How to Land Your First Job After College

Landing your first job out of college doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience. Here are tips to help you make transitioning to the next chapter in your life as smooth as possible.

7 min read

So you’ve picked a major, worked through endless midterms and finals, accumulated hundreds or credits, and are ready to head off into the “real world.” While landing your first job out of college can seem like a massive undertaking, it doesn’t have to be an intimidating or frustrating experience. We’re here to help you navigate and understand the process and give you a few tips to make transitioning to this next chapter in your life as smooth as possible: from identifying prospects, to finding ways to navigate the application process, to interview techniques, and tips to help you succeed in your new role.

The importance of getting a head start

While you might want to wait to figure things out after you graduate, this mindset can be a trap. A report by the Strada Institute, revealed that 1 in 5 college students work in jobs which don’t require a college degree for an entire decade after finishing their studies. If you’re hoping to go into a field where you can put your degree to good use, it’s best to start looking for available roles sooner rather than later.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s okay for your first job out of college to be temporary. Deloitte surveyed 10,455 employees from 36 countries born between 1983 and 1994, and discovered that 43 percent planned to leave their current job within two years. Just 28 percent of those surveyed intended to stay more than five years in their current role.

It’s common for recent grads to have a wide range of jobs and experiences on their CVs, and potential employers aren’t discouraged by this — in fact, some might see diversity in experience as an asset. Attitudes towards job longevity have evolved drastically, and expectations that you will have to stay with one company for decades are no longer a norm. That is to say, there is no need for you to find your “perfect” job straight away.

Types of jobs are available to recent graduates

Your first job out of college might involve performing simple tasks, and serving a supporting role while you learn the ropes and get further training. These are necessary rites of passage before making your way up the corporate ladder, earning more responsibility, and landing a senior role. As a recent college grad, your first job will likely fall under the following categories:

A job not requiring a degree: This option gets you started in the workplace, and adds valuable experience to your CV. It also gives you exposure to an office environment, and gives you a wide range of work-related skills.

A recent graduate job requiring a degree: These roles often require additional training, but relate to your degree and have a specific career trajectory.

An entry-level job: These roles are greatly structured and are specifically designed for recent graduates and don’t require prior work experience. These include on-site training, and involve lower-responsibility tasks — such as filing, data entry, and making phone calls. They’re a great way to get your feet wet and prove your value as an employee.

Internships: These are temporary placements ranging from a few weeks to a year or more. They offer valuable experience, networking opportunities, and professional development and experience within your desired industry or career path. From time to time, internships also present the potential for a job offer at the end of your contract.

Applying for your first job out of college

It’s wise to research your first job out of college thoroughly, before even beginning the application process. Start by listing the qualities you desire from a future employer. Allow yourself to be picky. Visualize your ideal role and company. Is experience your top priority? Do you love your degree and want a job in your field of study? What are your salary requirements?

Figuring out what kind of job you’re looking for will give you much needed enthusiasm and motivation for your search. It’s also okay not being entirely sure what you’re looking for. Try to think of the kinds of employers and roles that seem exciting to you, and start from there. Would you like to work for a non-profit or social cause? Do you want to work in a more creative and fast-paced environment or a more traditional office? All of these are valuable things to consider when figuring out where you’d like to work.

The application process

Think of your application process as a project. The more organized you are, and the clearer your idea of the role you want, the greater the chance of ensuring your first job out of college is a winner. To assist, here are the key steps:

Write a resume: Given that you’re fresh out of college and probably lack professional experience, focus your resume on academic achievements. TotalJobs recommends listing GPA, extra curricular activities, special achievements, relevant rewards, and standout exam results.

Optimize your digital footprint: Nowadays, your online presence is just as valuable as a traditional resume. LinkedIn advises graduates include a profile picture that is professional-looking, build a strong network, write a memorable profile headline, and share work on their platform.

Clean up your social media: Be aware that many companies scan prospective employees' social media accounts. Now is a great time to look at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for posts that you don’t feel represent you.

Set aside time to apply: Try to submit 10-15 quality applications each week, rather than blindly applying to numerous jobs. To reach this target, set aside a few hours per day, or a few days in the week dedicated to applications.

The interview process

Once you’re in the flow of applications, it's only a matter of time before you land your first interview. According to Forbes, leading career experts recommend the following tips to stand the best chance of landing a job offer:

Interview your future employer: Employers are impressed when interviewees ask thoughtful questions and show a genuine interest in learning more about the company.

Display non-verbal cues: These include smiling and a healthy level of eye-contact. Express curiosity and passion. A willingness to learn is attractive to employees hiring entry-level roles.

Check the LinkedIn profiles of relevant employees: This displays proactive research—employees are notified when you view their profile.

Follow the “30-2” rule: Keep your answers between 30 seconds and two minutes to cover the question thoroughly without rushing.

Send a follow-up email: Use the opportunity to thank your interviewers for their time.

Once the interview is over, keep momentum and continue the application process. You may have a few interviews before you receive your first job offer out of college. See each interview as a chance to improve your interviewing skills.

Things to keep in mind when you land the job

Once you’ve landed your first job, it’s time to demonstrate why your company was right to hire you. Here are some tips to ensure your first job is off to a smooth start:

Be punctual: Always arrive early. This doesn’t mean working yourself into the ground, but arriving at your desk 10 minutes before your official start time will show you’re serious and responsible.

Ask thoughtful questions: Learning begins from day one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to understand how your new company works, what’s expected of you, and the preferences of your boss and other members of your team.

Keep learning: Continue to learn and develop skills applicable to your new role. Say yes to relevant training opportunities or, better still, be proactive and inquire about available training opportunities.

Make an effort with your colleagues: You spend more time with your colleagues than anyone else, so it’s worth getting to know them. Say yes to social events and take an active interest in bonding with members of your team.

Be ambitious: Start each day of work determined to give 100%. Monitor your progress and set realistic goals.

Remember that this is a period of transition. If your first job doesn’t seem to be working out the way you expected, know that it’s all part of the process of gaining experience on the way to building your future career. What matters most is your attitude and willingness to learn. With this mindset, you’ll be sure to get your professional life off to a great start.

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