what new grads need to know about job searching

With a new class of college graduates preparing to earn their diplomas, millions of new grads are going to be trying to figure out how to find a job. Here are 10 key tips they should know as they enter into what’s still a tough job market.

1. Don’t wait to start job searching. You might be tempted to take a few months off after graduating to relax, but you might not realize how long job searches take. Hiring processes often take months, and getting a job in this market – especially without much experience – get really take a long time. Start actively searching now, since even with a May start, you might not find a job until the fall or later.

2. Include all of your work experience on your resume. New grads sometimes exclude certain types of work from their resume, like fast food or retail, figuring that it won’t be relevant to the types of jobs they’re targeting now. But especially if you don’t have much other work experience to show, these sorts of jobs can be key in demonstrating that you know how to deal with customers, show up reliably, and have a track record of handling paid employment like an adult. Don’t shy away from including them.

3. Don’t listen to every piece of job search advice you hear. If your parents or friends are your main source of job hunt guidance, you might be at a disadvantage. Job search conventions have changed significantly in the last decade, so your parents might not know what’s most effective in the process today. And your friends probably don’t have much more experience than you do, so take their suggestions with some skepticism. Seek out more current and reliable sources of advice instead.

4. Don’t apply for everything you see. Anxious job seekers sometimes blast off their resume to every opening they spot, hoping that something will garner them a call-back. But carefully targeting your search to jobs you’re truly qualified for – and writing a tailored cover letter for each – will get you far better results than simply aiming for quantity. That said…

5. Broaden your horizons. While you shouldn’t apply for everything you see, you also shouldn’t be narrow in the types of jobs you apply for that you’re only willing to consider a very specific role in a very specific field. The reality is, in today’s job market you might not have the luxury of being picky about the specific roles you’ll take. Open yourself up to a broader range of possibilities, and you might find it easier to find work (and might also discover that you like some of the alternatives that you hadn’t originally considered!).

6. Don’t think you can’t intern just because you’re no longer a student. If you’re having trouble finding a full-time job – and if you’re like a lot of new grads, you might be – don’t assume that internships are no longer a possibility. Many internships are open to non-students, and they can be a good way to get experience and give you something to put on your resume while you continue to search for something full-time. Volunteering can play a similarly useful role as well.

7. Use your network. You might feel pushy reaching out to coworkers at past internships, your parents’ friends, and other people you know, but it’s very normal to do that as part of a job search. At a minimum, make sure that you’ve alerted your managers from past jobs to the fact that you’re now looking – that’s a basic and crucial step that far too many new grads overlook.

8. Practice interviewing. You might have been able to get away with occasionally skipping a reading for a class, but job interviews don’t work that way: Interviewers will be able to tell whether you prepared or not, and winging it – especially when you don’t have much experience interviewing – virtually guarantees that you’ll crash and burn. If you prepare ahead of time and practice your answers to likely interview questions, you’ll do far better in interviews and dramatically increase your chances of getting an offer.

9. Make sure that your email address, outgoing voicemail message, and online presence all portray you as a professional, mature adult – not a partying college student. Employers will form opinions about you based on these things, and the more mature and polished you appear, the better your chances.

10. Don’t panic. Your job search might take time, possibly a lot of time. That’s pretty common these days. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be unemployed forever or living with your parents when you’re 45. You will find a job eventually!

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Paralegal*

    As a semi-recent grad, +1 to all, especially #1 and #8.

    For #1, I started applying to jobs in February or March of my senior year. Employers that are looking to hire recent grads know you won’t be available to start until mid/late-May, but a number start the hiring process fairly early. Other fields, like finance, typically start hiring in the fall.

    For #8, I had a practice interview at my career center that was incredibly helpful. The interviewer was a gruff older man who was very intimidating – he didn’t smile at all and wasn’t particularly friendly. It was immensely helpful because it was much more realistic than having a mock interview with a friend, and he wouldn’t let me get away with fluff answers or “I’ll figure out something to say before the actual interview.”

    1. KayDay*

      Hmm, I had the opposite experience with #1. While yes, it might take a while to find a job, most employers I was looking at weren’t willing to wait around for months for you to be available. There might be some flexibility though–one friend was able to start in April on a part time basis until exams were over. I do, however, agree that it is field specific–some employers take a “class” of entry level associates, and want everyone to start at the same time.

      But yes, yes, yes, for the practice interviews! Interviewing can feel really unnatural at first, so practicing interviewing with a non-friend was really helpful.

      1. Henning Makholm*

        On the other hand, it can also easily take months from applying to actually starting a job even if you’re available immediately, and this should definitely be factored in for when starts sending out applications.

