4 Job Search Tips for Recent College Graduates
When you’re a college student, you’re told where to go, what to do, and when to do it. This structure and guidance feel welcome as you navigate your studies. Then one day, you find yourself out in the real world, trying to figure out what your next step should be. You’re on your own now, left to fend for yourself in the fiercely competitive job market, and you might feel lost.
The thought of entering the workforce may overwhelm you, but don’t forget that you’ve just obtained a degree, and with some focus and planning, you can make a success of your job hunt. It takes time to adjust to your new reality, so the best thing you can do to help ensure a smooth job search is to prepare thoughtfully.
Theoretically, it would be easy to jump straight into the process and start sending out job applications, but this isn’t a good strategy—generic resumes aren’t likely to land you any jobs. In addition, stretching yourself too thin means wasting your time and energy applying for positions you aren’t well qualified for, which is a sure-fire way to rack up the rejections.
Just take a breath and give yourself time to prepare. There are a few things you must do before you start scouring job boards and reaching out to your network because nothing says amateur quite like being unprepared. Even if you’re anxious to land a job as quickly as possible, taking the time to prepare will save you time in the long run.
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Let’s now see what recent college graduates can do to improve their chances of landing a job.
1. Narrow down your options
Not everyone finishes their studies with a clear idea of what they want for their first job, so don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of vacancies you see all over the internet. This feeling is normal, but you can’t let fear stop you from moving forward. Narrowing down your options will make the job-seeking process more focused and efficient, which will hopefully translate into landing your first job faster. Before you dive in and start applying for jobs you aren’t sure you actually want, take a step back and reflect on your goals.
First, think about the kinds of jobs you want, what you’re willing to compromise on, and what you expect from your employer. Consider aspects such as salary, growth opportunities, office culture, and location, and figure out what your deal-breakers are so you don’t waste your time and energy applying for jobs you won’t find fulfilling or interesting. Think about your long-term career goals and the steps you can take now to move toward them—thus, you can avoid wasting time in a role that doesn’t take you down the path you want to go. If you’re struggling to define your vision or goals, consider speaking to a career coach—they’re trained to ask all the right questions to guide you to these realizations.
Additionally, consider which courses you enjoyed the most at college and how they intersect with your skills. Feeling excited about the job you want will motivate you, and knowing you’re capable and qualified will keep your enthusiasm and passion alive. Again, you don’t have to know what exactly your dream job is right now, but it is important to know what you want to explore before you start sending out applications. You can look at your first job as a means of dipping your toes in professional waters, but careful research and forethought will help you make this initial experience as fruitful as possible.
2. Prepare your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile
Before you can start applying for jobs, there are a few basic things you need to have ready. The first and most important one is your resume. Make sure you have an updated version of it, or better yet, write a fresh one—now that you have your degree, you’ll want to highlight it and focus on gearing it toward the kind of job you’re after. Take your time to write a clear, concise, and professional resume that draws attention to your strengths and qualifications, but don’t send this generic resume anywhere—carefully tweak it to match the requirements and specifications of each job you’re interested in, and send that tailored version instead.
Most job applications will also call for a cover letter, and you should customize this document as well for each submission. Researching the company or role and understanding what they require from a candidate will make it much easier to match your skills and experience to the position. You can pull keywords from the job listing—most likely, they’ll appear in bold or italics or maybe as bullet points, making them easy to identify. Incorporate as many of these keywords as possible into your resume and cover letter to impress the hiring manager and, even more importantly, make it past the applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that most modern-day companies use to filter out irrelevant job applications.
Your LinkedIn profile obviously can’t be tailored to each job application, but you can focus it on the kind of job you’re looking for or your area of expertise. Remember: This is your chance to sell yourself as an employee, so make your profile professional and clear, and use it to celebrate your greatest achievements. Being active on the platform will also feed the algorithm, so be sure to interact with posts and share any updates about your journey. This also gives you the chance to make connections, build your professional network, and discover new opportunities, so take full advantage of LinkedIn. If you’re not sure where to start, have us overhaul your LinkedIn profile so it ranks better in search engines.
3. Put yourself out there
There are so many places to look for jobs that it can be hard to know where to start, so take it one step at a time. Even after you narrow down your requirements and preferences, you’ll still likely discover that there’s no shortage of great job opportunities out there, but if you’re struggling to find enough vacancies, you may need to make some compromises.
It’s important to set up accounts on professional social networks first—beyond using job boards and LinkedIn, you also need to make yourself visible in other ways, such as applying to jobs directly through company websites or even signing up with a recruitment agency. Employers typically respond more positively to candidates who apply directly through their website as this shows more interest and initiative than simply going through a job board. Therefore, try to apply through the company’s website whenever possible.
Now is the time to turn every stone and look for opportunities in more unconventional places, so don’t be afraid to reach out to employers directly. However, do follow whatever contact protocols they have, or your application might end up in their spam folder. Also, make the best of your social network and alert people that you’re looking for a job—you never know who might have the perfect position for you. Even your friends or acquaintances in unrelated fields may know people who can help you, so make use of your networks, both professional and personal, and look for opportunities everywhere you can.
4. Use your time wisely
The job-hunting process can be slow and frustrating, so don’t just sit around dwelling on it—be proactive and use your time wisely. Even when you’re not actively working on landing a new job, you can improve your skills, knowledge, and portfolio to make yourself a more competitive candidate.
While you’re waiting for a reply from a company or for more vacancies in your field to open up, you should be learning new skills to boost your employability. Sign up for courses and workshops, participate in forums and events, apply for internships, or keep working on your portfolio—in other words, find ways to be productive and move forward.
Stay focused on your goals and choose activities that can serve as stepping stones for your future. Also, make the time to keep everything organized, and keep track of all your applications and which versions of your resume and cover letter you included in each one. If you’re applying for many jobs at once, this can help you monitor everything and ensure you don’t accidentally apply for the same position twice.
When the time comes for your first post-college job interview, make sure you prepare by practicing your answers to common interview questions. One great option is to set up a mock job interview with our team of job success experts. Job interviews are nerve-racking even for seasoned professionals, but with ample practice and preparation, you can pass with flying colors.