What comes first – experience or a job? For recent college grads, this can seem like a chicken and the egg situation. When it comes to applying for a job, most companies need to know that you’ve held a job before (hence, the resume) However, in order to secure a job, you need experience. But you can’t get experience without a job. Is your head spinning yet?!
If you just graduated college, there’s a strong possibility you didn’t hold a job at all (or at least one in your field of study), especially if you were drowning in classes, exams, student activities, and, uh, other stuff. If you held an internship, that’s a huge head start – on experience as well as networking – but it’s not always enough to guarantee a job.
So what can you do? If you just graduated, are you totally screwed? And if you’re graduating soon, are you out of luck? Not quite.
Here are eight things that can help you get a job after you graduate:
1. Join a professional organization
Joining a professional organization – whether it’s in social work, journalism, or business – boosts your resume, improves your portfolio, develops networking skills, and helps build long-lasting, meaningful relationships with others. "Professional organizations provide so much value," says Mike Moradian, executive director of HonorSociety.org. "Experts and amateurs connect and can share ideas and discuss important industry information that will inform your career choices."
According to Bob LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff, small and medium-sized companies that are hiring entry-level positions often rely on referrals to fill positions. Because of that, new grads should cultivate broad networks to ensure they are well positioned to seize job opportunities that are a fit for their skills and studies. "Most grads have larger networks than they think," explains LaBombard. "Teachers, coaches, parents’ friends and business associates, volunteer leaders and especially college alumni are all great places to start building network contacts." What’s more, because technology has evolved, networking has become easier than ever, enabling students to meet others outside of their local college circle and group of friends. Stowe says through industry-focused websites, discussion boards, and user group websites like Meetup, students can network in their city, state, and beyond, all from the comfort (and safety) of their dorm rooms.
Doing things for others – volunteering at soup kitchens, clothing drives, or animal shelters – is not only great for your resume, it’s great for your mind, body, and soul. Selfless acts make you well-rounded and show employers that you are both a good person and good worker. And aside from participating in charity and community events (find a great cause here!), Moradian suggests volunteering at events held by a company you’re interested in working for. Honestly, it’s kind of a win-win for all because you get to glean some free, hands-on experience and the company gets to see your passion and drive firsthand.
4. Find a mentor
Mentors are invaluable because they have the experience and business acumen to provide great advice to young professionals that are eager to learn, says Moradian. And Mike Stowe, Developer Relations Manager at MuleSoft, agrees: "Having a mentor who is already established in the industry becomes a key element for success. I know that when friends I trust in the industry recommend someone, I take a really hard look at them because I know the recommendation comes from a trusted source and one who knows what the job requires to succeed."
5. Build a job search strategy
"Most grads take a ‘shotgun’ approach to applying for jobs, but without knowing where their skills and education fit in the workforce, this is an inefficient process that often doesn’t yield results," says LaBombard. Instead, college grads should research careers and industries that value transferable skills – or "soft skills" like critical thinking, effective communication, time management, and leadership – that they’ve built in college. Because transferable skills are in high demand among prospective employers, they can then develop a strategy for marketing those skills to specific employers and open positions. Focus less on the job title and more on finding a job that fits you and your personality and one that further develops skills you already have. "Look carefully at the job posting ad to see what skills the company requires and prefers and, when you apply, be sure to address each and every one of those in your resume using the same language they do," suggests Steven Rothberg, President and Founder of College Recruiter.
6. Use social media wisely
Because no one is better than millennials when it comes to technology and social media (although some preschoolers are starting to give us a run for our money), utilizing it effectively to secure a job should be easy. "Social media networking – primarily via LinkedIn – is widely considered to be the best way for college students to identify and pursue job opportunities," says LaBombard. "Technology has empowered college students and new grads to tackle job searches on their own." That being said, college grads need to remember that everyone is online – friends, mom, dad, grandmom, and prospective employers – and that their actions, words, and photos can prevent them from getting a job. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can negatively reflect who you are as a person no matter how well you dress for an interview.
7. Rock the interview
"You need to convince the employer that you're the best qualified for the job, not just qualified," says Rothberg. Be early, dress professionally, and ask questions. Preparation is everything – don’t be afraid to practice! – and remember to be polite, organized, and thoughtful (like writing a thank you note after the interview).
8. Take online courses
Let’s face it, you just finished four (maybe even five or six) years of papers, exams, and all-nighters. If you really don’t want to go through that again in grad school – or deal with the financial burden of more student loans – you should consider online courses. Sites like Kaplan, Lynda.com, and Coursera allow you to take relevant courses online at a fraction of the cost to boost your marketability. In fact, according to a Career Advisory Board survey, courses like these show initiative to prospective employers and give job applicants an edge.
Bottom line: graduating from college is thrilling. No more papers, no more exams, and no more professors calling on you in class while you’re feigning enthusiasm. But don’t get too excited – real world is a lot like college: expensive, competitive, and hard to navigate.
When it comes to getting your first real job, knowing where to start is half the battle. By having a goal and planning how to make that happen, you’re already on the right track. Applying these tips will help you stand out from the pack and dominate the job search.