if you’re graduating soon, here’s how to kick off your job search

If you’re graduating soon, you’re probably feeling the pressure and stress of knowing that now you need to take that degree and figure out what kind of job you can get with it.

Don’t panic! Millions of new grads before you have successfully navigated this transition and found meaningful and even interesting work. But if you haven’t embarked on an active search yet, now’s the time to get serious about it. Here are seven steps that will help:

1. Don’t put off job searching. You might be tempted to take some time off after graduating to relax, thinking you can start your search later in the summer or even in the fall. That’s your prerogative, of course, but be aware that you might have a more difficult search if you wait. Job searches usually take longer than people expect, and that means if you put it off, you could end up with a long period of unemployment that will make you a less attractive candidate than you would be as a fresh graduate.

2. Use your network. New grads often feel awkward about using their networks to find job leads, but it’s a very normal part of job searching. Don’t resist it! Your friends, parents, parents’ friends (and friends’ parents!), alumni network and pretty much everyone you know from anywhere is part of your network.

Reach out and let them know what type of work you’re looking for. You can also turn to your network to get more information about a particular field or to find industry contacts.

3. Learn about how to conduct a good job search. How to actually find a job usually isn’t a skill you’re taught in school, and unfortunately, campus career services are rarely well-equipped to provide concrete help to new grads and alumni. Moreover, your professors and parents might not know how to job search effectively in today’s job market – in fact, they might have pretty outdated advice that will lead you in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, there’s tons of information about résumés, cover letters, interviewing and negotiating online. You just need to seek it out and put in the time to absorb it all.

4. Include all your work experience on your résumé. New grads sometimes don’t realize they should include all their work experience. They end up leaving experiences like retail or food service jobs off their résumés, figuring they don’t relate to the field they’re now pursuing.

However, many employers consider it a plus to see that experience, because it demonstrates work ethic, reliability and customer service skills, among others. At this stage, you’re not going to have enormous amounts of work experience, so don’t sell yourself short by editing it down.

5. Realize that work experience matters more than schooling. New grads often come out of school assuming the academic work they’ve been focusing on for the past four years is their strongest qualification.

However, in most fields, employers will care most about work experience – internships, volunteering, summer jobs and so forth – even if the work isn’t in your field. They want to see a track record of performing in an environment similar to their own, and for most employers, those short-term jobs will often feel more relevant than a school project. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about school projects at all, but be selective about what you highlight, and put the emphasis on work.)

6. Talk to people in the field you want to go into. Do everything you can to seek out people who work in the field you want to work in, and ask them about their experiences. What do they wish they had known about the field before starting in it? What are the best things you can do to stay current in the field – are there materials to read, organizations to join or people to talk to? Who are the best employers in the field? Who should you be wary of? What kind of starting salary should you expect? Are you being realistic about the roles you’re aiming for in your job search?

This isn’t about hitting people up for job leads, although you might end up getting job leads out of it. It’s about learning about the field, how people succeed in it and all the behind-the-scenes nuance you may not have learned in school.

7. Make sure you’re coming across as a professional – not a student. That means you need a professional email address (firstname.lastname@gmail.com is good; keg-stand@gmail.com is not), a professional-sounding voice mail greeting and a clean online presence. Employers are sometimes wary about the professionalism of people right out of school, so you want to demonstrate that you’re mature and have good judgment.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Job-Hunt Newbie

    Thank you for this! Luckily I’m doing all of the things on your list so far; especially #3. AAM’s been very helpful in answering my questions about job hunting/negotiations/ect, and so many users on here have been incredibly helpful with their own advice for my questions. I officially graduate this weekend, and I’m hoping to have some good news from my active apps/upcoming interview soon! :)

  2. Cath in Canada

    Good stuff!

    I’ve done a couple of career night events at our local university this year, and I also often talk to my department’s grad students about their career plans. Students are universally astonished when I tell them that they already have a network – they seem to think it’s something that only people with a few years’ work experience can have! I tell them to talk to their TAs, their profs, their parents’ friends, their aunts and uncles – and also that some skills are transferable across fields. e.g. if they’re interested in pharmaceutical sales but don’t know anyone who does that, they could still get some useful information from someone with other types of B2B sales experience.

  3. steve g

    Also, I’d add:

    Beware of unsolicited interview requests from insurance and other companies. They are most likely non-salary sales jobs. Also be aware of job descriptions for what look like non-sales jobs, but really are. When I was entry level I applied for what I thought was an operations/admin job at the prestigious NY Life in Manhattan, I did a math and computer test, then went into the interview and my heart sank. I was given a long motivational speech and was basically asked “who makes it happen?” like Tess from Working Girl. The gist was that if I wanted to “make it happen,” not the operations job, but a non-salary sales job, I should call them back. So not only sleazy companies do this trick.

