If you’ve recently graduated from college and still don’t have a job, you may feel lost. The transition from college to the working world can be tough, as finding an entry-level job without real-world experience can prove quite challenging. With everyone competing for the same jobs, it’s crucial to identify your unique strengths that could set you apart from other candidates and help you achieve a successful, fulfilling career.
Here are five things every college graduate should keep in mind when looking for a first post-graduate job.
1. Determine Your Path
It’s no secret that college curricula do not necessarily prepare students for the job search. To this end, the onus is on you to gain a comprehensive understanding of all possible career paths that would suit you. A great way to do this is to speak to former professors, peers from school, or alumni to gain an understanding of your career prospects.
Once you have decided on a career path—and remember, this may change—you will have a much clearer focus when searching for jobs or networking. Any and all networking is beneficial; even the most casual conversation at a party could lead to a vital workplace introduction. And if you are looking to find a mentor in your field, join a professional organization or attend networking events specific to your industry.
2. Start at the Bottom
Graduating doesn’t always entitle you to a comfortable salary in a job you love. For many graduates, the reality is starting in a less than ideal position and working their way up the ladder. Given this reality, you may want to look into internship or placement opportunities.
While internships are often unpaid, they do require you to prove your skills in a professional setting and forge connections. In an internship, you should make it a point to speak to everyone in the office individually and ask how each person got into the industry.
These days, career paths are far more fluid than they were 20 years ago. While our parents may have had the same job their entire working lives, younger generations tend to have higher sights. We expect to undergo multiple career progressions throughout our lives. So, if sitting behind the same desk for 30 years is not your dream, don’t sweat the early days. Your first job is unlikely to be your last, or even the same one you have in a couple years.
3. Experience is Everything
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for recent graduates is that entry-level positions still require work experience. This can seem like a catch-22, because you can’t get experience without having a job, but you can’t land a job without experience.
However, it’s important to realize that experience doesn’t necessarily have to come from the workplace. Your degree, course, or pre-apprenticeship could provide you with a number of transferable skills. Part-time work, volunteering, and internships can also contribute to your employability.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with how you market yourself. For example, you can emphasize the initiative and independence that your gap year required, or the strong teamwork skills you developed through group projects in college.
As long as you demonstrate that you have skills applicable to this new position, employers are often willing to fill in your skill gaps and teach you on the job.
4. Identify and Promote Your Strengths
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; even those students who were at the top of their class in college may struggle with people skills or public speaking. It’s important to recognize where you shine—and where you don’t—because finding a job requires a level of self-promotion you might not be used to.
Being able to talk yourself up without sounding big-headed, while tactfully glossing over characteristics that aren’t in your favor, is imperative. You should promote your strengths while emphasizing your desire to keep learning and refining your skills.
In your own time, you can improve your skills and industry knowledge by taking a short course or attending industry events, which has the added benefit of showing your potential employer your dedication to your own professional development.
5. It May Take Some Time
It’s unlikely you’ll land the first job for which you apply. You could make a typo in your cover letter or draw a blank on a difficult interview question. Or, you might even make it all the way to the final interview, only to find out that another applicant got the job.
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that finding your first job is often no walk in the park. You should go in with a positive mindset and recognize that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Take every experience as an opportunity to learn and improve on your mistakes—and remember, you’ll get there in the end.