A Guide to Landing Your First Job
Define Your Goals
"Some people just want to get a job," says Jackson. "But when they get one, the work environment isn't a good match." They might have to restart their job search or feel obligated to stick with the ill-fitting job and wind up missing great opportunities in the meantime.
Starting a job search by defining your goals could help you avoid mistakes or rushed decisions. Begin with a wide net, and don't force limitations on yourself based on your degree.
"When you're joining the workforce, keep an open mind," says Luigi Prainito, senior vice president and US head of internal recruitment at Phaidon International, a global recruitment firm. "Just because you have a specific degree or internship experience doesn't mean you have to work in that field."
Then, start to narrow your search by answering important questions about where you want your career to take you:
- What do you want to learn?
- Where do you want to live?
- What industry do you want to work in?
- How much money do you want to make?
- What size company do you want to work for?
- What kind of work-life balance do you want?
One helpful exercise Prainito suggests is thinking back to what you enjoyed doing most during college. If it was being part of a large student organization, maybe you want to find a company that has a similar community feel and mission. Or, perhaps you loved studying abroad and should focus on companies that have offices around the world.
Going through these exercises and only applying to jobs that help you achieve your goals might mean it takes longer to find a job, but you can be more certain the job you find will be a good fit.
Assess Your Skills
Knowing what you can offer potential employers is also an important piece of the puzzle.
Your work and school experience are important, and you can highlight your accomplishments on your résumé, in a cover letter and during interviews. But don't limit yourself to paid summer jobs or internships. "Work experience doesn't only include things you were paid for," Jackson says. You can also use relevant class projects and extracurricular activities.
Additionally, there are self-assessment and personality tests that could help you understand your strengths and growth points. You can use these insights to steer your job search, apply for jobs that match your strengths and highlight the results during an interview.
Some assessment tools will recommend specific types of work based on your results. With others, you may need to think through how a trait matches potential jobs. For instance, if your results show that you're competitive, driven and assertive, you may want to look for a sales role where you can use these traits to flourish.
Do Your Research Before Applying
"It's easy to apply to every job when you're looking," Jackson says. "But focus on the jobs you really want and you'll have time to put extra effort into those applications." You can spend that time researching the company and industry.
When researching a company, make a point to review its website to learn more about its history and mission. Also look for press releases, which could give you insight into the company's recent accomplishments or upcoming plans.
You can then reach out to current and former employees, either through your network or directly via LinkedIn. If you see fellow alums who work, or worked, at the company, they could be a good place to start. Some may be willing to discuss things like their experience at the company, its culture and how it treats employees.
Learning about industry news can also give you material for your cover letter and interview. You might read about recent discoveries, changing laws or mergers that could impact the company. Your reading might even give you some ideas for which companies will be hiring soon.
Tailor Your Résumé and Apply
By this point, you've set yourself up for success because you know what you're looking for, can highlight which strengths you will bring to the company and have researched the company's culture and mission. Use this knowledge to craft your résumé and cover letter to match each particular job.
However, many companies use automated applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen résumés. If your résumé doesn't make it past the ATS's filters, a real person might never get the chance to read it. Fortunately, there's help available.
"There are services that will scan your résumé and a job description to see how well your résumé matches," says Jackson. "That can help you get through the automated screen so a real person will see your résumé."
Prepare For the Interview
Once you're chosen for an interview, continue your research and preparation. In addition to trying to learn more about the company, see if you can find out who will be conducting interviews. You could ask the recruiter or hiring manager that invited you to interview.
You can then look up the interviewers to see if they've published anything online, have bios on the company's website or have LinkedIn profiles. Knowing their professional and educational background could help you find common points of interest to discuss during the interview.
Make a point of practicing being interviewed. You could practice in the mirror, ask friends or families members to help, or hire a career coach who can give you professional feedback. Practicing could ease your jitters as you learn how to respond to common questions.
Preparing questions for the interviewers is also a good idea. "You can interview them too," Jackson says. "Ask about the average day for the team or about the company culture." You could even ask the interviewers about the challenges that will come with the role, why the job is available and what an ideal candidate looks like.
Asking questions can help you make sure the specific job and team will be a good fit. It also demonstrates that you're taking your job search seriously, you've done your research and you're being selective when it comes to choosing a job.
Stay Goal-Driven and Organized
"It can be emotionally draining to look for a job when you don't have one," Jackson says. "Stay encouraged by surrounding yourself with people who support you or are also looking for a job."
There are social media groups where fellow members share their job hunt tactics, or you could look for in-person groups where you can work on applications alongside others.
Giving yourself quantifiable goals that you can control could also help you stay on track and motivated. "You can't control how many callbacks or interviews you get," Jackson says. "But you can focus on what you can do to make progress toward accomplishing your goals."