Securing Your First Job After College
So you’ve finally graduated with that shiny, new college degree – now what? Thinking about what’s next and landing that first job out of school can be intimidating for many. However, there are steps and strategies you can take to launch your career on the right foot.
If you didn’t get a chance to pick up an internship during college, it’s not too late. Recent graduates often look to internships as a gateway to their future jobs. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and do well enough, you could even get promoted from company intern to employee!
Interning somewhere you could see yourself working at in the future can give you a clear idea of what it’s like to work there, while you gain experience working under someone higher up and build professional skills needed for success. You’ll also get to meet new people outside of your college network. It can be difficult to get a well-paying job right after graduation if you don’t have any work experience. So, by picking up an internship after finishing college, you may get a better shot at landing a full-time job later.
One thing to note about internships is that they generally do not pay much, if at all. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pursue them. Everyone has to start somewhere to get that initial work experience that will make them more appealing to future employers.
The nature of internships can vary greatly. Some companies have internships where students intern for a set amount of time and get promoted within the company after that time passes assuming they did well. Others may offer internships for a specific amount of time, and then students have to look elsewhere for their next opportunity once the internship period is up.
Resume & Cover Letters
After gaining some work experience, it’s time to create a resume and cover letter to send out to future employers. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have somebody hook you up with a job right after college, a resume is the first thing you will need to get a job. The cover letter is often optional, but having one on hand can help make you stand out and demonstrate your eagerness to get a job.
What Constitutes a Good Resume?
A resume is, ideally, a one-page document that summarizes you as a job candidate mostly in bullet format.
Things to include in your resume are:
- Your contact information
- Full name
- Phone number
- E-mail address
- Website if you have one
- List highest degrees and the ones most relevant to the position you’re applying for first
- Include both college and high school degrees
- Make note of the months & years you were at each school
Job/Intern history (if you have any)
- List jobs in order of most recent and relevant, similar to educational history
- Make note of the months & years you were at each job
- Show potential employers your abilities as they relate to the role (i.e. administrative assistants may indicate that they have a fast typing speed, competent in data entry softwares, and familiar with word processing, for example)
Summary of qualifications
- List any official certifications or workplace achievements you’ve earned
- If you still have room after listing these essentials, you can briefly delve into volunteer projects you are a part of, and your hobbies and interests relevant to the job you are applying for so that the employer can get to know you on a more personal level.
- The key to writing a good resume is to make sure it’s organized and easily understood. A future employer should be able to take a quick glance at your resume and have a pretty solid idea of your educational background, applicable skills, and qualifications.
Writing a resume for the first time? It may be helpful to ask a trusted friend, family member, or career counselor to look at your resume and get feedback. Perhaps you have a special skill that you forgot to mention, that could help you land your dream job!
Crafting the Perfect Cover Letter
A cover letter is a formal and detailed document that demonstrates your interest for a particular job. Since you’re often limited with space on a resume, a cover letter can be the perfect place to elaborate on what you think is especially important and how these items make you an attractive and competitive candidate for the job. You can also discuss how specific skills and experience you have match the job requirements listed.
A basic cover letter format looks like this:
- Name and contact information
- Full date (i.e. January 13, 20xx)
- Greeting (“Dear Hiring Manager” or address full name of hiring manager if you know it, with an appropriate title like “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Dr.”)
- Opening paragraph
- Briefly introduce yourself
- Let employer know how you found the job
- Explain why you are applying for the position you are, and what makes you a good candidate
- Middle paragraph
- Elaborate on a project or job you’ve taken on in the past that is relevant to the role you are applying for
- Talk about your favorite part of the job, and how you overcame obstacles
- Mention any noteworthy accomplishments
- Closing paragraph
- Reiterate what attracted you to the role you are applying for, and how you plan to contribute to the company
- Shed light on what is important to you as an employee (i.e. serving as a mentor to others, making an impact somehow, giving back to the community)
- State your goals for future contact, expressing your wish to set up an interview and move onto the next step of the hiring process
- Complimentary close (“Regards,” or “Sincerely” are good close options)
- Type your name but leave space in between for a handwritten signature if you are going to be delivering this cover letter by hand
Including a cover letter with your application when an employer doesn’t request for it lets him or her know that you are the type to go above and beyond. This could make you a more desirable candidate and give you a competitive edge over other applicants. However, if the employer specifically asks that no cover letters are included, you should only send over your resume. The last thing you want is for the employer to think that you don’t know how to follow instructions!
Some employers simply ask for your resume, but others may want you to fill out an application instead. Every application will be different depending on the job and company, but here are some general tips to follow when completing a job application:
- Follow directions.
- Read everything carefully and pay close attention to what is being asked.
- Fill out applications neatly and completely. If you are filling out by hand, make sure your handwriting is legible. If you are filling out digitally, make sure everything is formatted correctly so that the receiver can easily see what you’ve typed in the appropriate fields.
- Have references handy in case an application asks for them.
- Give a range for your salary requirements, rather than a set number to give room for negotiation.
- Always list your desired position so that it is clear what job you are applying for.
- Provide positive reasons for leaving past jobs, such as seeking better growth opportunities, attending school to improve your skillset, and moving to another area.
- Highlight your qualifications as they relate to the job you are applying for. Be sure to include your skills, experience, and accomplishments in detail when asked.
Job Search Engines
These days, there are plenty of places you could find your next job. You could always start with your local newspaper or Classifieds as traditionally done, but there are also a plethora of job search engines online that you can take advantage of for free. A few of our favorites include:
Numerous companies regularly update and post new job listings on these search engines, so it’s a good idea to check back everyday to see what opportunities are out there in your area.
