For many college students, the reality of completing their degree and finding a job feels far away. But graduation will sneak up on you, and you don't want to be left with a diploma and no plan for the future — or a way to pay your bills.
No one can guarantee that you will find a well-paying job right after graduation, but college seniors should take steps to maximize their time and effort. The good news is that it's a great time to look for work. According to Michigan State's Collegiate and Employment Institute, college hiring is at an all-time high. Of the 2,560 companies surveyed, 83% of them said they hired at least one college graduate in the 2017-2018 year.
If you're wondering how to get your first job, here's a month-by-month guide to your senior year, with the ultimate goal of finding the job that's right for you.
Summer before senior year: Brainstorm career options
You don't have to decide on what you'll do for your entire professional life, but now is the time to start seriously mapping out your options. Talk to friends and family about possible career paths before the pre-graduation panic sets in.
Turn to interest profiler sites like My Next Move to plug in your job criteria and receive customized job suggestions.
Download the career advice app Handshake. It's a job seeker's dream: more than 700 universities use the app to match talented students with employers who are looking for candidates.
Look for networking opportunities in your personal circles. This can be casual, such as having a cup of coffee with a family friend who has a successful publishing career.
September: Establish a relationship with the career center
If you haven't already, become a familiar face at your university's career center. The center is a one-stop resource for everything pertaining to your job search, and it's completely free for students. They can help you understand everything from how to apply for your first job to how to understand the different resume formats.
"[The career center] is definitely the thing that helps you the most," says Georgetown University senior Cole Miller, a finance major who will be working for a commercial real estate company in Los Angeles after graduating. "It's a stressful time, and to have someone help you navigate the whole process is important."
October: Get to networking
Your college's career center can do much more than help with your resume and cover letter. The staff can plug you into networking opportunities to meet professionals in the field and make connections. Here are a few networking options you can take advantage of:
- Attend job fairs and guest speaker events where you can gather first-hand info on what companies do and what they are looking for in entry-level employees.
- The career center can prep you for networking opportunities and put you in touch with alumni in your field. Don't be afraid to stick your neck out. "I tried to have coffee with as many people as I could," says Miller. "At first it was a little intimidating, but I went to the same coffee shop each time because it was a comfortable environment."
- Join industry organizations and arrange meetings with people in your field who can offer guidance. You'll learn about industry trends and connect with other potential employers.
November: Continue to research companies and industry trends
The more you know, the better off you'll be.
- Create a target list of companies where you would like to work.
- If you know anyone at these companies, reach out and ask if they would be willing to talk about their experiences. Be prepared to ask specific questions like, "How did you get your job here?" or "What is the company culture like?"
- Research salary trends in your area of interest.
December: Create your resume and cover letter
Even if your work experience is limited, you can still start to build a professional resume and cover letter that will impress employers and highlight your biggest accomplishments. Here are a few tips:
- Keep your resume short. Create a "base resume" to start. You'll likely be adding to it as you finish the school year, but now's the time to lay the groundwork for the resume core you'll customize for each opportunity. College seniors should be able to fit their experience and credentials onto one page. Be sure to highlight any internships and other relevant experiences. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, employers were more interested in experiences outside of academics: internships, jobs, volunteering and extracurricular activities. Our Resume Builder can help you get started in a snap.
- Use a cover letter. You'll also want to pull together a template for a thoughtful cover letter. Include your contact information, an introductory paragraph, some anecdotes that illustrate different achievements and skills, and a closing. Your cover letter gets updated each time you apply for a position, but this templated information will be valuable as you customize. You can create a basic cover letter using LiveCareer's Cover Letter Builder. Also check out our detailed guide to how to write a cover letter for more details.
- Work on your network. Don't assume that your favorite English professor will be able to come through. Professors receive many reference requests, so you need to give them time to deliver and get on their list. And if you have contacts from internships or school projects make sure you're building strong relationships and connecting with them professionally on LinkedIn. We have some additional tips for networking while in college that may be useful.
January: Build your brand
Your brand is your reputation, and the words you want people to think of when you come to mind. It's how you stand out from others.
Build a robust profile on LinkedIn, but also be aware of your presence on other social media accounts like Twitter and Instagram. Either set them to private or make sure all public-facing information is appropriate for an employer to see.
Volunteer, and participate in extracurricular activities — this will show employers how you like to spend your time, and also signal to them what's important to you. If you're eager to increase your participation in volunteer and extracurricular activities before graduation, now's the time!
February: Hone your interview skills
Miller says his career counselor suggested he consider what companies he was interested in rather than sending out an indiscriminate amount of applications. Practice interviewing for companies that actually interest you; you'll notice a difference when your heart is in it.
"I know several people who applied for more than 100 jobs, but the ones who applied to far fewer had greater success," he says.
Use the career center to help you with mock interviews and settling on what questions to ask. Ask friends — especially ones who have already found entry-level jobs for college graduates — how their interview experiences went and what they would do differently next time.
March: Interviewing and follow up
It's showtime. Many large companies and organizations hire college students during the spring of their senior year. Aren't you glad you've been preparing all year? Here are two interview reminders as you submit applications and hear back from hiring managers:
- Research, research, research. Become well-versed in the company's efforts and presence in the market, as well as larger industry trends. Review the LinkedIn profile of the company as well as the person you'll interview with.
- Prepare to dress for success. First impressions matter. Make sure you're investing now in the attire you'll need to land the role you want. Some industries, like financial services, will tend to be more formal while technology companies may be flip-flop casual. Good grooming is always necessary. If you're not sure what is appropriate, ask the person setting up the interview.
- Follow up. If you have an interview with a company, a follow-up note or email is a must. Be sure you collect business cards or contact info from the interviewers prior to the end of your interview. Pick out something from your conversation to highlight in the letter that will jog the memory of the interviewer. During a December interview with a company in New York City, the interviewer asked Miller if he had seen the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. "I told her I hadn't, but I would," he says. "Once I saw it, I made sure to put that in my follow up email."
April and May: Almost time to graduate
If you have secured a position at this point, congratulations! You can spend the last weeks of college studying for exams and soaking up the end of life as a college student. But if you're like many soon-to-be graduates, the job hunt continues. Keep up the good work by searching for interesting positions and companies using your networks and career center.
Even if you don't have an offer letter on graduation day, your year of preparation will still put you ahead of the crowd. Once you have your degree in hand, be sure to update your resume to reflect your newest accomplishment. LiveCareer's Resume Builder can help you update your resume in no time at all.