You may be wondering how to get a job after college. The job market is tougher than ever, and college students often enter the job market with no real experience. Finding a good job after college can be challenging. Read on for tips to help ease this difficulty so that you can get a job fitting of your talents, skills, and career goals.
Getting a job after college may be one of the biggest challenges you’ll ever face. This is what all of your studying, skill-building, and degree work have been leading to. As you proceed, be warned that competition is fierce, opportunities may vary, and it does matter who you know.
Table of Contents
According to Inside Higher Ed, unemployment is significantly higher for young college graduates than for the general population. Moreover, roughly 41 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, or working in jobs that don’t require a college degree.
These figures underscore how challenging the job market can be for recent graduates. The good news is that you do have the power to improve your job prospects if you know how to navigate the employment landscape. You can enhance your career opportunities by wisely channeling your degree, participating in internships, creating a strong resume, and nailing your interview.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Even before you graduate, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your chances in the job market. Begin preparing for your job hunt while you’re still in college by taking the following steps…
Get a jump start on your search well before the spring semester of your senior year.
This means you should be collecting contacts, identifying potential opportunities, and laying the groundwork for your search by sharing your career goals with professors, advisors, mentors and anybody who you think might help you land a job.
It’s never too soon in your college career to seek an internship. We’ll talk more about internships later in this guide. The sooner you start, the more experience you can gather on the way to graduation.
Speaking of getting an early start, now’s the time to create a LinkedIn account if you haven’t already. LinkedIn is a valuable online forum for professional networking, job hunting, and recruitment.
Start a blog. Site-builders like Wordpress are generally accessible, easy to use, and highly functional. Create a personal space for sharing your professional experiences, ideas, and observations. This is a link you can provide to prospective employers for a stronger sense of who you are and what you have to offer a hiring organization.
When blogging or posting on social media, keep your messages clean, professional, and positive.
Visit Career Services on Campus
Take advantage of the personnel and informational resources provided through your campus. The career services office may be able to answer your questions, provide you useful information on various career paths, and provide you with real job leads.
Some career services departments may take steps to help you access internships and may even include job placement services.
Look for prominent professional associations in your field. Many have reduced rates or even free membership for students.
Professional associations are a great way to make additional contacts, build a professional network, and build your own professional credentials.
Take advantage of workshops, publications, seminars, monthly newsletters or any other informational resources that your professional association makes available to you. Use this as a way to learn more about your fields and the jobs available to you.
If you plan to work in the field where you earned your degree, be sure that you understand the professional implications of your major. While your degree certainly isn’t everything, how you use it can have a profound impact on your career prospects and earning potential. Take the following steps for a stronger sense of your degree’s likely value…
Know Your Career Options
Familiarize yourself with the types of jobs most often held by people with your degree or a similar degree.
Be aware of the potential for advancement in any given role. Will your degree allow you to advance into an eventual leadership role or will your options be limited?
Find out if the positions you’re considering might require you to eventually earn an advanced degree.
Make sure that you actually like the jobs connected to your major, that your degree will put you in a position to land a job you can actually see yourself doing.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics will tell you the median income for a wide range of jobs and career paths. Be aware of the earning potential in your chosen field.
Other sites like Glass Door offer insight into earning potential per position.
You can also find out what companies are offering for certain jobs by reviewing actual job offers at sites like Monster and Indeed.
Earning potential is not carved in stone. Every career path is unique. You may be able to earn far more than the median for your job field, or you may struggle to reach the median based on any number of circumstances.
Earning potential doesn’t need to determine your career path, but you should have a strong sense of your likely salary potential before diving into a career.
Match Your Course Selection with Career Ambitions
As you get deeper into your major, you’ll have the chance to sharpen your focus. Use this chance to take courses that might help you choose an area of specialization.
Find out if your desired job will require special skills or training, and select college courses accordingly.
Use this chance to build relationships with professors who may also have professional experience, positions, and contacts in your chosen field.
Be Realistic About Your Entry-Level Opportunities
Recognize that your status as a recent graduate will limit your qualifications for certain roles.
