How to Land Your First Job After College

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Securing that first job after college can be a daunting prospect for many seniors and recent graduates. However, you can take charge of the process by following a few simple tips and strategies to land a job that will help get your career off to a positive start. 

Check With Your Career Center

Begin by tapping the resources that are available to you as a student or recent graduate from your college. Visit the career office and meet with a career advisor to discuss your options.

You can also pursue career counseling if you're unsure of your goals. Advisors can help you develop resumes and cover letters, prepare for interviews, and formulate a job search plan suited to your interests.  

Colleges also host visits from individual recruiters, hold career fairs on campus, offer recruitment events in key cities, and sponsor alumni networking programs. 

Start Networking

Networking can be one of the most effective ways to land a job. In fact, a joint survey conducted by LinkedIn and The Adler Group revealed that 85% of all jobs are obtained through networking.

The best approach is often an indirect one, such as reaching out to contacts for information and advice rather than directly asking people to hire you.

Contact as many professionals as you can for informational consultations. Get lists of alumni volunteers from your career office or alumni association, attend networking events and ask alumni with whom you develop a rapport if you can follow up with them to gain further insight into their work environment.

Touch base with past employers, coaches, faculty, clergy, and others who have observed you in any productive capacity. Ask if they have any contacts in fields of interest who you could contact for information and advice. 

You can also do some networking virtually through digital platforms such as LinkedIn.

Create a LinkedIn Profile

Not only is LinkedIn a great place to build a network, but it also serves as another way to showcase what you have to offer, build your personal brand, search and apply for jobs, and connect with recruiters and potential employers. You can also join any LinkedIn groups for your college and reach out to alumni in fields of interest. 

You can create a LinkedIn profile while you're still in school and build it from there. Even without any work experience, you can still highlight your skills, education, extracurricular activities, internships, and volunteer opportunities, and even ask people for recommendations.

Develop a Professional Website

Creating your own website can serve many purposes. It's a platform that you own where you can express your personality with your own branding, showcase your skills with a portfolio of work samples, and demonstrate your knowledge through a blog or other content you create.

More than half of all hiring managers are more impressed by a job candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool, according to Forbes.

You can buy a domain name from one of many hosting sites and use a tool such as Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress to develop your site or hire one to create one for you.

Join a Professional Group

Join an official organization related to your field or industry as a student member if you're still in college or as a professional member after you graduate. Many colleges have chapters of national associations, and if there's not one for the one you want to join, you may be able to start one.

Many professional associations put on conferences where you can rub shoulders with seasoned pros who are often eager to help newcomers to their field. Volunteer to help run the registration table, and you will meet lots of potentially helpful people. You may even find a mentor.

Fortune 500 companies acknowledge the value of having mentors: 71% of them have a mentoring program of some sort, according to The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Many well-known, successful people have had mentors:

  • Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was mentored by author Maya Angelou.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs.
  • Astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn was mentored by his high school physics teacher.
  • Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was mentored by Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.
  • Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Cal Ripken, Jr. was mentored by his father, Cal Ripken, Sr.

Arrange a Job Shadow

After you have a positive networking meeting with someone, try to arrange a job shadow day as a follow-up. It will help you get an insider's view of what it would be like to work that job and also give you an idea of whether you'd like to work at that specific company. You'll also likely meet lots of people and have the chance to make some positive impressions and connections.

Have an Elevator Pitch Ready

Take stock of your strongest interests and skills and be prepared to tell people who you meet some interesting things about yourself to grab their attention. Think of it as a 30-second commercial. 

For example, you might say "I am an English major who loves to write. I've organized and promoted a lot of concerts and fundraising events for my campus singing group. I also love to follow fashion trends and helped to coordinate the annual campus fashion show sponsored by my sorority." 

Find Companies You Would Like to Work For

Identify employers of interest and visit the employment section of their website and look for college student or graduate opportunities.

Check to see if your college has any alumni working at your target organizations and ask for their advice about accessing jobs there. Your career and alumni offices can help you to identify alumni by organization, and you can also use the alumni function on LinkedIn to identify some contacts.

Use job sites like Indeed.com to generate more job leads. Identify specialized or niche job boards for your field to find more listings. 

Target Your Resume and Cover Letter

As your career goals begin to crystallize, develop versions of your resume that are targeted to specific jobs. Showcase the skills, experiences, coursework, and projects mostly related to your emerging job objectives. 

Avoid generic cover letters. Instead, take the time to write a targeted cover letter to make a special case for how each job matches your interests and skills. Get feedback and advice from advisors and mentors, and always carefully proofread your documents.

Organize Your Job Search

Treat your job search like an actual job, and get organized. Keep a database of all your applications and contacts.

Schedule 10 hours per week for job searching while you are in school. Increase the time you spend 20 hours a week during breaks and after graduation.

Line Up an Internship

Internship sponsors often hire from their past roster of interns. In fact, paid internships lead to job offers for 60% of college grads who have them, according to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Considering this, it's wise to try and get at least one internship right out of college. If you find that you're underqualified for your target job at graduation, then explore the possibility of doing an internship for the summer or fall after graduation. 

Even if your internship doesn't lead to a job offer, it will give you the opportunity to gain valuable skills and contacts. If cash flow is an issue, be sure to apply to paid internships, or pair a part-time internship with a basic paying job

Keep Balance in Your Life

Finally, endeavor to retain some balance in your life while you are in job search mode. Exercise, follow a healthy diet, get enough sleep and continue to pursue your outside interests in order to keep your energy level up and maintain a positive state of mind.

Finding that perfect first job may take some time, but making a good match will be worth your preparation and patience.