Tips for Landing a Job After College

Buckle up. You’ve done the work, and you’ve got the debt to prove it, but you’re finally finishing college and ready to start looking for a job. Piece of cake, right?

Not to scare you, but the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is at 8.5%, and the underemployment rate is at 16.8%. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be jobless forever, but it does mean you want to be sure you’re putting your best foot forward to land a job.

Here are some helpful tips for landing a job after graduation:

Write Your Best Resume

If you were able to land relevant work experience or an internship during college, great! That’s a gimme to put on your resume. But you’ll also want to highlight educational achievements, relevant course work, and any skills you learned in your courses or on your own.

Add any community involvement you’ve had, any volunteer work you did, or list the on-campus clubs or organizations you were involved with. Note any clubs or groups where you took on a leadership role. Some other resume-writing tips:

  • Beyond your general resume, take time to tailor a version specific to each job you’re applying for.
  • Don’t forget the basics, like spell-checking and reading it aloud to see if it flows properly.
  • Include updated, accurate contact information.
  • If possible, get feedback on your resume from a professional at your college’s career services office, someone you trust in the industry, or a professor.
  • Save your resume file on your computer as your last name and resume to reduce the chance of it getting lost in the shuffle.

Prepare Your Cover Letter

For most positions you’ll apply for, you’ll probably need a cover letter. Don’t underestimate the power of a good one.

We spend so much time putting together our resume, sometimes it’s tempting just to repeat the same stuff in the cover letter. But this is the first thing the hiring manager is going to see.

Include why you’d excel in the position and how your previous experiences, skills, and accomplishments fit with this position. This article in Forbes recommends keeping it to three paragraphs at most and not just repeating your resume.

Clean Up Your Online World

Create an email address that’s professional and easy to read, most desirably your first and last name. Check it regularly. Skim through your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and whatever other social media profiles you have, and get rid of any questionable photos or posts.

While we’re at it, improve your email etiquette. Just because it’s an email doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spell-check, reread it for grammar and general flow, and use your writing skills. If you’ve got an online portfolio, blog, or LinkedIn profile, add those links into your email signature.

Line Up Your Other Documents

There are other documents you just might need when applying for a job, at a career fair, or when you finally land that coveted interview. Here’s what you’ll want to collect and keep handy:

  • Samples of your work
  • References and their contact information
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College transcripts

Give Your References a Heads Up

If a job requires references, you’ll need to list the people who can speak to what a great employee you’d be. But after you list their names and contact information, send them an e-mail with the job description you’re applying for and let them know to expect a call. This way they can have an idea of what they want to say and how it can match that job.

If you need a reference letter, send along your resume in an email to whomever you’re asking to write your recommendation. Refresh their memory about any of your accomplishments they’d be able to speak of and any work experience, activities, or volunteer work they can vouch for.

Check Out Your College’s Career Services

If you haven’t been to career services, you need to do so immediately (after finishing this article, of course). It depends on what your specific college offers, but many will help with writing your resume and cover letter along with scheduling companies to do on-campus interviews.

They might be able to help you create a portfolio to showcase your work, do mock interviews, and offer sessions on how to prepare for job fairs. Plus, they might offer a job board with opportunities you can apply for.

Join a Professional Organization

Regardless of your major and intended career path, you can find a professional organization out there that’s related to it. There are multiple reasons why this can benefit you.

First, it’s a great opportunity to network with professionals in your field and possibly learn about and land a job. Other benefits that could assist your search include job openings listed on the organization’s website, access to an email listserv posting jobs, access to industry events, and more. That professional organization looks great on your resume, too.

These types of groups are an “untapped resource,” according to Forbes, and only 22% of students are in them. Not to mention that many of these organizations offer a reduced student rate — so, if possible, buy a membership while you’re still in school to save money.

Beef Up Your LinkedIn Profile

If you haven’t set up a LinkedIn profile yet, it should be a top priority. It’s an opportunity to showcase your resume online, amp it up, and connect to peers and their professional networks.

Just like your resume, list any experience you have, your education, achievements, honors and awards, relevant coursework, volunteer work, and clubs or community involvement. Connect with people you know – family, friends, people you’ve taken classes with, anyone you’ve worked with, people in clubs or organizations you belong to, and anyone else who’s fitting.

