School’s out forever. You’ve sat your exams, handed in your coursework, and attended your graduation ceremony. What’s next? Finding a place to put all that knowledge to good use. The problem? When it comes to landing your first job out of college, it can be hard to know where to begin. That’s why we’ve put together a guide on the do’s and don’ts of applying, interviewing for—and enjoying—your first job out of college.
DO: Take some time to recharge
Nobody says you have to dive right into a job after you graduate. Years of studying entitles you to a break. Your first job out of college is a chance to reset and start again, and the best way to approach the process is with a clear mind. The figures are on your side—according to a recent EU report, the employment rate among university-level graduates aged 20-34 in the past three years was 83.2%, though this varies from country to country from a whopping 92.7% for graduates in Germany to only 58.7% in Italy. In other words, you can likely take some time to recharge and make a plan.
DON’T: Wait so long that you miss the boat
According to a study published in American Economic Review—which involved sending out more than 8,000 resumés to 3,500 vacancies—being unemployed for three months doesn’t raise red flags among prospective employers. At six months, however, you may risk not being invited for an interview. And after a year, your job prospects may shrink dramatically. The good news, as the study shows, is that once you find that first job out of college, any time spent unemployed before that won’t be considered when you look for your next job.
DO: Write a strong resumé
On average, just 10% of job applications result in an interview. In other words, your resumé is your calling card. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve done 10 internships or simply focused on your studies during university—a well-written resumé will get you more interviews than one thrown together at the last minute. A few tips:
Keep it to a single page for maximum impact.
For your education and employment history sections, use reverse chronological order (i.e. 2021 before 2020) so your most recent achievements appear closer to the top.
Leave out objective statements (e.g. “Recent graduate seeking to transition into the world of digital communications”). This just takes up valuable space.
Lose the business jargon and buzzwords. Write in clear, simple language and show through your experience that you are, for example, a problem-solver; don’t just say it.
Choose simple formatting—include headings, bolded dates, a basic font (e.g. Helvetica), and enough space between the sections for the information to breathe.
Add your phone number and email address at the top, so potential employers can easily get in contact.
Freelance work, blogging, and “gig economy” jobs count as work experience, so include them.
If you have no work experience, focus on the transferable skills you learned at university along with any relevant academic projects.
Leave out school achievements unless they are impressive. “School prefect” is unlikely to sway a hiring manager.
Keep in mind that on average, you need to send out 30 to 50 resumés before being hired. Perseverance is key!
DON’T: Forget to tailor your application
A strong resumé and letter of motivation count for nothing if you address the letter to the wrong person. Getting your first job out of college is all about making a positive impression on a stranger. According to “StandOut CV”, recruiters spend an average of 6 to 8 seconds skimming a resumé. If your documents are too generic and don’t show that you’re familiar with the company and role you’re applying for, they may be discarded.
DO: Have a LinkedIn profile
It may seem like LinkedIn is the uncool older brother of social media accounts, but it can actually work wonders for securing a job interview. A recent study found that 122 million people have received an interview through LinkedIn, while 35.5 million have been hired after connecting with others on the site. That equals three people being hired through the platform every minute.
Some potential employers will check other social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok) to try to get a better idea of who they’re hiring. Unless you have a squeaky-clean public image, set them all to private.
Confidence comes from many sources: dressing for the part, having a well-groomed appearance, turning up on time, knowing about the company you have applied for, and offering thoughtful answers. Here are a few tips:
Choose your outfit the night before the interview, and try to have it match the company vibe
Read the company website and make a few notes
Run through potential interview questions and answers with a friend
Set an alarm, and arrive early so you can relax a bit beforehand
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Don’t boast or exaggerate, and avoid lingering on your personal successes. Don’t put others down. Try to use “we” in sentences rather than “I”. In group interviews, you don’t have to jump in and try to take charge—leadership comes from understanding the situation.
Think of an interview as a conversation rather than an interrogation. You’re not just there to answer—you can ask questions of your own. Come up with a list ahead of time, so you can demonstrate your preparedness. Here are a few examples:
What training will I receive, and what professional development opportunities are available?
What is a typical working day like?
Why do you enjoy working here?
What are the company’s current goals?
Keep your answers short and to the point. According to Interview Genie, your answers should be in the range of 30 seconds to 2 minutes for basic questions (“Why do you want this job?”), and around 3-3.5 minutes for more in-depth ones (“Tell us about a challenging project you worked on”). Anything beyond that is too long, and your interviewer may lose interest and tune out.
DO: Believe in your own self-worth
If a company wants to hire you, that’s a sign you should believe in yourself. Imposter syndrome is common enough that it has its own Wikipedia article, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel like a fraud. Make sure to keep telling yourself you’re good enough, have the courage to express your true personality at work, and avoid shying away from challenging situations. If you start off on the right foot, you’ll keep going in the right direction.
DON’T: Reach too high, too soon
Before negotiating your salary, take a look at the industry standard and ask friends who have jobs how much they earn. This will give you a good idea of how much you can ask for without being wildly out of touch with reality.
DO: Be bold enough to leave
The million-dollar question: how long should you stay in your first job out of college? According to the website TopResume, the average length of time a person will spend in a job is 4.6 years. If possible, try to keep a job for at least two years—otherwise, you may look like a flight risk to future prospects. But if the idea of waking up in the morning is filling you with dread, don’t hang around before beginning your search for something more suitable. Try to make the most of the position in the meantime, and when a better opportunity comes along, make the switch and don’t look back.
DON’T: Switch jobs like you’re trying on clothes
Changing roles because your current one is a poor fit is okay. Racing from one company to the next like you’re in a relay race is not. When looking for a first job out of college, your aim should be to find one where you can focus on honing your craft in a practical setting. If you end up switching jobs every two or three months, your resumé and employment history may suffer as a result. Monster.com points out that if you’ve had six jobs and haven’t stayed with any of them for longer than a year, a hiring manager will be less likely to invite you to interview.
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