To make yourself more accessible by hiring committees, it would be beneficial to have detailed profiles on these websites. For example, employers can search for potential employees on LinkedIn. As an applicant, you can create a digital resume detailing your work experience on the website. Then, employers stumbling across your page could reach out to you about a potential job opportunity if they think you might be a good fit.
Actively applying for jobs is important, but putting yourself out there is just as crucial. You never know who will come across your profile and have the perfect job waiting for you!
Did you score a job interview? Congratulations! This is your chance to shine and to show your future employer everything you have to offer. Before going to an interview though, it helps to have an idea of what you are going to say and how you are going to explain things. This can eliminate a lot of stress and anxiety.
Of course, there’s no way to fully predict what an interviewer is going to ask, but you can always prep by considering how you’ll respond to the following common interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What is your greatest strength and weakness?
- What makes you special?
- Why did you apply for this job?
- Tell me about something that is not on your resume.
- Tell me about a time where you had to overcome an obstacle.
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
- How would you describe yourself?
- Describe your work ethic.
- Do you work well with others?
- How do you stand out from your competition?
- How well do you assimilate into a new environment?
- What do you like to do outside of work and/or school?
- What is your dream job?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Why have you been out of work for so long?
- What have you been doing since your last job?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Why should we hire you?
- When could you start work?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
There’s no need to memorize answers, but the more you prepare, the more confident you will be during your interview. Don’t feel discouraged if your first few interviews don’t pan out as expected. Practice makes perfect, and the more interviews you experience, the better you’ll get with time!
Choosing a Career
Committing to a career after graduating with your college degree can be a daunting step in life. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Follow these simple steps to choose a career that’s just right for you:
- Perform a self-assessment by identifying your key values, technical skills, soft skills, interests, personality, and natural aptitudes.
- Identify your must-haves in a job, such as a certain salary, location, flexibility to work from home, travel limitations, etc.
- Create a list of positions to explore by utilizing your network, identifying things you enjoy doing, and finding interesting industries.
- Research roles and employers to narrow down your list.
- Get training if necessary via an internship or a part-time job if needed, and update your resume.
- Find and apply for jobs online.
- Always grow and learn from going to interviews, keeping track of your goals, and pursuing what gives you meaning in life!
Career Possibilities for Common Majors
Have you graduated with a common and broad major but still not sure what you want to do for a living? Let’s brainstorm together!
For many, a major in biology is a stepping stone to medical school and becoming some sort of doctor, or working in the medical field. However, biology majors can also pursue other career paths such as:
- Zoo or aquarium biologist
- Park ranger
- Teacher or professor
- Forensic scientist
- Science writer or journalist
- Public health educator
Students that see themselves as entrepreneurs after finishing college would likely pursue a business major. But this major is not just for people who want to become their own boss. Graduates with a business degree can also become a:
- Loan officer
- Job development specialist
- Quality control coordinator
- Customer service manager
- Public relations manager
- Human resources professional
- Financial analyst
- Management analyst
Communications is a popular major among undergraduate students because it is so open-ended. It’s a very “safe” major, and there’s a lot you can do with a communications degree such as becoming a:
- Journalist (digital, broadcast, or print)
- Public relations representative
- Media buyer
- Advertising copywriter
- Content creator
- Newswriter or director
- Health educator
- Social media manager
- Drama coach
- Hospitality manager
- Events planner
- Campaign director
Tech-savvy individuals that love to constantly grow, evolve, and advance with modern technology often pursue a computer science degree. This degree is a very practical one, giving students many skills outside of just technical knowledge. Undergraduates also come out with excellent critical thinking and communication skills, which are essential for any job. Computer science majors can eventually become a:
- Software programmer
- Teacher or professor
- Database administrator
- Internet entrepreneur
- Telecommunications expert
- E-commerce developer
- Website designer
- Technical analyst
- Computer software trainer
- Hardware programmer
When you think of economics, the jobs in banking, business, or finance on Wall Street probably comes to mind. But surprisingly, there’s loads more you could do with an undergraduate degree in economics! An aspiring economist could work as a:
- Equity trader
- Investment banker
- Mortgage specialist
- Community affairs advisor
- Asset manager
- Purchasing agent
- Economic analyst
- Financial advisor
- Hedge fund administrator
- Public affairs specialist
- Market research analyst
- Sales representative
- International trade specialist
There are a lot of different engineering fields that one could consider after earning their undergraduate degree such as:
- Mechanical engineer
- Safety engineer
- Ceramic engineer
- Fire protection engineer
- Quality control engineer
- Electronics instructor
- Operations engineer
- Chemical engineer
- Environmental engineer
Engineering degree holders can work in mining industries, government agencies, transportation, higher education, electrical industries, and aeronautics, to name a few!
The English degree is often underrated in importance, but it can actually be very valuable. Similar to Communications, graduates with an English degree can have a wide range of career options available to them such as:
- Technical writer
- Corporate librarian
- Events coordinator
- Teacher, tutor, or professor
- Public relations assistant
- Casting director
- Technical writer
- Literary agent
As you can see, there are a plethora of career paths one could take with various majors!
A Look at the U.S. Job Market
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, six of the ten fastest-growing occupations right now are related to healthcare. Some popular examples of careers in healthcare include physician assistants making a median annual wage of $112,260, nurse practitioners making a median annual wage of $109,820, and occupational therapy assistants making a median annual wage of $61,510 in May 2019. These jobs have very little projected employment change, indicating that they are “safe” jobs that are in demand.
The technology industry has also been a popular one in the United States. According to cyberstates.org, 12.1 million people are employed in the tech space. It’s ranked 4th in job creation since 2010 among the rankings of 22 top-level occupation categories, with 307,000 new jobs added in the industry in the past year. Approximately 10% of the national economy (or ~$1.9 trillion) is direct economic output of this booming industry!