Finding a job after college might seem daunting, especially if most of your experience has been on a college campus in classrooms and clubs. Here are nine tips for recent college grads to help you highlight your marketable skills and impress potential employers.
1. Start Early
If you wait until you've graduated to begin thinking about finding a job, you're already behind. Job searching as a fresh graduate can take a lot longer than you imagine, leaving you jobless for weeks or months. Start as early as possible in your college career to build your network by attending events on campus and securing summer internships.
Also, try to gain some interviewing experience before you graduate. Your college career center is an excellent resource for conducting mock interviews. Being comfortable in an interview seat will serve you well in your post-college life. While you're there, talk to them about jobs for college graduates with your interests and coursework.
2. Emphasize your work experience
You'll be in a much stronger position if you acquire some work experience while you're still studying. Not only does real-life work experience teach you skills, but it also helps you fill out your resume.
Include all your past work experience, even if the work isn't directly relevant to the jobs you are seeking or seems menial. The more experience you have, the more attractive you'll look to hiring managers. The key is to focus on the transferable skills you gleaned from each role, and how you can apply them to the job you want.
Remember, internships count as work experience for recent grads. So, if you've held internships in high school or college, highlight them in your resume.
3. Polish your social media presence
Take the time to clean up your social media profiles. Many employers will research you online, so you'll want to remove anything unprofessional or potentially embarrassing, such as:
- Party or inappropriate photos
- Overly political or otherwise divisive tweets or posts
- Out of date information on LinkedIn
- Any posts that you wouldn't want your prospective employer to read
Not sure what social media posts are job search-friendly? A good rule of thumb is to remove any post that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper.
4. Do your homework
Some people go into college knowing exactly what they want their career to be. Whether it was clear as a freshman or not, by the time you graduate you should have some ideas about what you'd like to do.
Start thinking about (and writing down) your professional goals and dreams. Next, research potential jobs for recent college graduates and identify prospective employers in areas where you would like to live that fit with your career goals.
The more you explore your goals, the easier it will be to identify roles that will help you achieve them. Similarly, the more you understand the duties involved in specific jobs, the easier it will be to tailor your resume to those opportunities.
If you are still unclear about which path to choose, you might want to consider conducting some informational interviews with people in fields that interest you. These individuals can offer insight and advice, and they might help you clarify which career is right for you.
Don't stress if your first job isn't your dream job — the first one rarely is. You'll most likely learn a lot of valuable skills that will help you move on to something different once you gain some work experience.
5. Create a strong resume
Entry-level roles often attract hundreds of applications. Here are some tips for recent college grads on how to get your resume noticed:
Nix the personal statement. They waste space, and you should also avoid describing yourself with generic words like "energetic" or "self-motivated." These descriptions won't help you stand out. Instead, write a professional summary that outlines your most relevant skills and focuses on what you will offer to the employer.
Ensure your resume is keyword search-friendly. Prospective employers will look for terms related to specific competencies and technical skills listed in the job description. Many hiring managers also use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to pick out the candidates who use keywords in their application materials. Key areas of expertise might include skills such as search engine optimization or financial accounting. And don't forget soft skills, which could include problem-solving or negotiation skills.
Clarify what makes you unique. Most graduate resumes look the same, so to get noticed, include some relevant examples from your work experience or internships. Employers want to see the results of your work, so don't just tell them what you've done — show them what you've delivered and how you've added value. Quantify your experience as much as possible.
Tailor your resume to each role. Employers want to know that you're applying to their specific job — not just to one of many jobs you saw online. Research the position and the employer you are applying to and highlight any skills and experience you have that they are looking for.
Organize your resume to put the most relevant information for each employer up top. You can accomplish this by changing the order of your skills section to highlight the terms the employer used in the job ad. Also include a "relevant employment" section, with an "additional experience" section below that, which will allow you to reorder your past jobs to showcase your most relevant experience.
6. Keep building your network of contacts
This tip applies to most job seekers: A large and strong network of contacts will result in more job opportunities. Always look for new people to add to your network. Use your classmates, professors and family friends to start. Your school's alumni office might also be able to connect you with alumni who are willing to give advice.
Career fairs are another great opportunity to build your network, hear about job leads, and improve your interviewing skills.
7. Develop examples and stories that showcase your skills
People remember stories, so one of my favorite tips for recent college grads is to develop several STAR (situation, task, action, result) examples to use in networking and interviewing situations that demonstrate your skills, accomplishments, passion for your work, teamwork and problem-solving abilities.
Prepare examples that highlight what you've achieved, times you took initiative, how you worked under pressure, or what it's like working as a member of a team, and use them as you develop cover letters and prepare for interviews. Make sure to avoid the interview mistakes common to entry-level job seekers.
8. Prepare for your interviews thoroughly
To excel in a job interview, keep these tips in mind:
- Research the employer and interviewers.
- Prepare answers to common general and competency-based interview questions and then practice them with a friend or interview coach. Be confident in your delivery, but not scripted or rehearsed. People can sense when you're not being authentic.
- Arrive a few minutes before your interview starts, use positive body language (firm handshake, friendly smile, good posture), and be friendly to everyone you meet.
Ask questions at the end of the interview, thank them for their time, and ask about the next steps in the process.
9. Remember to write thank-you notes
Sending off a quick note (email is fine) of thanks and emphasizing your interest in the job isn't the perfect answer to how to get a job after college, but it will make you stand out from the competition. The majority of job seekers don't bother sending a thank-you note at all.
We've tailored these tips to recent college grads, but job seekers of all ages and experience levels should be able to find these tips helpful. Use this advice as the foundation for what I hope will be a successful post-college job hunt. And if you're ready to start developing your resume, use our Resume Builder to get off to a strong start.