Getting that first job out of school has become extremely competitive. In most fields, there are more applicants than jobs. Earning that first position calls for creating a strategic plan to land it.
Recent job applicants encounter a classic Catch-22 situation. Seeking their first full-term employment suggests that they’re inexperienced and lacking a track record of success. In a tight economy, how does the recent graduate outmaneuver more experienced competitors that are proven performers?
If you’re fresh out of college, this tutorial will guide you through the steps needed to find and then land your first position.
Create a Strategic Plan to Get Your First Job
Finding that first job won’t occur by happenstance. It takes an organized approach and structured plan of attack to grab the job you want.
The most important factor in devising a plan involves knowing exactly what job you’re after. The more you can narrow down the exact job you’re seeking, the more efficient and effective your search will be. Pursuing a job in marketing is too vague, but pursuing an opening in website marketing for a start-up in the health field narrows your search dramatically.
To start your pursuit demands asking yourself this question: what’s the ideal job that I’m qualified to perform?
If you’re interested in fashion, an entry-level job in marketing at a clothing company might work. In publishing, an editorial assistant might serve to launch your career. In finance, an entry-level job in investment banking or research analysis could get you through the door. Each type of position will require an individual plan of action, but there are common strategies to consider.
Your action plan needs to target your ideal job. It should coordinate the tactics you’ll use to get this job, including critical components, such as: how to leverage your connections, reach out to contacts, and tap into the channels of greatest opportunity.
Following are a number of steps, each representing a potential strategy you can use to customize your plan for getting your first job out of college. Walk through each step to build your custom strategy. Then implement it in the order that fits your individual goals best for landing that ideal, first job.
Step 1: Use Your Connections
Often it’s who you know, not only what you know, that secures your first job. It’s important to organize your contacts:
- Whom do you know in the field that you’re pursuing that you can reach out to?
- Whom do your parents and their friends associate with in the industry you’re targeting?
- Who might know about a job opening, well before it is posted on job boards like CareerBuilder or Monster?
Start sending out e-mails to contacts, explaining exactly what job you’re pursuing, why you’re right for this position, and what you bring to the job. Don’t do a hard sell, which turns off most people, but just a simple, straight-forward cover letter, with your resume attached.
That will get your job search rolling.
Step 2: Network at Associations or Through Groups
Since networking is often a useful way to identify job leads, joining associations and groups serves as another way to expand your opportunities. If you’re interested in accounting, joining the American Accounting Association can prove useful.
Nearly any organization can offer benefits. Toastmasters International helps sharpen your public speaking skills but can also lead to making valuable connections. Identify any associations or groups that could prove beneficial in your job search.
Step 3: Draw on Internships
Many college students have had one, if not multiple internships. Tapping that network, particularly if it’s in your desired field, is another way to target openings. Consider:
- Whom did you establish relationships with at the firm that could connect you to a job? Head of a department? Well-connected staff members?
- Did you deal with people at competing firms or vendors who may know of openings? Did you attend conferences while working at the internship? If so, whom did you meet that might offer assistance?
Reach out to everyone you met whom you formed a relationship with that could offer job leads.
Step 4: Tap Your Alumni Network
If you recently graduated from college, the career office is a suitable starting point. Who in the alumni network can you contact for jobs leads? Look for alumni that are succeeding in their field. Send them an e-mail, explaining when you graduated, what internship you had, and what kind of job you’re qualified for.
Ask the head of the career office for suggestions:
- Do they have contacts that can help?
- What companies in the field you’re pursuing have alumni serving leadership roles?
- What startups visit the campus frequently on career nights that are expanding?
- Which alumni serve as mentors?
Add these potential paths of pursuit to your strategic job hunting plan.
Step 5: Target Small Businesses
Richard N. Bolles in What Color Is Your Parachute? observed that most first-time job seekers target large businesses and overlook smaller firms, causing them to miss many prime opportunities.
He said firms with twenty or fewer employees create two-thirds of all new jobs. Nonetheless, many job seekers start their search with IBM, Goldman Sachs and Google, but forget to apply to the thousands of smaller firms that are doing the bulk of hiring. Multiply your chances of finding a first-job by targeting smaller companies.
Look for startups that are adding a number of employees in a given year. Reading profiles of companies in business publications reveals the startups that are thriving and hiring. For example, Chicago-based startup EarlyBird recently secured $4 million in seed funding and said it plans to use the money to expand its engineering, product, marketing and operations teams.
It’s not uncommon to see popular startups doubling their staff in a single year. Search for companies that have recently received funding and that have a track record of growth.
Step 6: Visit Company Websites
The more self-initiating you can be in your job search, the better. In your action plan, jot down ten companies that you’d ideally like to work for. Visit each website and look for its career page.
Most companies enable applicants to submit their resume and cover letter to target specific jobs. Make sure you tailor your cover letter, tweak and customize it, to best match each company position.
Step 7: Apply to Job Websites, While Differentiating Yourself
Most experts say that career websites are inundated with resumes, making it difficult to stand out in the crowd. Still, applying for jobs on CareerBuilder or Monster or more targeted sites such as MediaBistro for media-related jobs makes sense.
