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When the Graduation Cap Hits the Ground: Finding a Job after School

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Melanie Massey, Research Consultant

As the initial excitement of having received a degree wears off, many new grads find themselves thrust into what seems like an unnavigable job market. And trust me; I know personally that The Search can be a daunting and exhausting experience. After being focused on school for so long, getting into a corporate mindset is a difficult task. You’ve done the work and obtained your basic set of tools: now you will need to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Here are few pieces of advice from seasoned workers and recently-hired grads alike, to get you on track.

Finding the right job begins with doing your research and building connections.

The first thing you need to tackle is the basic question, what do I really want to do? You may have a particular job in mind, or you may have a general idea based on your field. Try researching what kinds of jobs your degree can confer; a simple Google search will yield answers. Don’t be so broad as to accept positions you wouldn’t truly be passionate about, but at the same time, don’t shoehorn yourself. In an article by the Guardian[i], Laura Brammar, a senior careers consultant at The Careers Group, says, “You will change. The world of work will change, so try to think instead about what you'd like to do in the next 12-24 months to make the decision more manageable.” Ask yourself what valuable skills and experience you want to gain from your first job.

While you’re doing all of this, one of the most important things you can begin to work on is networking. Think about the people you’ve met over the years – they can be family, friends, peers from school, professors, or even people you haven’t met but are connected with – and ask yourself who is in a position to help me. Add them on LinkedIn and connect with them. It could be as simple as sending an email, or, if they are a few years your senior and you have a palpable connection (school, friends), ask them out for a coffee and get some advice on getting a position. In fact, Forbes[ii] stated that in a survey of almost 60,000 people, 41% were hired through connections.

Once you’ve done your networking and industry research, you should be able to come up with a list of about ten companies you want to reach out to. Take some time to assess their corporate vision, their culture, and their goals, and choose companies for which you are a good fit both experientially and personally. Never settle for a position simply because of salary! That’s a great way to end up hating your job, and the person hiring you will be able to tell.

The next thing to do is the active step of application.

Personalization and presence go a long way.

Now that you know where you want to work, it is time to tailor your resume and cover letter to both your unique offerings and the position you are applying to. Never send a generalized resume: it’s a sure way to have it wind up in the trash. Add in details about yourself that coincide with the position and company.

Here’s a success story. When applying for a position at a health supplement company, Kyle, a friend of mine, made sure to include information about his genuine passion for health and nutrition. He’d been an organic food fanatic for years. This sort of information created a tangible connection between the company he applied to, and his own personal interests and goals – his hirers could tell right away that Kyle and the position were just right for each other. Needless to say, he got the job.

Resume Tips:

Presentation: ensure your resume is attractive. Use one font throughout or two fonts (one for headings and one for text). Make sure it is a professional font, such as Arial or Times New Roman.

Proofread: make sure there aren’t any spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or anything that would indicate you were less than thorough when creating your resume.

Cohesiveness: does your work history timeline make sense? Do the dates match up? Are they in reverse chronological order? Did you divide your experience into relevant sections such as Work Experience, Volunteer Experience, and Education? Ensure a reader can easily navigate through your resume, and that it is organized.

Descriptiveness and Personalization: when you note a position you held, you need to ensure you accurately describe its duties. You can also tailor your descriptions to different positions, depending on what the position entails. For example, someone applying as a childhood educator at the Science Center may want to stress that their previous life-guarding position involved supervising many children. You can also feel free to add a Summary (or Objective) section beneath your contact information, where you provide a brief description of your personal strengths and professional objectives.

Since many recruiters out there use online social media to find candidates, another good step would be to update your online presence. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, make one ASAP, and add all of your friends, family, colleagues, mentors, coworkers, and bosses. Also ensure that you join groups related to your field, in order to build your network and get involved with your field’s community. Building a well-connected online presence may allow you opportunities in the future. In fact, a study[iii] of 400 HR hirers showed that 45% of them already actively use online social platforms to as a tool for recruitment. On the other hand, make sure to tone down any personal online presence – set your privacy settings up and get rid of unprofessional posts.

You have all the materials you need. You’re set up online. Now go out with your customized resumes and cover letters, and apply, apply, apply. The trick here is resilience. Do not give up. This is one of the most draining parts of the Job Search.

The Final Steps: Acing the Interview

Congratulations! The company (or companies) you applied to have called you in for an interview. You should know by now to dress appropriately, in business formal wear, with neat hair and accessories. This may be the first non-“McJob” interview you’ve had, so one of the key things you should do are research and subsequent preparation.

Before you head into that interview, ensure you’ve found out all you can about the company you are applying for; their history, corporate philosophy, internal structure, where they operate, etc. I cannot stress enough how important the fit of the corporate culture is. Get a sense of the social culture in the workplace.

All of these details can give you more information on how to better tailor yourself and your answers to the position. Any details you could not research, you can ask questions about. Remember to take down the names of anyone you’ve spoken to from the company, and address them by name if you meet them. This is a sign of a driven candidate. And importantly, be honest – but don’t tell your hirer too much.

Let me explain. One horror story of my career happened to an intelligent young man, Ryan: he had good experience, and did well in the first series of interviews. But his lack of research into what priorities the company had (the main one, being someone who would stay with the job, as it involved a lot of training), combined with an unhealthy dose of honesty led to him losing out on the role. In his last interview, he mentioned to the CEO of the company that his band was going on tour. Because they were already scared to have a flight risk, it was an immediate “no” for Ryan.

Another important part of the preparation is to make sure you know yourself. Look back at your experience and employment history and make sure you can explain them seamlessly. Think about skills you gained, and areas you need to improve. Remember the full suite of tasks you performed at each job and highlight the most relevant ones. As a recruiter, it is always impressive to hear that a candidate mastered their previous position, and I enjoy feeling educated about their role after our discussion.

Lastly, create a dialogue. Remember the questions you had about the company. It is better to custom-tailor questions to the particular role you are applying to, but some good general examples are:

- What kinds of people work here? What is the culture like here?

- What, to you, is the key to doing well in this industry?

Try to think of questions that inform you about the role while showing your interviewer you are interested in the unique particulars of the company.

The entire process is about building a relationship.

For a lot of people it’s hard to find the same fulfillment in a job fresh from school as they did in their studies. But if you are searching in the right places, doing your research, and finding organizations that share cultural similarities to you, your chances of getting hired will increase, you will perform better, and you will be happy with what you’re doing.

You have the tools you need, now go out there and get what you want!


Happy hunting!


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