Searching for that first job after graduating college is hard work. In general, college grads tend to fall into two broad categories. One is the group that knows exactly what they are after, often heading toward a professional track such as engineering, accounting, law, medicine, or something else requiring a postgraduate degree or other training and certification. The second group is likely to have graduated with a liberal arts degree and isn’t at all sure of their career direction.
Advice for grads who know their next step
Those on a defined professional track may be considering a future master’s degree or are following up on targeted job listings from their university. If this describes you, it’s important to keep several things in mind when applying for your first job.
Primarily, know that you are a blank slate to the recruiter. It is up to you to let them know your abilities, accomplishments, and goals. Read the job description carefully before applying with your resume and carefully crafted cover letter. In your cover letter, focus on addressing their needs, not yours. How can you add value to this organization? Highlight any experiences you may have had that align with the job description. You don’t want to “brag” but you do want to describe your accomplishments in a plain-spoken, specific, non-jargony way. It’s relevant to mention your career goals and how this job will help you gain the skills and experiences to achieve them, but that should not be the primary focus of the letter. If appropriate, you can also indicate that you are open to learning about additional career paths.
Advice for grads who aren’t sure what’s next
What about those of you who are unsure of what you want to do? That’s fine–a majority of college grads don’t necessarily know their career path with certainty at this stage of their lives. This is a time of exploration, so think of your first job as a way to learn what you enjoy and where you excel. Just as importantly, your first job may teach you what you are not suited for and what you would rather not repeat in a subsequent position.
Because your experiences may be more diverse than those of your friends who have a clearer career focus, it can be more challenging to respond to a job listing. However, similar to those on a defined professional track, you still need to address the employer’s explicitly stated requirements, such as skills, knowledge, and personality traits. Think about your accomplishments from classroom projects, internships, or extracurricular activities that relate to the position–those could be strong selling points.
Job listings are a good first step in your search, but don’t stop there. Take advantage of your alumni network, LinkedIn, or other networking apps to speak with others who are in a field that interests you. Contact individuals working in these fields and ask if you can interview them briefly about their work. If they are open to an email dialogue or conversation, these are good questions to ask:
- How did you enter the field?
- Can you describe your work at ____ organization?
- What are the challenges you deal with week to week?
- What do you find most satisfying?
- What advice do you have for me as I seek my first job?
- Who else should I talk to about this type of work?
These “information interviews” or “coffee chats” will help you develop a larger network. Always write a thank you note afterward, making sure to mention something specific that you learned or appreciated about the conversation or communication exchange. Create a category of career contacts in your email program and keep in touch with those you feel a connection to. When you land your first job, email them with the good news and thank them again for their help in guiding you in your career launch. No matter the job market, there is always movement in an organization. People move away, take other jobs, or go into business for themselves. Your network will remember you if you have developed a relationship.
While you wait
Your job search may take longer than you wish, and there are things you can do to ease any stress while also strengthening your job candidate profile. One example would be to volunteer for an organization a few hours each week. You’ll develop additional experiences and skills, perform a good deed that may well “pay it forward,” and just possibly, meet people who just may have a connection you need.
Exploring career options? Deciding on possible grad school programs? Coping with on-the-job issues? We can match you with one of our highly experienced career coaches who can guide you as you navigate your next step. Don’t go it alone! Check out our Career Coaching and Advising services here!