Whether you’re looking for an afterschool job, trying to enter the market after graduation, or simply moving back into the workforce after a break, finding an entry-level position in the workforce can be a daunting task. Not only is it difficult to know in advance which positions will be a good fit, but your competition is wide open and almost every prospective employer knows that this benefits them. The key to getting an entry-level job that fits you well is to hack the system by using more advanced strategies than the average prospect does. This sets you apart from the pack and signals that you are thinking about the next step, both of which call attention to your application and help you get an interview. There are two steps to hacking the job market, research and preparation, and each step requires a different kind of thinking to be successful.
There are a couple of different ways that you should use research to find your first employer. The first way is to research and inventory your existing skill set. What are you good at? What do you like to do? Knowing these things about yourself is key to doing well, and sometimes it can help to write or draw the information out so that you can see it as you think. This makes it easier to put your skill sets side-by-side with different job descriptions, which is important if you want to make sure that you are applying to jobs where you’ll be a good fit. It is also important to know your assets, so any involvement in extracurricular or volunteer activities, past leadership experience, or skills developed through education and training should also be listed. This inventory can also be a great way to assess and update your resume.
The other step is to research each individual employer you are planning to apply to. This is helpful in a variety of ways, including:
Giving you a clear idea about the culture of the workplace and the expectations for dress and professional interaction.
Demonstrating that you carefully consider major choices like where you work and what you want to do.
Showing interest in and enthusiasm for the work itself.
Ensuring that you do not accidentally apply to positions that would be a bad fit, either temperamentally or because your skill sets are oriented differently.
There are a variety of ways to research a company, and you should probably take more than one approach. If the business is open to the public, then a visit can show you how they operate and what it is like to be on the customer’s side of things. It can also be helpful to ask a few friends to check out a prospective employer and get back to you, because that will let you see if your experiences are typical for the company. Internet research, checking the company site and any related materials, can also be really helpful, and some larger corporations have outreach and recruiting programs where you can talk to current employees about the job, which is also a great idea. Any way you work it, you need to know what you’re getting into, because you’ll need that information for the preparation phase.
Once you’ve done your information gathering, the next step is to make sure that you are prepared for the market. It’s fairly common for an entry-level employer to review applications quickly, sometimes even immediately, so don’t assume that you will get a second round of preparation after you drop off your application. Instead, go in expecting that you might find yourself in an impromptu interview, and take a few steps to ensure that you are ready for it if it comes.
Practicing common interview questions with friends and family members can help, and the more different ideas you hear about your approach, the better because that way you can see the variety of responses that your approach will generate. As you practice, make sure to work in knowledge from your research. It’s also a good idea to prepare for your conversation with an employer by hearing yourself relate your past experience to your present search for a job, because it will make it easier for you to navigate explaining that relationship later, when the pressure is on.