You’re about to receive your degree. You’re feeling ambitious and confident, and you’re ready to look for jobs after graduation. But planning the first steps of your career after college isn’t always as easy and straightforward as it seems.
Breaking into the workforce takes focus, determination and, all too often, a great deal of patience. Following these five tips will help you transition from school to work after college:
1. Get focused
If you don’t know already, consult a career counselor in your college’s career center to figure out what it is exactly you’d like to do after college. Of course, you’ll probably look to something related to your major. But, specifically, what exact job would you like to have within your field? Many new grads don’t know.
A lack of focus can turn off employers and even people you network with. Think about it: Telling a hiring manager that you’re “up for anything” can make it sound like you aren’t really passionate or committed to anything — including the job you’re interviewing for.
Once you have a position in mind, stay up to date with the latest developments in your field by reading industry publications and websites. If you can, consider joining industry organizations and attending conferences. They’re great places to network and learn more about the job possibilities in your field.
One of the most valuable tools to have when networking after college is an elevator speech. Get three elevator speech examples you can use when crafting your own.
2. Tailor your approach
Not too long ago, applying for a jobs after graduation meant printing out a cover letter and resume on expensive paper, sealing it up with other application materials in a stamped envelope, and sending it to the employer in the mail.
Online applications have made the process much simpler (and free). But they also mean that candidate pools are much bigger. And, for that reason, many firms use computer programs to weed out the weakest resumes before deciding whom to interview.
To make sure your resume doesn’t get tossed out, tailor it for each position you apply for. Emphasize the experience and education that will help you stand out on the job, including internships, part-time jobs, summer jobs, volunteer gigs and even positions you had as part of campus organizations.
Wherever possible, use terminology and keywords from the job posting in your resume. And don’t neglect the cover letter. A well-written one that explains how your qualifications make you the right fit for the job can be the thing that prompts a hiring manager to give you a phone interview.
Learn to recognize four resume mistakes you absolutely must avoid when applying for jobs after graduation.
3. Be patient and gracious
After college, you’re no doubt eager to get started at your first job. But keep in mind that the timeline for the hiring process is different at every company.
Some firms move very quickly and call top candidates within days of receiving their resume. Other businesses must go through numerous steps before they contact the people they want to interview. Certain companies conduct several rounds of interviews before deciding on one candidate, while others make offers after one phone call and a single in-person interview.
So, in other words, if you don’t receive an invitation to interview right away, don’t be discouraged. And if the hiring manager hasn’t contacted you within a day or two of your interview to talk about the next steps in the hiring process, hang in there.
The hiring process can also take longer than you expect due to internal factors you have no way of knowing about — things like the hiring manager’s vacation, the high number of applicants, questions about the hiring budget or other business priorities that supersede the hiring of a new person. Maintain a good attitude, and your positive energy will come through when the hiring manager finally does call.
Should you follow up after applying for a job? Read our take on this common conundrum.
4. Consider the offer, and be ready to negotiate
When you get your first job offer after college, you may be so relieved and excited that you accept it immediately. Resist that temptation.
A better approach when pursuing jobs after graduation is to ask the hiring manager to give you a day to think about the salary, benefits and other terms of the job offer. Depending on the details of the package, you even decide to negotiate the offer.
Don’t be afraid to do so. Most employers expect job candidates to negotiate, and you could be losing out if you don’t.
Before you start the conversation, consult Robert Half’s annual Salary Guides to get up-to-date information about average starting salaries for the position in your region.
Whether you decide to negotiate or not, make sure to communicate your excitement about joining the team once you sign on the dotted line. You want to start your first job after college on the right foot.
Read our salary negotiation tips for new grads to make sure you don’t regret the job offer you accept.
5. Set yourself up for long-term success
You may feel a lot of things on the first day of your first job after college, from nervousness and anxiety to gratitude and elation. No matter what you’re feeling, make a great impression on your first day at your new job. Dress the part, arrive early, listen carefully and ask questions at the appropriate junctures. In short, be prepared to position yourself for success from the get-go.
Follow these five tips for overcoming new job jitters and starting your first job after college on the right foot.
As you look for jobs after graduation and navigate the hiring process, remember to stay focused and positive. Whether it takes days, weeks or months, finding the right job with the right fit is worth the effort.
Robert Half’s Management Training Program is a unique, entry-level program that offers career growth potential in a fast-paced professional environment. It could be the ideal after-college option for you.
More about your first job search after college
- Resumania™: 3 Resume Questions Recent Grads Should Ask Themselves
- Resume Tips for Entry-Level Accounting Jobs
- Starting Your First Job Search? Here's How to Stand Out
- 5 Ways Your Parents Can Ruin Your Professional Job Search
- Brush Up Your Initial Impact: Tips to Freshen Your First Impression
This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated to include current information.