Sometimes our expectations don’t quite line up with reality. Finding your first job after college can be a process.
There’s a lot to consider as you start this new stage of life, and planning for life after college is a must. While leveraging your skills and passions is the ultimate goal, landing your first job (even if it’s not your dream job) is a foundational step toward a long and fulfilling career.
Here are 7 things you can do to get noticed and get hired for your first job after college.
1. Stand out with specialized certificates and courses
Certain professional certificates or courses will give you an advantage when you apply for jobs. They can fill in gaps in your education or help you acquire more specialized knowledge for a particular field.
For example, the Project Management Certificate (popularly known as the PMC) is a popular credential for aspiring entry-level managers. Google also offers certification in project management, as well as other specialties, including UX Design and Data Analytics. These online programs are affordable and require a relatively small time investment.
Big idea: Look at job descriptions for your target jobs. If you notice a pattern of a particular skill or software, this could lead you to the right certification or course for you.
2. Make the most of internships and other job opportunities
On-the-job experience can’t be replicated in a classroom. As a student, working in some capacity during school will help you develop a work ethic, gain valuable hard and soft skills, and build valuable connections. Companies want more than a degree—they want entry-level candidates who have (at least some) hands-on experience. Internships, externships, and even part-time jobs are all valuable for this purpose.
Big idea: Gain work experience directly related to your desired career (at best) or that allows you to develop transferrable skills (at least). Take stock of past jobs or internships and how you could apply the skills you learned to a full-time position. Track your skills, accomplishments, and contributions. When you’re tailoring your resume and writing cover letters post-graduation, you’ll be thankful you did.
3. Network, network, network
You know the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? While I’d argue it’s actually what you know and who you know when it comes to career success, the sentiment is on point:
Who you know matters.
Luckily, today there are more ways than ever to connect with other professionals in your industry. The Internet gives people access to reach out and build relationships that wasn’t possible in the pre-internet era.
Big idea: Leverage the internet—particularly professional spaces like LinkedIn—to expand your network. You can follow industry leaders, make new connections, and build your personal brand (more on that below). In addition, consider joining your college or university’s alumni network; attending industry events or conferences; joining a professional organization in your field; and nurturing current IRL connections, as well as building new ones (colleagues from former or current jobs, professors, career counselors, or mentors).
4. Optimize your digital footprint
When employers google you, what will they find?
Now is the time to take inventory of your online presence, clean up any questionable personal content, and invest in your personal brand.
For other social networks, make sure any content you’ve posted doesn’t reflect poorly on you. Consider keeping personal accounts private—but always proceed with caution with what you post (private or not).
Depending on your career goals, different platforms will be more or less relevant. When it comes to creating professional content, focusing on one or two social media sites and using them strategically (and consistently!) is ideal.
Finally, building a personal website or online portfolio is worthwhile. Social media sites come and go (or experience shifts in popularity), but your own website is yours to control. Further highlight your skills, showcase projects and accomplishments from work or school, and develop your personal brand.
Big idea: In the digital age, it’s essential to build an online presence and personal brand that makes employers take notice.
5. Tailor your resume to each job you apply
While your experience doesn’t change, it’s possible to be truthful and adapt your resume for specific positions.
When looking at a job description, think through your particular skills, projects, or responsibilities that are most relevant to the position.
Keep in mind that most companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), so including keywords on your resume is essential to landing interviews.
Get specific. It’s great to use action words and avoid buzzwords, but also remember to focus on results. Quantify your impact and how you made a difference whenever you can:
“After six months as the Team Lead, sales increased by 15%.”
Hire a resume consultant or take advantage of technology to make your resume even better. Austin Belcak shares how to thoughtfully use AI when creating outcome-focused bullets for your resume:
Big idea: To stand out in a sea of applicants, focused and specific resumes will increase your chances of getting an interview.
6. Practice interviewing skills
You don’t want to sound like you’ve memorized a script, but practicing answers to common interview questions will help you be more confident and natural under pressure. Practice alone and with another person who can give you honest, constructive feedback.
Big idea: Now isn’t the time to “wing it”—instead, treat interview prepartion as another important step in the job search process. Be ready with thorough answers to likely questions, past experiences, and key knowledge/skills for the specific role. When you’re fully prepared to talk about your background and how you can help the company, it shows.
7. Research companies
Research companies that align with your skills and interests before applying for a job so that your application is more targeted and likely more successful as a result.
Learn about the company culture, as well as their values and mission statement. When these things align with your personal values, the company may be a good match.
Look up employee reviews on a site like Glassdoor; current or past employees can offer insight into the workplace culture (before you travel too far into the hiring process with a particular company).
Finally, having a good grasp of the company’s biggest challenges and target goals can help you best position yourself in your application. How will you provide solutions and be an asset to the organization?
Big idea: Researching a company upfront saves time and energy in the long-run. You’ll know whether a job application is worth the time investment and you can better sell yourself if you understand the company’s pain points.
Finding your first job after college can be daunting
But a little diligence goes a long way.
The best candidates have not only impressive credentials but also a willingness to learn and grow.
The right preparation will highlight your experience and education, maximize your connections, and help you show up as your most confident self.
Stay persistent, and you’ll be starting your first job in no time.