You can ask some of these connections for a recommendation or to endorse you in various skills. You can search for jobs on LinkedIn, plus reach out to people you know to inquire about job opportunities where they work. You can also see if you have any connections at a company before you apply for the job.

Attend Job Fairs

These are a unique opportunity to connect with dozens of companies at once. Ask career services when your college is hosting a job fair. You can also find job fairs throughout your community.

Just don’t forget all the ways to make the job fair count – like researching the companies you want to talk to, dressing to impress, and following up with any companies you’re interested in.

Network Like It’s Your Job

Take every opportunity to network with anyone you come in contact with. Ask them if they know of any job leads, have contacts at a company you want to work at or in the industry they can put you in touch with, and to keep you in mind for anything they hear about.

Networking is one of the most important ways to increase your chances of getting a job, according to Business Insider. Among those with whom you can network:

  • Any former or current professors or counselors.
  • Former and current classmates.
  • Family members and family friends.
  • Friends, neighbors, and any other people with whom you have a personal relationship.
  • Alumni from your college – reach out via LinkedIn or your college’s alumni department. Identify yourself as a fellow alum, and offer to buy them coffee to get their career advice and possibly talk about any opportunities they know of.
  • People you’ve done volunteer work with.
  • Anybody you’ve worked with.
  • Fellow members of the professional group you’ve joined.

Be Flexible With Your Career Search

Don’t limit yourself by narrowing your search to only your ideal situations. You don’t necessarily need to land your dream job off the bat, and chances are the job you take now won’t be your job forever. College graduates stay in their first job on average for 18 to 30 months, according to this Business Insider article.

Even if it’s not your ideal situation, consider other benefits it might offer. For example, it might not be a position you were anticipating, but maybe it’s a great company that promotes from within, which could put you on track for that dream job. Or maybe it’s a job that is going to be a great experience and teach you many valuable skills. Don’t count out the benefits of health insurance, tuition reimbursement (especially if you’re headed to graduate school), or a 401(k) match, either.

Consider Alternative Routes

Don’t rule out the off-the-beaten-path options. If you’re not finding a job, you can consider volunteering for the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, which could potentially offer student loan forgiveness. Other post-grad alternatives might be Teach for America, trying to launch a freelance career, or working a part-time job outside of your field to keep you afloat while you gain more relevant experience through volunteering, internships, certificate programs, or temporary jobs.

Follow the Instructions When You’re Applying

Every job is different. Follow the instructions on how the employer wants you to apply and what you need to submit. If you can’t follow their basic directions, it’s unlikely they’ll want to offer you a job.

Some positions might require you to apply through the company’s website, while others might accept applications via LinkedIn or If they request your resume as a .pdf file, it obviously wouldn’t make sense to send it as a Word document, right? If they request samples of your work or ask you to include specific information in your cover letter, include it, or risk having your resume tossed aside.

Keep Track of What You’re Applying For

It can be tedious applying for jobs, and if you’re applying for dozens or more per day or per week, it’s easy to lose track. Create a document to help organize your search. Include what position you applied for and the details. That way, if they contact you for an interview, you’ll be able to link your skills and experience with the job requirements and details from the original posting.

Keep track of whether you received a response, and if so, from whom. Note any further actions you need to take, such as someone getting back to you and requesting your official transcripts or for you to follow up with them in a few weeks.

Prepare for Your Interview

Congratulations! You landed an interview. Once you do, your journey is far from over. Here are some quick tips on how to prepare:

  • Spend time on the company’s website and, if applicable, on its social media outlets, to familiarize yourself with the company.
  • Research the company thoroughly. Know what it’s all about, what its mission is, and why you want to work there.
  • Invest in a nice outfit (and iron it if necessary). You want to look polished and put together.
  • Know where you’re going. Leave early, and familiarize yourself with the route so you’re not only on time, but early.
  • Study your resume. When you’re asked a question, link your experience, course work, and skills to anything that’s applicable.
  • Turn off that cellphone before your interview. And vibrate makes just as much noise as a ring.
  • Give accurate, thoughtful answers. Be confident. If you feel yourself getting nervous, take a breath.
  • Don’t overlook the basics – make eye contact, be polite, and thank whoever is interviewing you for their time.
  • Enter the interview with a few thoughtful questions prepared, and ask them when given the opportunity.
  • Send a thank-you note or email after the interview.
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