobs means increasing your networking pool, which is a big benefit for grads.
Considering the current job market, there’s also a chance that contract and temp-to-hire jobs will become more prevalent. While you may be seeking a permanent, full-time role, those could be hard to come by. Depending on what’s available in your field, don’t ignore positions just because they’re not traditional, permanent roles.
Create an Internship
Instead of a job, perhaps you were headed for a summer internship but the pandemic put it on hold, and there’s no start date in sight. Get creative and design your own internship through volunteering.
Not all volunteering has to happen in-person. Depending on your skill set, you could offer to help a nonprofit redesign and update its website. Or, do some social media management for a worthy cause. You could even test your PR skills by spearheading some fundraising campaigns for those in need.
Target Companies That Are Doing Well
There are plenty industries that are steady and hiring right now. We’ve seen job postings and growth in these six categories:
Lastly, be patient. The job search takes time even when the economy is on a roll. The companies that are hiring right now are retooling their hiring processes, which means everything takes even longer. Online interviews aren’t always easy to schedule or conduct. And with many other businesses closed right now, it’s harder to track down references. Be patient, be kind, and don’t give up.
Successfully Finding a Job After College
Graduating from college is an achievement. Be proud of all you’ve accomplished, and look forward to all the future has to offer (yes, even now!). Your first job after college likely won’t be the most glamorous or exciting, but it is the first step toward bigger and better things. Keep at it, and eventually, you’ll connect with the right opportunity.
To help you in your job search, we’re offering up to 50% off memberships. Enter the code JOBS at checkout.
Originally published April 10, 2015.
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Jessica Howington is a prior stay at home mom with a background in education and healthcare. As a Content Manager for the award-winning site FlexJobs , she strives to support those in search of flexible employment opportunities by providing job…Read More >
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