How to Get a Job After College: A Guide for New Graduates
Figuring out how to get a job after college, university, or trade school is often an essential, yet challenging, process. Some students find that, after months or years of structured training or study, facing a wide-open future feels exciting but also intimidating. That's normal. After all, many grads want to find a job quickly so they can start supporting themselves and paying off their student loans. Others are simply anxious to get started on their careers but aren't sure how to go about it.
That's where this guide comes in. It features 15 tips to help you find that first job out of college by focusing your job hunt, building your personal brand, and expanding your contact network. It also explains how to prepare effective application materials and how to impress potential employers during interviews.
Plus, here's some good news for grads in search of their first job after college: Statistics show that the labor market has been steadily improving since the end of the Great Recession. Over two-thirds (69 percent) of recruiters said their company's hiring increased between 2015 and 2016. Almost 40 percent of businesses said their hiring increased "significantly."1 And one survey found that the hiring forecast for 2017 was the best it had been in 10 years.2
So read on to learn how to look for a job after college. The following 15 tips can help you find success!
- Decide on a focus for your future
- Be aware of recruiting deadlines
- Be realistic
- Target your prospects carefully
- Audit your social media accounts
- Keep a blog
- Use all tools at your disposal
- Network, network, network
1. Decide on a focus for your future.
Some majors lend themselves to obvious after-college jobs. For example, if you studied engineering or nursing, you probably know what kind of job you want after graduation, or at least what types of industries you want to concentrate on. But if you majored in something like humanities or communications, figuring out how to find a job after college graduation might not be so easy.
But take heart: Jobs out of college are getting a little easier to find. The unemployment rates for recent graduates in many majors are improving. One study found that the following majors had the lowest unemployment rates for new college grads:3
- Physical fitness, parks, recreation, and leisure—4.4 percent
- Chemistry—4.5 percent
- Nursing—4.8 percent
- Elementary education—5.1 percent
- General engineering—5.2 percent
- General science—5.2 percent
- Hospitality management—5.2 percent
- General education—5.4 percent
- Marketing and marketing research—5.6 percent
- Mechanical engineering—5.8 percent
But majoring in a less in-demand field doesn't necessarily mean you'll be left in the employment wilderness. You just might have to look in less obvious areas. For instance, in 2013, college graduates who majored in psychology and social work had relatively low rates of unemployment; one study speculated that was because almost half of them ended up working in health care and education, two sectors that offer growing opportunities.4
Do you define good jobs after college as those that have high starting salaries, a high number of job openings, and a low unemployment rate? If so, these 10 rank as some of the best jobs to apply for after college, according to a 2017 report:5
- Safety representative
- Training specialist
- Systems engineer
- Software engineer
- Safety technician
- Financial analyst
A lot of new graduates don't have a clue what they really want in terms of after-college careers. That's OK. Your goals at this point can be pretty general. For instance, maybe you want to find a position that will allow you to expand your design skills and learn new technologies. Or maybe you want to be part of a team that uses analytical skills to solve business problems. Or perhaps you want to eventually own your own business. You need a direction, something to work toward besides just getting a job.
Having a focus will make it easier for you to narrow your job search and create an effective resume . It will also make you much more appealing to potential employers. (Nobody wants to hire someone who's simply desperate for a paycheck.)
2. Be aware of recruiting deadlines.
The best time to start the process of finding a job after college is while you're still in college. A survey conducted between March and May of 2016 found that 78 percent of college seniors already had a job lined up for after graduation.6 You want to be one of those people. But exactly how early to start your search depends on the field you want to work in and the recruiting process you follow.
Finance companies and consulting firms generally begin on-campus recruiting in the fall, with offers going out by the end of the year (sometimes as early as November). These types of companies tend to recruit from their own summer internship programs, but sometimes interns don't accept their offers or more positions are created, so you might get lucky. Many other industries do their on-campus recruiting in the early spring and send offers out around March.
But a lot of companies don't do on-campus recruiting. They simply hire when a position opens up. If a job becomes available in February, they won't want to wait until you finish school in May to fill it. If the companies you're interested in don't participate in on-campus recruiting, a good guideline is to start applying one to two months before graduation. That way, by the time the hiring process is complete, you should be almost finished with your degree and ready to start your first job after college.
3. Be realistic.
Many new grads get stuck on the idea that they have to find the perfect job right away. The reality is that it can take many months to find a job after university, college, or trade school is over. Try to be patient.
