How to Find a First Job after College: A Step by Step Guide

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How to get hired as a college graduate

How To Find a Job After College : A Step by Step Guide

Looking for your first job after college?

Overloaded with career advice?

Stay calm and start building a plan. Don’t let the pressure of finding a dream job derail your career exploration

Below is a step-by-step guide to help you find a job after college!

Step 1.  Commit to a Job Search Process

Step 2. Impress hiring managers by writing a strong resume and cover letter

Step 3. Create a consistent message on social media starting with your LinkedIn profile

Step 4.  Pay attention to your contact network

Step 5.  Locate job postings for entry level positions

Step 6.  Plan your outreach

Step 7.  The interview process

Step 8.  Salary research

Step 9.  Evaluate the job offer

Step 10.  Start on your career path

Step 1.  Commit to a Job Search Process

Job Search


To find a job after college, set goals and create an organized job search structure.

Success comes from process, organization, accountability and creativity.

Commit to an amount of time every day or week

Don’t waste of time worrying about what to do

Choose a dedicated time and place to work. Pick a location that is comfortable and motivating for you. Some people need to work in quiet, peaceful locations. Others need noise and companionship. If you have friends who are on the job hunt, it might be a good idea to meet regularly and support each other in the search.

Find an inspiring personal activity to enhance your job search

Don’t let job search stress get in the way of exploring other interests and opportunities while you have the chance

Now is the time to explore volunteer work, sports or, activities you haven’t had time for. Volunteer activity can be personally rewarding and helpful in your job search.

As a volunteer you will have the chance to meet people and develop skills that can lead directly to a job. According to an article in Forbes, 60% of hiring managers surveyed agreed that volunteer work makes you more marketable.

Pay attention to the people you meet. Your shared passion may enable you to develop a friendship or a career contact. Do a little research, inquire about their professional work, ask for career advice and insights. You may be working with your future hiring manager.

For further thoughts about volunteering and its place in your job hunt, see the article about volunteering

Step 2. Impress hiring managers by writing a strong resume and cover letter

resume writing and cover letters

When finding a job Don’t let resume writing slow you down and side track the real work here.

Consider your resume a constant work in progress and move on as quickly as possible.

A few tips: As a recent college graduate, your resume should be one page long. Use simple, direct language and an easy to read font. Most schools have a resume template available on the Career Development Office website. This template is a good place to start.

Don’t let lack of paid work experience stop you. Focus on competencies you have gained in school, volunteer work or social service.

No work experience, or limited job experience? Consider the competencies you developed as a volunteer, in sports, religious organization, or a fraternity or sorority. When you staffed a front desk, organized a charitable function, managed the kitchen, or captained a sports team, you have developed skills that translate into work experience.  Make sure to highlight goals, challenges and achievements for any significant roles whether or not you were paid.

When applying for a specific position, tailor your resume and focus on skills and achievements relevant to the job posting.

Most resumes are initially scanned by a computer, using artificial intelligence as a first pass, to assess your possible fit for a job.  Look at the job description, highlight experience relevant to the target role.


Create a cover letter

Creating a cover letter
Consider your cover letter the opportunity to show interest and to give more specific details around the question – why you for this job?

The cover letter should include three sections:

  • A brief statement of interest
  • Bullet point illustrations of your skills and experience relative to the target job
  • A short conclusion, call to action and thank you

Who should the cover letter be addressed to? What if you can’t find any name to use?

There are ways to determine, or guess the information you need. Spend a few minutes researching the target department. Ask personal contacts within the company to give you the right name. Otherwise find the name of the Department Head, or Talent Acquisition leader and address the letter to them. Do not open your letter with “To Whom it May Concern”!

Step 3. Create a consistent message on social media starting with your LinkedIn profile

 Create a three to five line pitch that you are comfortable saying. Make sure family and friends can also repeat your message

  • Deliver a unified message in your speech, on your resume, and in other social media accounts
  • Clean up your social media accounts. Don’t alienate a future hiring manager with inflammatory opinions or drunken posts.

Your pitch can include.

  • Who you are,
  • What you studied,
  • What interests you
  • If you have a specific passion or experience that is relevant, include that information in your message.


Create or update your LinkedIn profile

There is plenty of information about creating a great social media presence. Let’s consider a few of the ideas regarding LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a key platform for you to present yourself to possible employers and key contacts.

Use the Summary section to make sure recruiters and future hiring managers find you in a search and pay attention. Write in the first person and use key words from your industry or target job description. Recruiters will be searching using key words, so make sure you are describing skills and experiences utilizing these words.

The Summary is a chance to show who you are, what you do and what you are looking for. You can include your passion, interests, key skills and motivations. If you are in an active job hunt, make sure to end the Summary with a call to action about the job you are seeking, and include best way to contact you.

Step 4.  Pay attention to your contact network

  • Your contact network as a powerful job search tool
  • As a recent college graduate in seeking full time work for the first time, parents and friends’ contacts will be particularly valuable to you

Consider a recent Korn Ferry survey that cited 77% of executives who say networking is the most important part of a job search

A goal in building your contact network is to find the top 20 people who will help you take the next step to landing a job.

Whether for an entry level job or a very senior role, contacts are key to success.

As a first step, look as near to home as possible. Consider your closest friends and family. Speak with parents, professors, friends. Your softball coach, your neighbor or your parent’s best friend may play a key role in your target industry.

What can you gain from a contact?

As a college grad finding a first job, the goal is to learn from your key contacts and to get assistance in being noticed by a hiring manager. You are still going to have to do the hard work. But a contact can make all the difference in introducing you to a recruiter or employer, and in explaining company culture or helping with interview strategy.

