If graduating seemed scary before, graduating into a global pandemic and recession is absolutely frightening. The world is a mess and maybe your resume is too. We have quite a lot of experience working with college students and recent grads, so we have compiled some tips and tricks to make this transition easier and hopefully help you land a job!
Check In With Yourself
So you’ve spent the last four years (and the previous twelve years before that) in school, following the rules and getting good grades. You’ve written all sorts of papers, done equations, studied late into the night working towards the ultimate goal - graduation. Now what? If you’re anything like me, you didn’t fully figure out what came after you got to the finish line.
Before you even start your job search, now is a good time to check in with yourself. What do you actually want to do? Now, this doesn’t have to be a permanent decision by any means - studies show that the average American will have 12 jobs over their lifetime. It’s pretty normal, if not expected, that a recent graduate will stay at their first job anywhere from one to three years, so don’t freak out!
Start by making a list of what you’re looking for in your ideal job - is this a desk job or are you in the field? Are you mostly working on a team or do you prefer working alone? Are you interested in a growing startup or a well-established company? Do you want to pursue a job in the field you studied or have you realized you want to try something totally new? These are the important questions you should ask yourself from the get go. You’re just getting started in your career so the world is your oyster!
Lay The Foundation
Now that you’ve done some thinking and introspection, it’s time to lay the foundation for your job search - your resume and cover letter. There are tons of suggestions online of what these should look like, and keep in mind that every individual HR manager or recruiter will have different preferences. There are, however, a few key rules that apply across the board.
Your resume should be no longer than one page. You just graduated so your experience is probably a little limited, but if not, you have to pick the information that is most relevant to the job you’re applying for and/or more recent. High school organizations should no longer be included.
Action words and numbers are key - and get creative! Did you “attend monthly trainings” or did you “develop both hard and soft skills at regular trainings with expert speakers”? Did you “post on social media” or did you “manage posts across various social media platforms with a cumulative 12k followers”? Anything can sound fancy if you try hard enough!
Your cover letter should be one page as well. It should be addressed to a general hiring manager, or if you can find the specific individual you’re sending it to, even better!
The cover letter is an opportunity to expand on your resume. It should be around 3-4 paragraphs and structured something like this: here is who I am, here is what I have done, here is what I can do for you. You can check out these links (here, here, and here) for more detailed examples. And you don’t have to write a totally new one every time, use the same structure and tweak it depending on the specific job you’re applying for.
Use Your Network!
Now that you’ve written up and perfected the two documents that will be required for every single job application, you can dig deeper. Many companies unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth to look through every single applicant so you want to make sure they know to look for you. Most colleges have an alumni network so that is a good place to start. If you don’t have a LinkedIn already, make one now and start connecting with people. Anyone from your hometown, your college, any organizations you’ve worked at is fair game.
Once you’ve built that network, use it! If there’s a specific organization or position you’re interested in, connect with someone that’s doing that. Send them a short and sweet message on LinkedIn about how you’d love to learn more about them and their experience and want to set up a quick call. People love to talk about themselves, so flattery can get you far! These aren’t interviews but rather a way to learn more, get some advice, and have your name on people’s minds. Don’t be afraid to reach out - at worst they don’t respond and at best, they can get you an in with a job! If you reach out to 20 people you might hear back from a handful, but it only takes one good connection to make a difference.
Be Prepared & Ask Questions
You’ve scheduled the networking call or landed the interview - congrats! You’ve gotten through the hardest part, now you just have to wow them with your experience, intelligence, and passion. It is absolutely crucial to properly prepare for these calls, after all, you only have one chance at a good first impression.
First thing you want to do is practice, practice, practice. Look up common interview questions, such as these and these, and practice answering them. You can do this by yourself at first, and then even with others to really get a feel for it. You’re going to want to have a couple of stories, projects, or events in mind that could be applied to a variety of these questions. What is a time that you failed? What is a time you compromised? What is a time you received difficult feedback? One successful approach is the STAR Method, which stands for situation, task, answer, result.
Next, you want to research the company and the individual. Better to overdo it than underdo it. Look at every page on their website, any news article written about them, all of their social media. What is the interviewer’s background or experience? How long have they been at the company? What did they do before? Make sure you know enough about them that it’s clear you did your research - you don’t want to get caught asking questions that are easily Google-able.
Finally, prepare a set of questions that you want to ask them. Specifically, you want to ask about things that you cannot find online. Questions about what they like most about the company or role, what they’ve learned, or about company culture in general are key. This will give you an idea if this company is a fit for you.
The job search can be long and tiring, but with these tips and tricks you’re ready to go forth and conquer! If you are someone who is looking to get into the world of tech but needs some guidance, Tech Talent South offers a free program specifically for college graduates that might be of interest to you. Find out more and apply today!