And don't obsess about finding the ideal job. The best jobs after college are those that allow you to try out different roles, responsibilities, and work environments. Instead of searching fruitlessly for your dream job with a high salary in your desired location with the perfect boss, look for a position that offers you a chance to learn and grow. Think of it as a stepping stone to better things.
By the same token, don't panic if your first job after college doesn't take advantage of your education. Underemployment (that is, having a job that doesn't require your college degree) is extremely common among recent graduates, but it tends to be temporary since many of those graduates move on to better jobs after a few years in the workforce.8
4. Target your prospects carefully.
When you're focused on getting a job after college, it can be tempting to apply for every opportunity you see without being too discriminating. After all, you never know what could happen, right? When all it takes to apply is a simple click of the mouse, why not take your chances?
The problem with that approach is that, because it's so easy to apply, companies get flooded with applications. If you focus on quantity rather than quality in your job hunt, you likely won't get the results you want. Sending out applications to hundreds of positions every day is an exercise in futility. You're much more likely to make spelling mistakes or copy-and-paste errors when you've got too many things on the go.
Instead, try to target a single field or even a specific company. Narrow your search to a few key types of roles. Before you apply for any position, you should do enough research that you fully understand what the employer needs and what skills you possess that could help them. Make sure you're sending out quality applications.
5. Audit your social media accounts.
Most hiring managers will check you out online before contacting you about a job. A 2016 survey revealed that recruiters use the following networks to evaluate candidates during the hiring process:1
- LinkedIn—87 percent
- Facebook—43 percent
- Twitter—22 percent
- A candidate's blog—11 percent
- Instagram—8 percent
So try Googling yourself and see what kind of story your online presence tells. If certain things on your Facebook page, Instagram account, or Twitter feed cast you in an unprofessional light, deal with them before you start applying for jobs. Almost three-quarters of recruiters (71 percent) take a dim view of photos depicting marijuana use, and 47 percent don't like to see pictures of alcohol consumption.1 Make sure you put your best foot forward.
That doesn't mean you should completely retreat from the online world. Companies sometimes find it odd if they can't find any information about a potential candidate online. A better approach is to use social media to your advantage.
So create a LinkedIn profile if you haven't already. Make sure it includes an appropriate photo, a punchy headline, and all the work experience you have (even if it's from babysitting, lifeguarding, or camp counseling). Volunteering experience counts, too. And if you've earned any awards or other honors, be sure to list them. You want to give potential employers a full picture of what you offer.
6. Keep a blog.
If you really want to wow potential employers, invest the time and effort to build your online brand by keeping a blog. This is particularly helpful if you're short on actual work experience. Finding a job after college with no experience can be somewhat easier if you've established yourself as a thought leader in a certain area.
It's best if you can focus your blog by writing about topics related to your career interests, but anything will do. If you have a passion for music or sports, write about that. The point is to establish that you know a great deal about a subject, you've learned useful technical skills, and you've worked on improving your writing. All of these things will serve you well as a job seeker.
Your blog can also be an effective networking tool. When you have a body of work to share, you can reach out to other people in the same field. For example, you could write your own response to someone else's blog post and include a link to that post. Or you could offer to do a guest post on another blog. The more connections you make, the more your name gets out there.
If your blog is related to your career interests, include a link to your LinkedIn profile. And be sure to add your blog to both your LinkedIn page and your resume.
7. Use all tools at your disposal.
The best method for figuring out where and how to find a job after college largely depends on who you ask. In a 2016 survey of college seniors and recent grads, respondents were asked to choose the resources they'd found most effective in their job search. Here are the results:6
- Online job sites—37 percent
- Employers' websites—34 percent
- School career fairs—26 percent
- Friends—25 percent
- On-campus information sessions—25 percent
- Professors, advisors, faculty—24 percent
- Recruiters and agencies—22 percent
- School career centers—21 percent
- Networking—19 percent
- Family members—19 percent
In contrast to the findings above, other data indicate that networking has a far greater impact on a job seeker's chance of success than simply checking online job sites. According to a study done in March 2017, job boards had a 0.4-percent effectiveness rate, whereas employee referrals were effective 5.2 percent of the time.7
So use whatever resources are available to you. Check the job boards, go to school career fairs and information sessions, and talk to anyone you know who might be able to help. Your school's career services office can probably hook you up with a database of alumni (i.e., a treasure trove of networking opportunities) or get you meetings with career experts who can review your resume and conduct mock interviews to help you prepare. Don't leave any stone unturned.
