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How to Get a Job After College: The Complete Guide

Welcome to the next chapter

Abbey Slattery
Contributor
Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza
Content Strategist, InHerSight

College graduate

College is over and the real world awaits. It’s time to enter the workforce and put into practice what you’ve learned in school. It’s one of the most exciting times in your life—the world is your oyster. What are you going to do?

Get a job, obviously. This guide will walk you through every part of the hiring process, from writing your resume to negotiating your very first job offer. 

Good luck!

How to prepare during your final semester in college

Your last semester will probably be jam-packed with classes, homework, extracurriculars, and plenty of social activities, but this is also time you can use to prepare to enter the workforce. 

  • Create your own website. A personal website or online portfolio is a tool for showing off your work or writing samples that you can’t fit into a job application. You can also include your resume, a bio, and an easy way to contact you. Include a link on your resume.

  • Polish your employable skills. If you have the chance to take a final class or two that could boost your resume—coding, marketing, business writing, whatever it may be—do it.

  • If you have time, try to fit an internship into your schedule. This will be one of your last opportunities to build up your college resume more before you officially enter the professional world, so even something as small as 10 hours a week can make a difference. Even a job unrelated to your field can show that you have a strong work ethic and time-management skills

  • Start collecting your professional references. These can be professors, former employers, internship supervisors, or anyone who can speak to your skills and work ethic. Get ahead of the game by asking three or four people you believe can offer the most positive review of your experience. 

  • Take advantage of your school’s career center. You probably haven’t given it a second thought since they talked about it during freshman orientation, but the staff there will be able to give you valuable pointers on your resume and cover letter—all for free! They can even set you up with some mock interviews, suggest internships, and show you how to network with other alumni from your school in fields you’re interested in. 

  • Tell people you’re looking. Upwards of 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking. It may feel like you don’t have a huge network right now, but your professors, your former bosses, your friends, your parents’ friends, the barista at the coffee shop, fellow alumni—that’s your network. Tell them you’re looking for a job. 

  • Tap your alumni network. Your college’s career center can help you get connected to fellow alumni across the country. This can be especially helpful if you know you’d like to move or even know where you’d like to live. Start building those relationships now.

Read more: How to Get a Job in Another State (From Someone Who’s Done It Twice)

Write your resume

Tackling a resume can be intimidating, especially when your professional experience may be limited. Most college students don’t have a robust work history, and employers understand this.

Your first resume out of college might include things like your major and school, part-time jobs, internships, extracurricular activities, clubs, volunteer work, awards and recognitions, and specific coursework that’s prepared you for the workforce.

If you haven’t written your resume yet, check out InHerSight’s guide to writing your first resume.

FAQ: Do I need to tailor my resume to every job application?

Yes, but you don’t need to rewrite the entire thing. For example, if a specific job is looking for experience in operations management, you might want to add a few more bullet points about your time as managing editor of the school literary journal. If it calls for someone with experience in Adobe Creative Suite, you might mention your proficiency in the summary.

Read more: 19 Dos and Don’ts for Crafting Your Best Resume

Write your cover letter

A good cover letter adds to the information on your resume; it doesn’t repeat it. A strong cover letter shows the reader that you’ve taken the time to research the company and understand how your specific skill set would serve their needs.

Your cover letter should be about a page long (two is too long) and should clearly state the following:

  • The job you’re applying for

  • Why you’re interested in the job and the company

  • Relevant experience (This doesn’t have to be in a paid position. It could be volunteer, in class, etc.)

  • Why you’re the candidate they should hire

  • How they can contact you

Here are some cover letter guides to get you started

FAQ: Do I have to write a different cover letter for every job application?

Not necessarily. You won’t need to rewrite the whole thing, but you should tweak it for the position to highlight your relevant skills and express interest in the company. Treat it just like you would your resume. Whatever you do, don’t send the same templatized cover letter for every job application. 

The types of jobs you can get after college

When you enter the workforce after college, you’ll be presented with all kinds of work arrangements: freelance, part-time hourly, full-time salaried, contract, and internships.

Let’s talk about what each one means.

Freelance

Working as a freelancer means that you’re self-employed and do hourly work for a number of clients. This is a kind of contract work, which we’ll talk about later.

For example, you might be a graphic designer who designs sales collateral for a marketing agency, book jackets for a small press, and logos for real estate companies. 

Being a freelancer often means you can work from home, set your own schedule, take on a variety of projects, and you can even start while you’re in school. You’re essentially a small business owner. But it does come with its downsides: You have to be your own sales and marketing departments, you’ll have to buy your own health insurance, you don’t get any paid time off, and paying taxes can be complicated. 

Part-time

Typically, part-time means you’re working less than 35 hours per week, though definitions of part-time vary

You might have already had a part-time job or two, or more, already—waiting tables, working in retail, or even at an on-campus job. If you’ve participated in the federal work-study program, you’ve had a part-time job. 

Part-time work often means you have some flexibility in your schedule and more free time than you would if you worked full-time. However, part-time workers don’t earn as much as full-time employees, even proportionally. And part-time employees aren’t always given the same benefits, like paid time off and health insurance, as full-time workers, and there are few federal mandates for what benefits employers must provide to part-time employees. 