When you apply, find something that differentiates you from competitors. You won the debating award at college, proving that you’ll likely make an effective speaker at the public relations firm you’re applying for. As an intern, you served as a bank teller but also covered reverse mortgages, which most entry-level applicants aren’t aware of. Highlight the skill or attribute you possess that most applicants lack.
Keep in mind, a skill that you take for granted can offer a compelling edge. For example, my friend's daughter majored in Asian studies and studied in China for a semester. She nabbed a job as a correspondent on an Asian TV network in New York based on knowing how to speak Chinese. The skills you possess that few others do can lead to a job opportunity.
Step 8: Connect With Executive Recruiters
Connecting with executive recruiters is a tactic that can speed up your job search.
Many executive search firms deal mostly with CEOs and senior executives and not entry-level jobs, but some smaller and mid-sized recruiting firms handle first-timers. A quick website search should enable you to identify the top executive search firms in your area, or within driving distance of a nearby city that recruit recent graduates.
Many recruiting firms demand that the job seeker have a distinguishing skill such as software development, sales experience, or is multilingual and speaks Spanish. If there’s anything in your background that separates you from the pack and can offer a competitive edge, highlight that feature in your cover letter and your resume to bolster your search.
Step 9: Use Social Media and a Dedicated Site
One way to differentiate yourself from competitors is to launch a blog, in an area that connects with your job search. If you’re seeking a job in finance, for example, starting a blog on why millennials should save could yield benefits. If web design is your passion, then building a blog teaching the latest front end development techniques will help showcase your skill and boost your reputation.
For example, Lauren Berger in her book All Work, No Pay cited one college student who majored in fashion and started a blog about the latest, trending fashions that young women in their twenties were attracted to. She parlayed that into landing an entry-level job at a New York fashion company.
LinkedIn and Facebook can help target certain jobs and let people know what job and industry you’re targeting.
Your LinkedIn profile should be crisp, pointed, and targeted to your job pursuits. It should include any recent internships or roles you performed in college that relate to your job search. In addition, your Twitter account should include recent postings that position you as conscientious, responsible and trustworthy. Withholding photos of your spring break escapades is strongly advised.
Posting YouTube videos of your volunteering efforts at the local food drive or organizing a rally at college can also prove beneficial. These self promotional videos can be linked to from your blog and social accounts, positioning your experience positively.
Be sure to do a search on your name. Many employers perform a Google search on your background. Make sure this search turns up your positive contributions in your internship, in college, in volunteering, or leads to your blog. If not, spend some time on boosting your online profile.
Step 10: Strengthen Your Resume
You just graduated from college, never worked at a full-time job and want to draft a strong resume. How did you do it? By being honest, accentuating your strengths and what you’ve done so far, and stressing your education and qualifications.
Resumes need to be written in a concise, tight way. You need the following: a clear objective, a list in bullets of your strongest qualifications, a synopsis of your work experience, your educational background, including your college, any scholarships, any overseas travel courses, languages, a paragraph on your personal background, and a summary describing the job you’re pursuing. Your resume should tell a compelling story.
Consider applying basic search engine optimization to your resume and highlight the experience and qualifications that could wind up in major search engines, such as: scholar, athlete, volunteer, or board member of an association.
Step 11: Be Persistent
Woody Allen once said that 90% of success is based on showing up.
First time college graduates who aren’t deterred by rejection, keep knocking on doors, send follow-up emails to heads of human resources, will reap the benefits. Don’t give up easily.
You’re going to get rejected; it says little about you except you weren’t right for that specific job. Keep plugging away. Don’t be a pest, but be assertive.
If you’ve submitted a resume for a job that you’re well-suited for and haven’t heard back in several weeks, write a follow-up e-mail. If you’ve never been contacted, ask about the possibility of being interviewed. Explain in two or three sentences why you’re right for the job. Nothing wrong with being shy and introverted, but being assertive in a tough economy can make the difference.
Step 12: Take Audacious Action
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 7.4 million Americans were unemployed in November 2021. When so many Americans are desperate for work, taking audacious actions to distinguish yourself from the other job seekers assumes greater importance.
Similar economic woes are rampant across many nations. Regardless of the country you graduated college from, you’re likely to face stiff competition in getting your first job. What actions will you take to stand out?
Consider visiting smaller firms in person and leaving your resume. Though this strategy may not prevail at GE, IBM, or JPMorgan Chase, it might be appreciated by a small public relations or marketing firm. It shows your initiative, drive and interest—all positive attributes. If they’re not interested, you have little to lose by leaving a resume and something to gain. That personal attention is the type of action it may take to land your first job.
Landing Your Ideal Job
If you follow your action plan, make connections, use social media, persist and show fortitude, you will get that first job out of college. Of course, as soon as you do, it’s nearly time for the next pursuit, landing your next job.
- Read Richard N. Bolles book, What Color Is Your Parachute?. Bolles’ website, Job Hunter's Bible, also provides tips on job hunting and improving your resume.
- Lauren Berger’s All Work, No Pay offers tips on developing a resume, networking and finding a job.
- The website Job Shadow displays videos and descriptions of the day-to-day life of an IT manager, behavioral analyst, and more.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2014. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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