8. Network, network, network.
While learning how to get a job out of college, remember that it's not all about who you know even though knowing more people certainly helps. Many companies prefer to hire a known quantity rather than take a chance on a complete stranger. (It's a matter of the devil you know vs. the devil you don't.) You definitely want to be the one they know.
So attend alumni events. Talk to friends and neighbors. See if your parents have connections on LinkedIn that could benefit you.
You can also use LinkedIn to find people with job titles that interest you and see if they'd be willing to have a quick conversation. It's best to start with entry-level people so you'll get a better sense of what your actual work would be like. If people are willing to share their time and knowledge, be prepared with a list of questions:
- What do they work on?
- How do they interact with their boss or co-workers?
- What's the company culture like?
- What do they love about their job?
- What do they wish they could change?
- What's the most important skill that would help you succeed in that kind of job?
One study found that 34 percent of recruiters consider referrals their best source of hires. It also found that an applicant's chances of getting hired were 13 times better if they were referred by an employee than if they only used a job board.7 By reaching out to as many people as possible, you increase your odds of being one of those referrals—and landing a job after college, university, or vocational school is over.
9. Optimize your resume.
Don't hand a potential employer a simple list of the courses you've taken and the degree you've earned. Turn your resume into an effective marketing tool that demonstrates the value you bring to the table.
Even if you've only had part-time jobs or done a bit of volunteering, you probably developed some marketable skills that will look good on your resume. For example, did you work as a cashier? Maybe you handled high volumes of transactions and resolved customer complaints. If you cleaned houses for a couple different people, you ran a domestic cleaning service. If you mowed lawns in your neighborhood, you managed a landscaping business. Find the value in each experience you've had.
A lot of companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to manage the applications they receive, so be careful how you put your resume together. Human eyes may not see your document unless it passes the automated system's screening process first. Here are some tips to improve the odds of your application getting through to a real person:
- Use simple formatting. An ATS won't recognize borders, lines, symbols, or special characters. Stay away from images, text boxes, tables, and columns. Bolding and bullet points are fine.
- Tailor your resume for each position. Including relevant keywords from the job description will help, but try to use them in a natural way. Avoid keyword stuffing. Remember that the end goal is for a human being to read what you wrote.
- Be specific. If the job description requires that you know Adobe Photoshop, don't generalize by noting that you have experience with image-editing software. Also, stick with common headings like "Work Experience" rather than more creative titles such as "What I've Done."
10. Prepare for every interview.
If a company contacts you for a job interview, you need to do some homework. You should already know a little bit about the company (why else did you apply?), but now it's time to dig deeper. Before you meet with any prospective employer, you should do enough research to be able to answer the following questions:
- How does the company make money?
- What is the corporate structure? Who's in charge of what?
- What are the latest developments in the company as announced on its website or blog?
- What sort of content does the company share on social media?
Once you've done your research, have a friend or family member grill you in mock interviews so you can practice your answers to questions that are likely to come your way. Think about how you will describe your strengths and skills in the context of what the company is looking for. The more you prepare, the more relaxed you'll be.
And don't take any meeting for granted. Show up on time, wear appropriate clothing, and act like the professional you hope to become.
11. Be ready to negotiate.
If a company offers you a job, you might be so thankful to be done with the whole job search process that you immediately agree to take whatever they're offering you. Try to resist that temptation. For one thing, it smacks of desperation. For another, you might be able to negotiate your way into some better terms.
It can be hard not to be intimidated by the prospect of negotiating a job offer, especially if you're fresh out of college with no real work experience. You might be afraid of offending your potential employer or causing them to withdraw their offer. The reality is that most companies are prepared for a bit of back and forth. In fact, one survey found that 68 percent of companies negotiated salaries and actually increased the average offer for candidates in 2016.1
That doesn't mean you should ask for the moon. You should know what a reasonable figure would be. Go to the Department of Labor for your state and look up the average starting salaries for that job in your area. You can also research entry-level salaries for your area on sites like PayScale or Indeed. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be.