Whenever you identify a target job or company, check to see if you can find a contact to help navigate.

Here is a short article about networking.

Step 5.  Where to find job postings for entry level positions

Prioritize your sources

As a college student or recent college graduate, check first with your Career Development Office and on the Career website.

  • Create and update your profile on the school’s job platform.
  • Speak to an advisor and ask for advice
  • Ask Professors and other industry experts connected to your major
  • Alumni of your school may prioritize candidates from their alma mater, pay attention to this valuable resource

Key contacts may be able to flag a job posting and get it to you early in the process.

Timing is important. Industry statistics say that 75% of roles are filled before they are advertised. If you have done a good job getting your message out, you may see a job posting ahead of your competition.

Company websites and Corporate LinkedIn pages are sources of job postings

Before submitting an application try to discover the name and contact information for the recruiter or hiring manager. Think about how you will follow up after your application is submitted

Job Sites

These websites are filled with roles that may interest you. It is harder to be noticed when applying through a portal that can attract a very large pool of candidates.

Research first and strategize about ways to reach the company, recruiter or the hiring manager so that your application will be seen.

Step 6.  Plan your outreach

Find a job after college:Plan your outreach

Explore best practices for follow up and outreach. These are skills you will need at all stages of your career path.

If you have been recommended for a role or introduced to a potential contact, ask for advice about the best outreach method. For example, you may like to use Snapchat for communication, but the person you are trying to reach may be a regular Twitter user. Ask for guidance.

  • In general, try email first but recognize that most people have email overload and may not respond.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of your outreach efforts and follow up.
  • Don’t overwhelm your target contact, so consider spacing out your communication.

If email fails, you can search your target on-line and see how they communicate. If a person uses LinkedIn frequently, a private message on LinkedIn might be a good second step.

Don’t text or get too casual unless given guidance that this form of communication is appropriate.

Outreach is challenging and can be frustrating. Stay organized and on top of the process and you will get results.

Step 7.  The Interview Process

Preparation is the key.

  • Research the company
  • Review your application materials
  • Practice answers to common questions

Interview formats

  • Telephone screen
  • Digital interviews
  • Skype interviews
  • One-on-one interview
  • Panel interview

At different stages of the interview process you will be asked different types of questions.

The first interview is often a telephone screen. The purpose can be to understand more about you and to assess your cultural fit for a position or a company.

The phone screen may be followed by an assessment or digital interview.

If you are asked to do a digital interview, make sure to prepare as if you are having a Skype or other video communication.

You can read more about digital interviews here

During the next stage of the process you will be asked more detailed questions. Be prepared for different types of questions:

  • In a Behavioral Interview you should be ready to give examples of how you have dealt with a challenge, worked on a team, solved a problem.
  • Technical Interviews will focus on specialized knowledge in a field
  • Specific industries will have you do a Case Study to assess your ability to solve a business problem

You cannot over-prepare. Create succinct and compelling answers to possible interview questions using the STAR method:

  • Situation: Describe the situation, give a little background to set the scene
  • Task: Explain your role or responsibility in the situation
  • Action: What did you do to resolve the problem or add value
  • Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved

Talk about yourself as an individual and as part of a team. Demonstrating teamwork and collaboration is key

Thank you!

Don’t end an interview without contact information for your interviewer. Send a thank you by email within 24 hours of the conversation.

Step 8.  Research salary

At some point in the interview process you may be asked for your target salary. This is a tough question when seeking an entry level position. As you research potential jobs and industries, make sure to learn about salary.

Salary information including salary bands are found in websites such as PayScale and Glassdoor. You can check by job title and target company. NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers publishes information on salary and benefits. See recent information here.

Postings for job openings and industry association sites are good sources of information. If you can’t get an exact number, you will find a salary range. Many LinkedIn job postings will give you salary ranges.

Speak with someone at your Career Development office


Step 9.  Evaluate the job offer

Find a job after college:Evaluate the job offer

As you consider your job offer, look beyond base salary and assess the total offer.

In addition to the entry level salary, and job title, you should consider the total compensation package

The components of a compensation package can include:

  • Health care coverage – medical, dental, your contribution, family coverage
  • Vacation, sick, and personal days
  • Bonus potential – what is the target and how can it be achieved?
  • Company sponsored savings plans – 401K’s and any company match
  • Type of pension plan – defined contribution or defined benefit
  • Long-term incentives – stock options, shadow equity, performance contingent shares
  • Reimbursements for daycare, transportation, parking
  • Maternity/paternity leave and flexible work arrangements

The salary may be great, but keep in mind non-financial factors:

  • Physical location – downtown or suburban office park?
  • Commute time and cost – do you need a car or is there public transaction?
  • Work environment – open floor plan, cubicles, hot desk
  • Opportunities for learning and advancement
  • Corporate culture and style
  • Potential for advancement and learning

Step 10.  Start on your career path

Congratulations on finding a job!

Once you start your new job do some final housekeeping:

  • Send thank you’s to everyone who has helped you
  • Review the contact list you created and update any information you received
  • File your resume and cover letter in a folder on your computer
  • Update your LinkedIn and other social media accounts


Enjoy learning and developing skills in your new role!

Contact us if you have more questions or would like to discuss your job search.  We look forward to speaking with you!

About the Author

Debbie Matson is a Career Coach, Recruiter and Founder of CareerAmplify. She has an MBA from Cornell University and is a certified Executive Coach from Columbia University Teachers College. Her passion is empowering students moving from academics to full-time employment, and helping people at all stages of their careers find the next great job.

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