Thursday, April 16, 2015

Advice for College Grads on Getting Your First Job - Part One

As a former college professor, I still get Facebook messages from students asking me for career advice. One of the most common is - How do I find my first job?

I know it is daunting. College provides a sense of security. You know exactly what you are doing for the next four years. Then, many books and exams later, suddenly it is senior year, graduation, and the unknown is thrust upon you.You are forced to make some serious choices. Should you return home to live with mom  and dad? Find a job? Get an apartment? Go to graduate school?

Just a few bits of personal advice if you decide to attempt that first job search:

1) Go for your big dreams first. My first round of resumes were sent to my dream jobs. I think I had ten of them. I was wildly unqualified. I had education, but not a huge amount of experience. Nevertheless I sent those first resumes out with high hopes and prayers. I only heard back from two, but two was great! One was an actual interview. The second, my letter to Oprah Winfrey Productions, was returned with a signed photo of Ms. Winfrey herself. They had misfiled my resume as a fan letter. Sigh.... I did go to that one interview, and I didn't get the job, but it provided needed experience and was a huge boost to my self confidence.

2) Then, spread your net wide. Apply for a LOT of jobs. Don't be too picky. In my time, we printed resumes, now much of the application process is electronic. Look at all of the job listing services you can find. Apply for anything that sounds like a possibility. It is tedious and exhausting, but it is necessary. Even if you don't like the job, the interview process will be helpful and informative. And sometimes a bad lead can develop (through connections) into another good one.

3) Proofread your resume and cover letter. I've seen many resumes, electronic portfolios, and cover letters with typos. Aaaack!!!! Have one friend - maybe two or three (literate) friends - read and proof your outgoing job applications and resume material. Mistakes are deadly in this situation. They reflect poorly on who you are, your work ethic, and your abilities.

4) Check your social image. Change your email address from to something that sound clear and professional. Maybe just use your name. Keep it simple and clean. Look critically at your Facebook profile and delete anything necessary. Google your name to see what appears. Employers today are savvy.

5) Get solid references. Before you leave college, ask a few key professors or staff members if they will serve as references. Some may write you a "blank" referral letter to use again and again. Others may serve as character references. Don't ask professors you don't know well or those whose classes you failed. If you over cut their class, didn't turn in a project, etc....don't ask for a reference!

6) Be realistic. Realize that to get that first job may take sacrifice. You might have to relocate. You may have to take a job title or salary that is not within your original expectations. If your search is too narrow, you will have trouble finding that first position. Consider the opportunities that will extend from that first job - whether it means transferring up within a large company or even just gaining work experience in a field you desire. Some trade-offs are worth it. And, your expenses are low right now, so you may be able to settle for a lower salary.

7) Prepare for interviews. Dress up. Don't wear schlumpy clothes to your first interview, even if it is a casual environment. Take off the knit cap. Don't wear flip flops. Look sharp. Suits are still expected. Have a physical copy of your resume with you. Bring samples of your work. Know the company you are interviewing with and have one or two questions prepared that show your understanding of what they do. Even better, bring a sample of what you can do directly related to that job. For example, one public relations candidate brought a press release she had written for a future event at the non-profit to which she was applying. She go the job.

8) Be patient. This is not a quick or painless process. It is humiliating. It is tedious. It is discouraging. It is overwhelming. But each interview is a bonus. Each call-back is a good sign. Each person is a possible lead. Let everyone know what you are doing. Talk about it. Pray about it. And then take one day at a time. Don't give up. It will happen. It just might not happen as soon or as easily as you'd expect.

This is part one of a small series. I've asked recent graduates how they secured their first jobs. In the next few days, I'll share their responses and advice to you as you begin your own search. Check back - there's some great things coming!

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