12. Consider post-college internships.
Landing a full-time gig is probably your first choice, but if that proves problematic, you might want to look into internships for college graduates. These short-term stints can help you get a foothold in an industry you're interested in and expose you to people who could be helpful to your burgeoning career. You get to actually work, which can be a big plus if you're trying to find a job after college with little experience. And you get to test out different industries or companies without being tied to them for the long term.
The major downside of doing an internship after graduation is that you probably won't make any money. Most internships for recent graduates are unpaid, which can be a big drawback if you have rent payments to make and student loans to pay off. And while some after-college internships give you a chance to learn about a particular industry and grow your skills, others offer little real value. You don't want to be stuck just making coffee. Be sure to check into the details of any internship before you accept an offer so that you really understand what you're getting into.
Sometimes an unpaid internship turns into an actual job, but that's far from guaranteed. Ask about the company's track record of offering full-time jobs to their interns. You may decide the opportunity is worthwhile even if the chances of getting hired later are not good, but you need to have all the facts before you commit.
13. Broaden your search.
While it's important to have a focus for your job search, you don't want to limit yourself unnecessarily. If you haven't had any luck and are worried about ending up with no job after college, you may want to consider other locations, new industries, or different types of careers. After college, most new grads have few commitments tying them down, so they're able to cast a wider net during their job search.
For instance, you might want to work abroad after college. Teaching English in non-English-speaking countries is a popular option, but you might also consider becoming an au pair or joining a working holiday program. These kinds of opportunities can let you earn some money while gaining valuable work experience and an unparalleled insight into another culture.
There is work to be done before you can just take off, however. The rules around visas and work permits can be complicated, so be sure to do your research so that you know what to expect. The process might take longer than you think, but the rewards might be worth it.
14. Get more training.
It might benefit your long-term career plans to get additional training after you finish your degree. Employers like to hire candidates who demonstrate that they're willing to continually update their skills. The career-focused training offered by vocational colleges and trade schools might be a good fit for you. Or you could check out professional development courses online or at a local college or university. Many places will let you complete your studies part-time so you can still work.
And going back to school is not uncommon. One study found that four years after finishing their bachelor's degrees, 17 percent of graduates were either exclusively going to school or taking some coursework while holding down a job.9
But don't go back to school just to avoid going to work. Completing any training program takes time and money, and it's not something to do simply out of frustration. Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons.
15. Stay positive.
"I can't find a job after college!" Has that been running through your head? It's easy to get discouraged if your job search isn't working out the way you wanted, but don't lose heart. Even when you're busy researching opportunities and fine-tuning your resume, try to set aside a bit of time every day to do something fun: Take a jog, read a book, or chat with a friend. Give yourself permission to forget about your job hunt for a little while each day. Taking a break can help you recharge your batteries and keep things in perspective.
Remember that you overcame challenges in school in order to graduate; you can overcome this challenge too.
Take Charge of Your Future
Figuring out how to get a job after college can sometimes feel like an impossible task, but it all starts with a plan. Following the above tips can help you focus your energies and boost your chances of success. After all, employers appreciate candidates who are willing to put in the time and effort to do their best work. By taking charge of the process, you improve your odds of landing the position you want.
If you feel like you don't yet have all the skills you need, you might want to consider the career-driven training offered by vocational colleges, trade schools, and technical institutes. These types of schools offer many convenient programs that can get you ready to join the workforce. Enter your zip code into the following search tool to discover schools in your area!
1 Jobvite, Jobvite Recruiter Nation Report 2016, website last visited on May 17, 2017.
2 CareerBuilder, "The Hiring Outlook for the Second Quarter is the Best in a Decade, According to CareerBuilder's Latest Forecast", website last visited on May 18, 2017.
3 Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, From Hard Times to Better Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings, website last visited on May 17, 2017.
4 Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings 2013, website last visited on May 17, 2017.
5 WalletHub, "2017's Best & Worst Entry-Level Jobs", website last visited on May 17, 2017.
6 AfterCollege, AfterCollege 2016 Student Insight Survey, website last visited on May 16, 2017.
7 Jobvite, 2017 Job Seeker Nation Study, website last visited on May 17, 2017.
8 Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Underemployment in the Early Careers of College Graduates Following the Great Recession, website last visited on May 17, 2017.
9 National Center for Education Statistics, Baccalaureate and Beyond: A First Look at the Employment Experiences and Lives of College Graduates, 4 Years On, website last visited on May 23, 2017.