Your entry-level status will likely also limit your short-term earning potential.
Prioritize opportunities where you can see a path for growth. Your earning potential will improve as you gain experience.
Consider a position in your field over a position outside of your field, even if the compensation is lower. This is the path to experience and the way to make precious connections.
The job market is fluid, and sometimes quite volatile, as demonstrated by recent historical events. Career trends can shift around economic patterns, technological innovations, international incidences, and much more. As you choose a career path, stand back and look at the big picture. How do your career goals connect to the larger events in the world? Consider some of the following factors as you begin your job search…
Find out the Rate of Job Growth
Consider the future growth potential in your field, and look to build skills and qualifications accordingly.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great source, offering a 10-year forecast for rate of job growth as well as the raw number of positions existing today in your field.
As you choose an area of specialization, think about how the number of existing positions and growth outlook might affect your ability to land a desirable job.
Consider what Kinds of Organizations You Could Work For
Figure out if your degree is likeliest to land you a big corporate job, a job for a national retail chain, a prominent role in a small company, or a principal position at a startup. How versatile is your degree?
What sectors will your degree likely lead toward? Public; commercial; finance; non-profit; retail; service, etc.? Get an idea of the part of the labor economy where your degree might apply. You may have a lot of options.
Think about the kind of company culture where you’ll be most comfortable and productive. Find ways to match your degree and skill sets with this type of organization.
Know How Competitive Positions Are In Your Field
Your chances of landing the job of your dreams may also depend on how many other qualified candidates are dreaming of the same gig.
Find out how many other people have just graduated with a similar degree and compare that to the number of existing positions in your field. This should give you a sense of how competitive your job market is.
Learn about credentials that might improve your competitive edge. Do many candidates for this position have professional certificates, advanced degrees, or other qualifications that might improve hiring potential?
Some professions require you to earn professional certification in order to practice. In other professions, a professional certificate may make you a more competitive candidate, or qualify you for certain specializations. Whether certification is built into your degree program or it’s something that you must pursue independently upon degree completion, know your options and your obligations…
Know What Certificates Your Career Demands
Some professions, like education or social work, require professional certification before you can practice. Be sure you know exactly what certifications you’ll need to enter the job market.
In some cases, the proper certification may only be available after you’ve earned a certain level of degree. Find out if you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or beyond to earn a certificate to practice.
Bear in mind that you may be able to gain entry-level opportunities in your field without certification, but that such professional certification may be necessary for you to advance beyond a certain level.
Consider Certificates That Can Make You a More Competitive Candidate
Certificates aren’t always required, but certain certificates can expand your skill sets and qualify you for a wider range of roles.
Professional certification in some areas may make you a more attractive candidate to hiring firms.
Earning certain certifications may also help you advance within an organization where you are already employed. This could be a great way to make the leap from entry-level to leadership.
Some employers may even pay for certification courses or training on your behalf.
Certification courses can help you update your skill sets, which is particularly valuable in the fast-moving computer, tech, and STEM fields.
Find Out if Your Degree Program Offers Professional Certification
Your degree program may include certification courses. If your career path requires or might benefit from certification, speak to your academic advisor about your options. Completing a certification as part of your degree program may save you time and money.
If your certificate program is not included or available on campus, ask your academic advisor for recommendations regarding reputable certificate-granting institutions.
Always be sure that the program you choose is accredited, recognized by key professional associations in your field, and genuinely has a positive reputation.
An internship is an unpaid tenure working in a real professional setting, preferably one in your area of study. Some majors may actually require you to serve an internship as part of your degree completion. Other programs may view internships as optional. Either way, participation in an internship is a great way to familiarize yourself with your field, to get some real-world experience, and to network with real working professionals. Consider the following factors as you pursue an internship in college…
Look for Something in Your Field
Start your search by exploring options in your intended field. If you’re interested in medicine, look for local doctor’s offices or clinics. If you’re considering legal studies, look for area law firms or legal advocacy groups.
Do your research and find a company with a positive public reputation and high employee satisfaction.
Be open-minded. Take on jobs and responsibilities in your field that you hadn’t previously considered. The experience will be valuable.