      2. Amanda*

        But for many new job-seekers, job searching takes a lot of failed attempts to get it right. It’s possible that a college student would get an offer on the first few tries-and then have to turn it down-but it’s much more possible that it’s going to take them at least several months to get used to the nuances of job searching. Best to get some solid practice in before someone is graduated and getting desperate.

        1. KayDay*

          I agree that the practice can be good. My advice definitely isn’t “don’t job search at all before graduation;” but rather to be aware that unlike college, in full-time-job-world, you can’t always apply for jobs a year in advance (in my field). I think a month before graduation is a good time to start seriously applying, but unfortunately, that busy time for a lot of students.

          I’m trying not to repeat my comment from Friday, but basically, it was a huge shock to me that there was so little I could do early in the academic year (when I had more free time). Literally no one ever warned me that full time jobs might need you right away–I had only heard about the consulting/finance/law model of recruiting a class in the fall semester to begin a year later.

  2. Lexy*

    #1 – definitely know your industry on this. (Or industries if you’re interested in multiple tracks). In accounting and law (my and my husband’s fields) the largest round of recruiting is in the fall. If students start their senior year as accounting students not really prepared for all the on campus recruiting their missing out on a lot of big opportunities. It doesn’t mean you won’t find a job but it means you’re putting up a totally unnecessary barrier.

    And, as I always tell accounting students, if the first time you’re talking to anyone at the firm is at Meet the Firms (fall recruiting event, generally just before on campus interviews) you’re too late. That’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. And it is particular to my industry, which is brings me back up to my first point “know your industry”.

  3. College Career Counselor*

    1. “Don’t wait to start job searching.”
    This is great advice–unfortunately, many college students don’t think about jobs until they’re about to graduate (or the summer after graduating). A colleague of mine used to have a rule of thumb with students: “Add a month to the job search for every 10k in salary you’re seeking.” In other words, it could take you up to three months to land a job at 30k. While I don’t use that one all the time, it is sometimes helpful in talking to students about salary expectations, different fields, etc.

    4. “Don’t apply for everything you see.”
    +1 Especially if you’re not keeping track of where you’ve applied. Hiring managers will get annoyed with you if you’re applying indiscriminately. Stop blasting away with the resume shotgun and like Alison says do a targeted search.

    6. “Don’t think you can’t intern just because you’re no longer a student.”
    While some places require you to be a returning student (or going to grad school in the fall–I’m thinking of certain government internships), many internships are for recent grads as well (non profits, policy research, etc.). The difficulty with internships for graduates comes when the internship site requires credit in order to do the internship. This is especially prevalent in media/journalism and some finance/business internships.

    8. “Practice interviewing.”
    Can’t agree more! Many students (especially the outgoing ones) think that they’ll be a “natural” at interviewing because they “can talk to anybody.” That makes you social, not necessarily effective at addressing work-related competencies, having a grasp of the organization’s mission, or knowing your skills/experience well enough to articulate why you’re a good choice.

    9. “Make sure that your….online presence….portray[s] you as a professional, mature adult, not a partying college student.”
    This is so easy for students to forget, since they’ve spent the last few years in the college bubble, where the professional stakes are low and tolerance for various forms of “youthful indiscretion” is fairly high. The last statistic I read was that around 70% of employers google prospective candidates.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A colleague of mine used to have a rule of thumb with students: “Add a month to the job search for every 10k in salary you’re seeking.” In other words, it could take you up to three months to land a job at 30k.

      That was actually pre-recession advice — I would plan on much longer than 3 months for that now.

  4. Sabrina*

    I’m going to be graduating in August and am planning on starting my job search pretty shortly. So this is very helpful. Though I think my situation is different because I’m not a 22 year old kid who’s never worked, I’m a “non tradition” student with years of work history. But still, I’ve been looking for a “better job” since January, 2006. I wish that equaled a $840,000 salary at the end of it all!

  5. HAnon*

    Thanks for writing this! My brother is graduating from college this summer, and I am emailing this link to him today! :)

  6. Jessa*

    #3 except listen to every single bit of advice Alison gives. Always. AAM rocks the advice thing.

  7. Nicole*

    All very great advice here, and I want to emphasize #9 here. My company has actually turned away applicants who’ve applied for positions using an email address like “sweetcheeksxxx@xxxx.com” or something of that sort. I’ve also set my facebook to private when I started job searching a couple years ago.

  8. Chris*

    How long is too long when looking for work as a new grad? A lot of new grad positions I’ve seen seem to have a 2 year buffer for the position (i.e. you can only apply if you got your Bachelor’s/Master’swithin the last 2 years.). Is there a benchmark date where it becomes unofficially official that the new grad…messed up / missed the hiring boat?

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