    1. Lizzy

      The ones I got sucked into were looking for “energetic marketing, PR, and event planning professionals — no experience needed!” It ended up being one of those door-to-door sales positions.

      If the description talks about how fun it is to work for the company or all the great opportunities for growth without really talking about the actual position, I would advise to avoid.

      1. Job-Hunt Newbie

        I see signs all around campus/town for the “be your own boss!” and “$20/hour!” jobs that end up being MLM schemes. Really gross how they prey on people who don’t know better.

      2. Cherry Scary

        Yes! I interviewed for two of these companies. I drove 2 hours for one interview, and they didn’t understand why I couldn’t come back the very next day!

      3. Not an IT Guy

        Even the “no experience needed” part can be misleading…I was rejected from an MLM job after the 2nd interview started due to the fact I had no experience despite the fact the ad said otherwise.

      4. Cautionary tail

        I hate these. I have a PhD and work in the energy field. The majority of the searches I have with Indeed, Monster, etc. are for energetic au pair, janitor with lots of energy, high-energy sales. Grrrr.

        1. Steve G

          You work in energy? I worked in energy efficiency and demand response/capacity markets (I’m unemployed at the moment). Career Builder seems to be the main one sending me this sort of job now, which is why I stopped using them. The “real” jobs are linkedin now…

    2. BananaPants

      Yes, the commissioned sales positions are usually dead-end and have high turnover/churn rates. They sell you a real bill of goods in the interview process to be a “financial advisor” or the like, but they’re almost always on full commission and you have to build your own book of business to make any money. My husband considered going to work for a faith-based financial services and insurance firm (from our religion) and they were refreshingly honest about how it would take 1-2 years minimum before he’d likely be earning OK money and that it takes decades to build a decent book of business.

      And then there’s the MLMs – prepaid legal, insurance, whatever.

  4. The Office Admin

    And as a note to anyone still in college, graduating next year or in the years after: You don’t have to wait until May or graduation to start job hunting! My husband and most of his classmates secured jobs in October after their school wide career fair. There were a few who secured theirs following another career fair in February but there are currently only two people from his department still waiting on job offers. This is a normal Midwest state school, we aren’t talking Ivy League or anything crazy, so don’t think this is the exception. There are jobs out there, a lot actually, and people are hiring! Be flexible, be willing to relocate and start looking early!

    1. Job-Hunt Newbie

      Oh, I started in November…haha. Been going at it consistently since January. Definitely a full time job in itself!

    2. HigherEd Admin

      To tack onto that: Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t one of those people who secure a job in October. Some industries hire early (finance especially) and some wait to fill roles closer to graduation. Be patient, stay positive!

    3. CoffeeLover

      Agreeing with this. I had my job secured by October and I don’t start until August. I experienced the first job posting deadline in the last week of August (which is when I started job hunting in a panic thinking I was late to the game). By starting later, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Of course, industry jobs typically hire later than professional firms (accounting/finance/etc.). Smaller firms also hire later than larger firms. Someone is always hiring, so don’t be discouraged.

  5. todykins

    I have a question about voicemail messages that I’d love some feedback on. Is it considered unprofessional to have the default message on voicemail? If you get my voicemail, it just currently says the standard “You’ve reached the voicemail of 123-456-7777, please leave a message after the tone”.

    I hate how my voice sounds recorded because it sounds extremely young (although it doesn’t seem to come off this way in actual phone conversations). So, while I would prefer to have my name and personal message in there, it’s just /so/ offputting to hear myself sounding like a five year old! And if it *isn’t* alright to have the default, does anyone have tips to make oneself sound older?

    1. Elysian

      I don’t know if this would impact anyone from a job-hunting perspective, but as a frequent caller I don’t like the default message. I really want a name to confirm that I’ve actually reached the person I’m trying to reach, and wasn’t misled by a typo or misdial. Because I deal with sensitive information, I’ll leave a much less detailed message if I reach a default voicemail and not one that identifies the caller. But I don’t think it comes off as unprofessional, necessarily.

    2. CoffeeLover

      I also don’t like it for the reasons Elysian mentioned. If you don’t want to leave a full message, you can use the default and just record your name instead of the number (I believe most phones let you do this). So it’s “You’ve reached the voicemail of [Coffee Lover *your voice*], please leave a message after the tone.” Honestly though, I don’t think sounding young on the phone will phase people very much, and you’ll have to talk to them eventually anyway. I would just go ahead and record a quick, professional sounding message.

