9 Steps for Applying to Your First Post-College Job

By Kailey Walters on August 15, 2019

So you’ve just graduated from college — congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself. After all the late nights of studying, writing papers, drinking endless cups of coffee, and ordering pizza at 3am, it’s time to move on to the next stage in life. The transition looks different for everyone, of course. Some of you might have plans to continue your education by pursuing a masters, a Ph.D., or some other form of higher education. Others of you might decide to take a gap year and work on yourself, whatever that looks like for you individually. And many of you are undoubtedly plunging into the job hunt, intending to find a part-time or full-time job right after you’ve graduated college.

Searching for your first post-college job is certainly a whirlwind of an experience. There’s a lot to learn in the process of applying for a job (or multiple jobs), which can often be frustrating and complicated but is ultimately rewarding and enlightening. If you’re thinking about applying for jobs after college, there are a number of steps you should take to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

via Pexels

1. Visit the career center.

If you’re still a student, don’t hesitate to visit your college career center. Oftentimes, students neglect to take advantage of all the helpful resources that their university’s career centers have to offer. You might think that the career center won’t be able to help you, but why not give it a try? You may turn out to be pleasantly surprised. After all, the career center allows you the chance to meet with a career advisor, who can help you with your resume and cover letters, prepare you for interviews, and help you figure out what options are available to you and what direction you should go towards with your job search.

2. Reflect on who you are and what you want to do.

Thinking about big questions such as Who am I? and What do I want to do with the rest of my life? might sound scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, you don’t need to figure out the trajectory of your entire life right now. Instead, use these questions and this time of self-reflection as a springboard for your job search. Maybe you don’t have to know what your dream job is or even what the next few years will look like, but you can at least start off small. Think about your interests — what you like to do in your spare time, which classes or topics you enjoyed exploring while in college, etc.

It may also be helpful to think about the activities you’ve done, as well as clubs and events that you’ve participated in. Perhaps if you were a member of the debate team, you might find that your career interests potentially point towards law. And even if you don’t feel that your extracurricular interests line up with your career options, you’re sure to have gained valuable skills from your time participating in that club or activity. For example, as vice president of the dance team, you may have held responsibilities such as organizing events and collaborating with the president to come up with dance routines to perform. While you may not intend to pursue a career related to dance after college, you learned important leadership and collaboration skills, which are key assets for any job you want to pursue. Ultimately, thinking about your interests and the skills you’ve gained thus far can bring you one step closer to figuring out where you want to apply.

infographic, post-college job, steps

3. Search for jobs you want to apply to.

Now it’s time to actually search for jobs. After narrowing down some ideas on what field or industry you’re interested in, you can start your search. A good place to begin is by browsing through job search websites, such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Handshake, LinkedIn, and others. Typing keywords into the search engine can help you narrow down the options that appear.

While it might sound easy to scroll through lists of job positions and apply to as many that catch your eye, it’s important to stay organized and disciplined. You might find it helpful to keep records of all the positions you’re interested in, such as by creating a spreadsheet with links to the applications for future reference. You can also sign up to receive job alerts from the career websites that you look at so that you’ll be notified every time the company posts a new job on their site.

All in all, it’s important to stay disciplined throughout the search process. It may be tempting to slack off here and there, but if you want to make progress, treat the process as you would any assignment or project. Set aside a specific period of time during your day to search and apply for jobs. Even if it’s just an hour a day, it’s a chance for you to focus on the job hunt without other distractions.

4. Revise your resume.

Another crucial step in the job hunt is to revise your resume. At this point, you probably have a resume already crafted; what you need to do now is to revise it, so that it better suits the industry and the specific jobs you’re looking to apply to. In some cases, you may want to tweak your resume so that it caters more directly to the position you’re going for. You can emphasize certain roles or past jobs you’ve held so that hiring managers can see you are qualified. You can also eliminate certain things from your resume if you feel that they aren’t worth mentioning and aren’t contributing anything to your application.

