What You Need to Know About Your First Job Search

A young professional starts her new position after succeeding at her first job search

U.S. employers pulled back on hiring in April, adding just 160,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This was below what most analysts had expected. 

The BLS also noted that job gains for February and March were 19,000 less than previously reported. Taking the adjustments into account, employers have added 769,000 positions since the start of the year, for an average of 192,000 jobs per month in 2016. That compares to 205,000 jobs per month, on average, at this time last year. 

Industries where hiring was strongest in April include the following: 

  • Professional and business services, which added 65,000 jobs. Over the past 12 months, this industry has added an average of 51,000 per month.
  • Health care, which saw employment rise by 44,000 jobs. Over the past year, employment in the health care field has increased by 502,000.
  • Financial activities, which increased employment by 20,000 jobs last month. There have been 160,000 jobs added in this industry over the past year.

The brightest spot in the April jobs report concerned the unemployment rate. The overall unemployment rate held steady at 5.0 percent. It has been at 5.0 percent or below since October. 

The unemployment rate for workers who are 25 or older and have a college degree was significantly lower, at just 2.4 percent — the lowest it’s been since June 2008.

A summary of key data points from the April 2016 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

College grads, you’re in a good position …

In each of my monthly jobs report updates, I make a point of noting the unemployment rate for college graduates. Individuals in this segment of the workforce are typically in greatest demand because they possess specialized skills and experience. 

In fact, the unemployment rate for college-educated workers has been below 3.0 percent for 17 consecutive months. It has not been higher than 4.0 percent since 2012. 

Recent and soon-to-be grads have even more reason to be optimistic when searching for their first job after college. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that U.S. companies plan to hire 5.2 percent more grads from the class of 2016 than last year.

… Whether you realize it or not

Nonetheless, I know that many of you are stepping into the real world with a sense of nervousness. Your post-college plans may be hazy at best. Or you may be worried that you didn’t prepare for your first job search as well as you could have by securing internships and attending job fairs.  

Even some professionals who have been out of college for a year or two have similar feelings of trepidation about where their career is headed. For them, their first job after college has not turned out as expected. It’s less fulfilling than they had envisioned or offers fewer opportunities for growth. Sure, it pays the bills, but it’s far from the dream job they had hoped for.

How to find the right first job for you

No matter your state of emotions as you consider today’s employment market, there are some simple strategies any early-career professional can use to find a rewarding position. When I speak with those just starting out, here are three pieces of advice I often share:

1. Do homework on potential employers

Many professionals get stuck in a first job that makes them unhappy because of one mistake: They didn’t thoroughly evaluate the company ahead of time. This happens a lot. Young professionals are so worried about impressing the employer and whether or not they’ll get the job that they give little or no thought to the work environment and if it’s truly right for them. 

Don’t make the same mistake. Be sure to look at all aspects of what an employer has to offer — from corporate culture to professional development opportunities to the potential to move up in the organization — before you apply for a position. 

During the interview process, ask questions about the work environment and the types of people you’ll be working with to flesh out your picture of the potential employer. Ask members of your network for their opinions, too. 

These steps will help minimize the risk of starting your career at a place where you’re unlikely to thrive.

2. Keep your connections strong 

When you think about it, college is one of the best places to build your network. You interact with dozens of students, professors, mentors and other professionals each day. Chances are you’ve established good relationships with at least a few of them.

But many grads forget these connections — at least when it comes to the job search — as soon as they leave campus. You never know how a contact might be able to help you or who he or she is connected to. Don’t let these links disappear.

Upperclassmen you got to know during your freshman and sophomore years of college can be especially valuable connections. They are already in the workforce; they’ve walked the path you’re on now. Turn to them for advice and mentorship. LinkedIn and other social networking sites make it so easy to keep in touch with these professionals.

It’s also a good idea to reach out to or reconnect with recruiters and company representatives you’ve met through college jobs or at job fairs or alumni events. Even if you do not see how they might help you land your first job or move your career forward now, they certainly have the potential to assist you in the future.

3. Consider temporary work

Temporary, freelance and project work all provide opportunities to develop new skills, earn valuable experience and make new contacts as you start your career. This is especially true for your first job, when you need to build up each of these areas.

Another advantage of working on an interim basis early in your career is that you can explore a multitude of employers and work environments. As you take on new temporary assignments, you may work for small companies or large ones, firms with a fast-paced or laid-back atmosphere, and organizations in all manner of industries. This testing of the waters is a great way to home in on the path that’s right for you.

In addition, more companies than ever are using temporary professionals. One big reason is to identify future full-time workers. By bringing in people on an interim basis initially, employers can see firsthand how those individuals perform on the job and interact with the existing team. This helps them minimize the risk of making a bad hire.

More than one way forward

Above all, remember that there is no right or wrong way to launch your first job search or make a change to get out of an early career rut. Despite your best efforts and the push provided by a job market that favors degree holders, you may find you make a misstep or two. That’s OK.

Some young professionals are hesitant to change jobs or switch the focus of their careers because they’re worried about being seen as a job hopper

But the idea that the best way to progress through your career is via a few long stints with a handful of employers is quickly becoming outdated. Today, it’s increasingly common for professionals to pivot — or completely change career direction — many times during their work life. Here’s a stat that helps to underscore my point: According to the BLS, young adults born in the early 1980s held an average of 7.2 jobs from ages 18 through 28. 

So, don’t be afraid to take a risk and drive your career in an exciting but untested direction. Accepting a first job, changing jobs or choosing a different path than you expected at graduation always presents some risk. But the potential rewards are often well worth the leap of faith.

Tags: Graduates