  6. Anx

    I think one of the things I am most challenged by is trying to keep my resume to one page and knowing what to edit. The advice on keeping on unrelated jobs makes me more conflicted, because I was starting to wonder if I should just start fresh and leave off everything from my first round of college (which I started 11 years ago). I think it would be so much easier to have a few full-time jobs than so many part-time gigs.

    I am currently applying for internships and jobs related to my degree. To date, all of my jobs are unrelated or tangentially related to that degree. I never know whether I should leave my paid, food service experience on the resume, my paid college jobs, or my unpaid volunteering or internship. It’s especially tricky when editing out some of these jobs means making a large employment gap even larger. So I’m tempted to leave off a 2 month stint doing something, but that makes a 3 year 6 month gap into a 4 year gap.

    I’m wondering if I should cut the bullet points and accomplishments. There really aren’t any jobs where I had any exceptional accomplishments anyway.

  7. Lucy Honeychurch

    Ah, I need this!
    My big problem, though, is that I just don’t know what field I want to go into/what I want to do…I know I don’t want to work in a library or museum, I just want to do, like, office-y things in an office. But I don’t know what those jobs are called or where to go to get them…

  8. Anx

    I think one of the things I am most challenged by is trying to keep my resume to one page and knowing what to edit. The advice on keeping on unrelated jobs makes me more conflicted, because I was starting to wonder if I should just start fresh and leave off everything from my first round of college (which I started 11 years ago). I think it would be so much easier to have a few full-time jobs than so many part-time gigs.

    I am currently applying for internships and jobs related to my degree. To date, all of my jobs are unrelated or tangentially related to that degree. I never know whether I should leave my paid, food service experience on the resume, my paid college jobs, or my unpaid volunteering or internship. It’s especially tricky when editing out some of these jobs means making a large employment gap even larger. So I’m tempted to leave off a 2 month stint doing something, but that makes a 3 year 6 month gap into a 4 year gap.

    I’m wondering if I should cut the bullet points and accomplishments. There really aren’t any jobs where I had any exceptional accomplishments anyway.

    I think the hardest part of the decision process is feeling like nothing is expendable when there is so much competition out there. How are you other new grads feeling about editing down your resumes?

    1. Job-Hunt Newbie

      I ran into this same issue; as a new grad, I kept mine to two full pages. As a newer grad, to my understanding, you have a bit more leeway with a longer resume, since you don’t have longer-term experience in your field. I kept my first job on to show I’ve been employed consistently for nearly ten years (while its completely unrelated to the field I’m entering). I listed what it was, and the years I was employed there; it’s pretty self explanatory, and didn’t need explaining like my more relevant jobs. For some applications, I added in short-term gigs to my resume because they were very relevant, and omitted a job to fit it in. Tweak your resume based on where you’re applying. It definitely took some trial and error (plus a visit to the resume editor on campus), but it’s gotten easier to edit as time as gone on!

      Think about how you can word the skills you used in those jobs to apply to the internship. Working at a grocery or clothing store may not apply to say, an internship in engineering, but you can list the customer service skills, the ability to work in a fast-paced environment, and the ability to work well with numbers/money as some of the skills you utilized there! Since most don’t apply, save space to focus on the qualifications you obtained from your degree program. I kept my jobs and education to one page, and saved the second page for all of my awards, accomplishments, and projects.

      1. Maurreen

        I think you have it backwards about the length. New graduates should have shorter resumes, because they have less experience.

        I am 52 years old, and I have a one-page resume.

    2. CoffeeLover

      The page count leeway Job-Hunt Newbie speak of is likely industry/area dependent. If you’re applying to accounting/finance/consulting, there is a strict 1page limit. Handing a 2 page resume to one of the Big 4 firms as a new grad will look odd and out of touch. That being said, I know the industry jobs in my area are not as strict.

      I recently went through the new grad job hunt myself. I’ve had about 8 part-time jobs going through uni. I kept one of those (the position I held as a receptionist), and only had one bullet point. Initially, I didn’t have any of those positions, but a company recruiter suggested I put at least one. (I trust company recruiters a lot more than campus career centres or recruitment firms.) I don’t really see the benefit of listing more than one, since the transferrable skills you demonstrate with one will be the same as the others (i.e, customer service). The rest of my resume was devoted to my two (pretty great) internships, focusing on my achievements. Then there was degree information with GPA (3.7) and semester abroad, extracurrics and languages.

      I’m fairly confident with my resume. I networked with one company, but that fell through. I still managed to get a great offer within a month and a half of starting my job hunt, essentially purely based on my resume and interview. I applied to 11 positions, and interviewed for 6. Some of these were multi-round, half or full day events so it was a pretty stressful month of interviewing. Happy that’s over :P.

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