Top 5 Things Every College Grad Should Do When Applying For Their First “Real” Job

Graduating from college can be a confusing experience. The excitement of finally being done, with school combined with the anxiety of having to join the ‘real’ world makes for a potent mix. The first big step in resolving that anxiety is landing your first career work. Before now you’ve probably worked at least one job, but chances are that it wasn’t something you envisioned doing for the rest of your life. With college over, it’s time to finally apply for a career that puts your hard-earned skills and education to work. Here are a few tips to help you land that first big position.

#1: Get a LinkedIn Account.

LinkedIn has been around since 2003, and has grown to be the world’s #1 professional networking site. It currently has around 300 million users, and chances are good that your prospective boss has an account. Setting up your own profile and making it well-organized and professional will go a long way towards showing anyone interested in hiring you that you take work seriously.

#2: Polish your resume.

Remember that piece of paper that landed you that first job we talked about earlier? Now is the time to make it reflect you as a member of the ‘real’ world, instead of just another kid looking to make a few bucks. There are many resources available to help you do this. If you’re still hanging around the alma mater, chances are they have a career center or a writing center (or both) which can help you fine-tune your resume and cover letter. The internet is also swimming in guides for writing resumes. The Purdue OWL website offers some great advice for different kinds of resume writing. A quick tip from our own office: make sure to send your documents in PDF form for added professionalism.

#3: Do your research!

In the words of Voices Human Resources Manager Jessica Campbell: ““I don’t mean memorizing the About Us page on the company website. I’m talking about doing your due diligence (read: research!) and knowing the company you’re applying to.” This especially relevant for cover letters and interviews, where you can really demonstrate your commitment by showing how much you already know about the company and the work. Employers want to know that you care about their company in particular, and that you will treat the position as more than just another job. Doing your research and showing it off goes a long way towards distinguishing you as an applicant.

#4: Know your strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to a career, hiding what you can and can’t do is never going to benefit you. It’s important to be honest and upfront, both with yourself and your prospective employer, about how well your skills and experience match the job requirements. U.S. News recommends highlighting the top three requirements of the role, and then doing a side-by-side comparison with your resume. Prepare specific (but brief) examples that demonstrate your ability to meet those requirements, and make sure you bring them up in your cover letter and/or your interview. In addition, be honest about your weaknesses in regards to the position, but indicate your willingness to learn whatever necessary to succeed in the role. Very few applicants will be able to do a job perfectly on day one, but a willingness to accept instruction will never make you a less appealing candidate.

#5: Prepare questions.

The research you did on the company before your interview is good for more than just answering questions. Creating specific questions demonstrates qualities that almost every employer is looking for: initiative and critical thinking. When you come prepared with your own questions to an interview, you are demonstrating that you are proactive when it comes to pursuing your goals. The quality of the questions will reflect not only the effort you put into your research, but also your ability to analyze what you learned. Applicants who demonstrate initiative and critical thinking are much more likely to impress an interviewer. Forbes provides a list of example questions, which you can adapt to your own specific circumstances.

These five steps provide any recent grad with the edge necessary to break into the world outside of academia and soothe those post-graduation anxieties. For help setting up a great LinkedIn account, check out this blog post. For more helpful tips on interviews, check out sites like the Wall Street Journal careers page and InterviewUp.

We’d also love to hear from you about your experiences finding work after graduation. Do you have a particular strategy to rock your interviews? How about a resource that really helped you out? Are you a recent grad with a specific question we didn’t answer? Let us hear from you in the comments!

Tobias Osterhaug

Tobias Osterhaug

Tobias is a full-time contributor to Bellingham Business News, covering local business events, tech news, and advice for job seekers in the Bellingham area. He graduated from Western Washington University with a double major in History and Chinese Language & Cultural Studies, and has previously worked as a coordinator in Western’s Writing Center.

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