Figuring out how to land your first job after college is hard. The good news is that having a college education gives you the best chance at employment for people aged 25-35, but that might not comfort you if you’re 23 and searching desperately for a job.
It takes new grads an average of 7.4 months to find a job after college, though, so you’ll need a strategy—and this is a good place to start.
Realize that most advice about landing a job is bad
You’ve probably heard these pieces of advice from multiple people
- Customize your resume for every job posting.
- Apply online to every job.
- Find a mentor as soon as possible.
- Recite carefully prepared answers to interview questions.
Most of it is crap.
All of that advice assumes that you will need to be given a job. It’s passive (a career crime in its own right) and teaches people to grovel for favor instead of earning your stripes. It’s just gross, and we’re all better than that.
That approach just doesn’t work well, either. On average, only 2.5% of candidates are invited for interviews for job postings in big companies. At the same time, only one in every 3 employers think that applicants’ resumes are honest.
It means that while you should certainly put time into your resume after college, you won’t win the job lottery by changing certain keywords inside of it.
You’re already working with a disadvantage in landing your first job out of college, so you can’t just try to game the system by rephrasing your resume for each application.
More to the point: hiring managers and recruiters will always pick up on desperate, sycophantic behaviour (both in writing and in person). They interact with dozens of applicants at a time—sometimes hundreds or more in a year. They can see and hear the subtle differences in resumes, cover letters, and even body language when someone tries to “appease” them into landing a job.
Give yourself breathing room to relax and to lift anxiety from your shoulders. Living at home after college is a perfect way to do this because it can eliminate your largest living costs and provide a built-in support network.
What not to do in your job search
Before we get to the bread and butter of how to land your first job after college, you need a quick review of what not to do (in general). You’ll thank yourself for reading these in a week or two, trust me.
- Do not spend hours filling out applications line by line. It’s often a waste of time.
- Don’t change your resume for every application. It’s a flimsy deception and hiring managers know it.
- You don’t need a mentor to find a job. Most mentors aren’t helpful, anyway (speaking from experience).
- Don’t try to “memorize” your way through interview prep. Study the business and its issues instead.
The reason why these things don’t work is because they represent wishful thinking or they treat the hiring process like it’s a middle school spelling test to be passed or failed.
That’s not how job searching works.
The truth is that you won’t find much success in trying to sneak one past hiring managers with carefully crafted responses. Rigid answers belie inexperience. Serious candidates will walk off the beaten path to talk about their thoughts on the industry, challenges they’ve faced, and things they’d like to try.
The difference is immediately noticeable to any hiring manager.
People without that experience stick to a script because they’re afraid to reveal their lack of experience. I picked up on that in my first interview on the employer side when I was 25, so you can bet that even modestly seasoned hiring managers can pick up on it as well.
Isn’t it just about who you know?
Some people will tell you that finding the best jobs after college is about who you know, not what you know.
That’s not entirely true.
Personal relationships definitely play into your job search, and they can absolutely become your competitive advantage. But you need to do more than just schmooze your way into a role. Only bad hiring managers choose their friends over qualified candidates, so you’ll need to acquire the relevant skills and experience before networking your way into a job.
Networking is important, but as a high-level, high-value tactic, it rests on the shoulders of other steps in your job search. Don’t just network like a desperate graduate immediately after graduating! Finding your own work experience (or getting an internship after college) will help you build the skills needed to show others that you’re worth their professional attention.
Becoming qualified and useful dramatically boosts the odds of people wanting to know you after introductions are over.
How to land your first job after college
Instead of shouting into the void known as online application boards or trying to hustle your way through networking events filled with local realtors, you can follow a process to land your first job after graduating.
It’s pretty straightforward:
- Quantify your resume.
- Create a rock-star LinkedIn profile.
- Set up automatic job board notifications.
- Get recruiters to work for you.
- Create your own work experience.
- Build a portfolio website.
- Start networking the smart way.
- Turn interviews into consultations and working sessions.
The key is to follow the entire process. You won’t have much luck with only one or two steps. Here’s why:
- Rejigging a resume over and over doesn’t change much.
- Recruiters won’t connect you to employers without any experience.
- Building a portfolio website doesn’t help without a real portfolio.
- Networking doesn’t work if you can’t be helpful to others.
Every step builds on the last to create a system that culminates in an interview where you’re confidently looking the hiring manager in the eye while you explain how your very real experience will help solve his or her business problem.
You can use this process to land your first job after college and every other job that comes afterward, setting you on a strong career footing for the rest of your life (even if you were fired from your first job after college).
With real work experience and your very own digital real estate, you can create a digital system where job notifications and recruiters come to you, freeing up your time to network and build relationships with your time afterward. The second difference is that people will actually take you seriously while networking once you have bona fide experience of your own, making you useful in the working world.
Happy hunting out there!