Some essential things you should have on your resume include a statement or summary of your career goals, your key skills (either soft and/or hard skills depending on the industry), your education, and of course, career-related activities such as previous jobs, practical experience, internships, volunteer work, etc. Knowing how to revise your resume so that it includes the most pertinent information is key in the job search process.

5. Get references.

Another important part of the job application process is getting references. Some applications ask for references right off the bat; in other cases, you might not have to provide references until after you’ve had your interview. Either way, having some reliable references handy is a good thing so that you’re always prepared. A great way to do so is to maintain connections with your professors and any professionals you’ve interacted with in your field of interest. When it comes to applying for jobs, connections are of utmost importance. The people you’ve worked with in the past can serve as valuable references, as they can speak to future potential employers about your past work experience. Your references can also write you letters of recommendation if the need arises, which is another great benefit of maintaining connections with them.

6. Work on your cover letter.

Most job applications require more than just a resume; they also ask for a cover letter. While not usually mandatory, cover letters are important to include in your application because they show why you’re interested in the job in more detail. What’s more, hiring managers are likely to be more impressed if you show that you’re willing to put extra effort into your application. For that reason, you should take some time to work on your cover letter(s). You might have a general template that you use, but for each new position you apply to, you should tweak it a little bit so that it’s personalized to that specific position. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing position, you wouldn’t want to emphasize anything irrelevant to marketing in your cover letter. If you need help working on your cover letter, one option is to turn to your university’s career center (if you still have access to it), where career advisors can help you with writing and editing it. If the career center is not an option, you can search for examples of cover letters online, which can certainly be useful.

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7. Network.

Whether it’s before or after you’ve applied to a particular position, it’s essential that you network so that you continue to maintain previous connections and make new ones as well. A huge part of that involves building your online presence. One way you can do so is to work on your LinkedIn profile. If you don’t have one yet, make one! Once you’ve created your account (which is the easy part), you can invest some time into building your profile. You could lift sections from your resume, as your LinkedIn profile is essentially an online resume for everyone to view. You should also upload a professional-looking profile picture, which will only enhance the overall quality of your account. In addition, you have the opportunity to list specific skills that you have (e.g. experience using ___; familiarity with ____).

Another way to build your online presence is to clean up your social media if you haven’t already. Many companies tend to look through prospective employees’ social media profiles before they make a hiring decision. Chances are that you can’t remember everything you posted back in 2013 — and while it may not seem like a big deal, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As a result, you should take the time to look through all of your social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and take down any posts or photos that could be seen as inappropriate. Doing so will save you a lot of unnecessary headache over getting caught for something stupid by the company you’re applying to. Another helpful tip is to play around with the privacy settings on your different social media accounts so that you know who exactly is able to view your profiles.

Another critical aspect of networking is attending career fairs and other in-person networking events. After all, not all of your networking can be done online. Take advantage of the opportunity to attend events where you can meet people, make connections, and maintain those connections well after you’ve left the event. Speaking one-on-one with employees from the companies you want to apply to can be super helpful in allowing you to learn more about the industry and, hopefully, get a foot in the door because of your connections.

8. Build up your portfolio.

If you’re going for a field related to visual media, sales, or technology, it’s necessary to have a portfolio showcasing your work. Trying to list all of your accomplishments and projects on your resume might get a bit overwhelming, so having a portfolio is the best way to display what you’ve worked on in the past. Make sure to keep your files organized and neat so that you can bring it along to any interviews or networking events you attend. The people you interact with are sure to think highly of the effort and passion you put into showcasing your work.

9. Have an elevator pitch.

This is often overlooked, but it’s actually so important. Having a 30-second elevator pitch gives the employer a concise idea of who you are and what your goals are. The best thing about a good elevator pitch is that it shows not only what you have to say, but also how you say it — which can easily put the ball in your court if the employer sees that you are confident and self-assured in the way you speak.

While there are many parts involved in the job application process, don’t worry. After earning your college degree, you are prepared to handle anything that comes your way — and applying for a job is just one step in the entire journey of following and accomplishing your dreams.

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