Learn the pros and cons of your intended field. Find out what you like and don’t like about the job. Can you see yourself working in this field long-term? One goal of your internship is to find out.
Be willing to contact any organization that interests you, even those that aren’t necessarily hiring or advertising active internship programs. It never hurts to ask.
Your goal is to build skills that will make you a more competitive candidate in your field and better qualify you for day-to-day work.
Try to experience a wide range of responsibilities during your internship so that you can build a diverse array of practical skills.
If there’s an organizational skill that you’re interested in learning or trying, don’t be afraid to ask for pointers or instruction. And be willing to step outside of your comfort zone in order to try your hand at new and challenging skills.
Observe the professionals in action
Sometimes, the best way to learn a new set of skills is to watch the pros at work. Set your sights on organizational leaders, skilled experts, and individuals with a good attitude and strong work ethic. Find role models.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Ask your role models how and why. Take the guesswork out of learning new skills.
The right role model could turn into a professional mentor. If you find the right person and situation, try to establish yourself as an apprentice.
Use your internship to build connections
Your internship will be one of your first steps into your intended field. This means you’ll be meeting professionals, experts, and leaders in this field. Nurture positive working relationships.
These relationships could grow into strong professional contacts. This is the beginning of your professional network.
If you are truly effective at building relationships, you may even be able to parlay an internship into a real job working in your field.
Make an effort to get to know others, and give them opportunities to get to know you. When invited, join colleagues for lunch, happy hour, and company events. Remember, it’s who you know!
Show up on time, act professionally, and learn the company culture. Treat your internship like a real job because one day, it could be.
The cover letter is a chance to make a first impression, and you know what they say about first impressions. You never get another chance. Make sure you know the rules of cover letter writing. This form of contact may be short, but it’s also extremely important. Check out these tips for using the cover letter to get your foot in the door.
Make it Short and Sweet
Most job applications require submission of a cover letter, which you’ll typically submit either through email or through an application form.
Keep it simple. Focus only on the highlights, including a brief look at your recent education and job history, and how these factors qualify you for the position in question.
Include one or two reasons why you were attracted to the hiring organization, and why you think you’d be a great fit.
Hiring organizations are busy, and yours may be just one of hundreds of applications. Anything longer than 3 to 4 paragraphs is probably too long.
Find the right balance between being informative and concise.
Write Formally and Professionally
You’re seeking a job, not sending a text to your friend. Make sure you write in clear, coherent, and complete sentences.
Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Typos and poor writing could be enough to take you out of the running for a great job.
Write in a respectful tone and, of course, avoid profanity.
Your professional résumé or curriculum vitae is a critical instrument for landing a job. This is the basic roadmap to your educational and professional experience. It’s meant to tell employers whether or not you qualify for a job, at least on paper. So make sure that you include everything that matters, leave out anything that doesn’t, and offer plenty of reasons why an employer might want to hire you. Read on to find out what to include and what to leave out…
Use a Template
There are a lot of proven templates for writing a résumé that will get you noticed. Go online and check out some of the résumé templates used by people in your industry.
When you find the right template, plug in your personal information and customize the format according to your needs.
Keep it Tight
Employers will likely read hundreds or thousands of résumés. Get their attention but don’t waste their time. Get your point across in quick, clear, and interesting bullet points.
Your résumé shouldn’t go over a page in length.
Fill up the white space on your résumé. You’ll be fitting your accomplishments into a single page so it should look robust.
Make it Relevant
Include only job history that is relevant to the career you seek. Your goal is to demonstrate experience that prospective employers will find useful.
Research the skills sought after in your intended field. Use your résumé to identify areas where your skill sets match these desired skills.
Highlight desired 21st Century skills like communication, creativity, and critical thinking, as these are generally relevant and valuable to all professional areas.
Don’t attempt to fluff your résumé with unnecessary details or job experience unrelated to your intended field. For instance, your high school paper route is probably not relevant as you apply for a post-graduate job in computer science.
Adjust According to Job Opportunity
Even if you use a template to build your résumé, consider the slight nuances differentiating your various job prospects. For instance, you might want to include slightly different information in your résumé for a job at a non-profit than you would for a job at a major retailer.
Make tweaks to your résumé to emphasize the skills and experience that are most pertinent to a given role or position.
Keep it Updated Regularly
Edit your résumé as you gain skills, add certifications, accumulate experience, or change positions.
You never know when an opportunity may present itself. Be sure you have an up-to-date résumé that you can submit at a moment’s notice.
Update your professional experiences to include the most recent positions held. As time passes, you may be able to remove older and less relevant job experience in favor of more recent and more relevant experience.
Your résumé explains who you are on paper. But most prospective employers also want to know who you are in person. Interviews can take a number of forms from telephone and video conferences to in-person meetings. Depending on the nature of the job, you may have to weather multiple interviews, and frequently with more than one person. Make sure you’re fully prepared for any of these formats. An interview is an opportunity. These steps can help you make the most of that opportunity…
Show Up on Time
Don’t be late. That’s rule #1. Failing to show up on time usually sends a strong negative signal to those considering your candidacy.
Your punctuality for an interview will be seen as a sign of your punctuality in general, and an indication of how seriously you will likely take your work and responsibilities.
If you’re interviewing online, test your internet connection and equipment ahead of time. If you’re interviewing in person, use Google Maps to time out your travel, and give yourself extra time in case of traffic or accidents.
Dress to impress. Wear clean, professional, wrinkle-free clothing for your interview.
Do a little research—try checking out the company’s website or Facebook page—to learn more about the company’s dress culture.
This probably goes without saying, but avoid clothing with salient graphics, overt political messages, or profanity.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t wear an evening gown or tuxedo to an office where most people wear khakis and collars. And avoid strong perfume or cologne fragrances.
Don’t assume your interviewers will have a copy of your résumé handy. Print out a few copies, enough for multiple interviewers to peruse during your meeting.
If you have a business card with personal contact information, bring enough for everybody.
Bring a notebook, a pen, or anything else you might need to take notes or write questions during your interview.
Study the Company
Prepare for your interview by doing some background research on the company. Your knowledge of the company should inform the way you answer interview questions.
Use this research to prepare responses highlighting your qualifications for the position and your compatibility with the organization.
Make sure this is the kind of company you want to work for. Do they have a positive culture, strong corporate ethics, high employee satisfaction, etc.? Be sure you’re interviewing with a company that you’d be proud to work for.
You’re interviewing your employer as much as they’re interviewing you. Be prepared with questions about the culture, company policies, work/life balance, growth opportunities, and more.
Find out everything you can during the interview so you’re in a better position to make an informed decision if you get the job offer.
Asking intuitive questions shows that you’ve done your background research. Impress your prospective employer with your knowledge of the company’s history, culture, and values.
Focus on questions about the nature of the job and career development. Try to avoid questions about vacations, raises, and other perks that you haven’t yet earned. You’ll have time to learn about these things if you’re actually offered the job.
Be Confident, Not Cocky
Describe your skills and talents, but don’t be arrogant. Find a balance between self-assured and modest.
Focus on being friendly, positive, and complimentary, whether discussing former colleagues and employers, or engaging your interviewers.
Congratulations on actually landing a job! Now, let’s make sure you keep it. Your first day can be nerve-wracking, but it’s also exciting. Use your first day wisely and set yourself up for long-term success…
Show Up On Time. Yes, we said it before, but we really can’t stress this enough. Do not be late on your first day!
Ask Questions. Don’t fumble around looking for the right way to do things. If you are uncertain, ask somebody. The sooner you ask, the sooner you can get to doing your job the right way.
Be Eager to Take On Challenges. Be bold and willing to learn new skills. Make yourself valuable to your new employer by demonstrating your willingness to step outside of your comfort zone.
Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. Even seasoned professionals have bad days. If you’re new to the job, there is likely to be a learning curve. If you fall, get up, brush yourself off, and learn from your mistakes.
And, if you’re interested in improving your career prospects by attending graduate school, read more here.
Not what you’re looking for? Check out these other Guides for answers to all of your college questions!