Full-time

Full-time employees typically work at least 40 hours per week and are employed by a company or organization. As a full-time employee, you might be required to work at the company’s physical location during the work hours they set, though remote work and flexible work hours are becoming much more common.

Jobs like these usually (but not always) come with a salary, health insurance, paid time off, and fringe benefits.

Contract

Contract work is an employment arrangement in which you perform work for a company but are not an employee of that company, which means you’re paid hourly or are on retainer and do not receive benefits. 

You might be hired to work 10 hours per week, or even 40. Some contract work is for a defined amount of time, like 12 months, other arrangements are for an indefinite amount of time. Like freelancers, you’ll be responsible for your own health insurance, and you won’t get any paid vacation time. You might, however, be able to flex your schedule and work remotely, but all contractor arrangements vary.

Internship

An internship is typically a short-term job that is meant to give you practical work experience in your field. Internships are typically low-paying part-time jobs that don’t come with any benefits or paid time off. Some internships lead to full-time jobs within the company, but don’t assume this will be the case. If you’re hoping an internship will land you a permanent position, talk to the recruiter or hiring manager about how often that happens and what criteria they use to hire interns to full-time jobs.

Be wary of unpaid internships. It’s a red flag if a company is not willing to pay you for your work.

Read more: 4 Tips for Staying Focused During Your Job Search

What jobs are you qualified for?

With limited professional experience, it may feel like there aren’t many jobs out there that you’re qualified for, but there are plenty of employers that are looking for young, fresh talent.

You don’t need to meet every requirement in the job description, but if it asks for someone with eight years of experience, the position is likely beyond your reach.

Our guide will help you read a job description: How to Know if You’re Qualified for the Job

FAQ: How qualified is qualified enough?

Women tend to apply for jobs only if they’re 100 percent qualified for the job, but guess what, recruiters say 60 percent is qualified enough. Go for it.

3 ways to find a job

Apply to open job listings

The most straight-forward way to get a job is to apply to open positions. You can find these on job boards, company websites, and your university’s career center website.

There is an abundance of job boards out there. Here are all of them: A Comprehensive List of Job Search Sites

Read more: How to Ask for a Job. Wait…Is That Something I Can Do?

Get matched to a company

You can also get matched to a great company that’s hiring right now. 

Use InHerSight’s job match tool to find a company that shares your values: If, for example, paid time off, flexible work hours, management opportunities, and equal opportunities are important to you, the job match tool can help you find a company that values those things too—and is looking to hire someone like you.

Or, you can browse open job listings on our site.

Use your network 

In the professional world, networking is key. More than half of jobs are filled through networking, and many job openings aren’t even posted online, but are filled either by someone already in the company or by a recommendation from someone within or close to the company. 

As a recent or soon-to-be college graduate, talk to internship supervisors, former bosses, professors, teaching assistants, friends and connections who have already graduated, cousins, aunts—everyone—about the kind of job you’re looking for. You never know who knows someone who is looking for someone like you. 

Read more: Your Inner Circle Is Your Ticket to the Top

How to interview for a job

Once you apply for jobs, you should be getting called back for interviews. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t fret. Most job seekers wait an average of 38 days to hear back about a job application. And if you’re not hearing back, you can always follow up on your application.

The phone interview

The first step in the interview process is usually a phone interview. This is when a recruiter, or sometimes a hiring manager, calls to ask preliminary questions about your application. 

Here’s a list of all the phone interview questions they’ll probably ask, and how to prepare for a phone interview.

It’s your chance to ask questions too. At this stage in the interview process, you might ask them to clarify or expound upon parts of the job description, whether they allow remote work or offer flexible work hours, and what their interview and hiring process looks like, for example.

After the phone interview, send a thank-you note. Here’s how.

An important note about interviewing

The interview process is just as much for you as it is for your potential employer. Yes, they’re going to come with a lot of questions, but so should you. Make sure this is a place you want to work. 

The in-person interview

If you make it past the phone interview round, you’ll move on to in-person interviews.

This means you’ll meet at the company’s offices or location with the hiring manager and possibly potential coworkers. The questions at this stage get harder. They’ll ask you about previous experience, “what would you do if…” questions (these are called situational interview questions), the kinds of things you’re looking for in a job, etc. 

Here are some resources to help you prepare for in-person interviews.

And don’t forget to come with your own list of questions.

Send a thank-you note

After the interview, it’s a good practice to send a quick thank you note. In it, you can express your gratitude, reiterate your interest in the job, or withdraw from the interview process if you find the job isn’t for you.

Read more: A Simple Recipe for a Post-Interview Thank-You Letter

Following up after the interview

Before you leave the interview, ask the hiring manager or the recruiter when and how you should expect to hear back from them. If you don’t hear back, you can follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager. It's best to reach out to your primary contact—the person who has been scheduling your interviews and answering basic questions about the interview process. 

Wait at least three days between follow-ups, and wait at least three days before following up a second time. 

Here are resources on following up after an interview. 

How long will it take to get a job after college?

On average, a job seeker will spend around five months looking for a new job. But it can vary depending on your field, where you live, and the current job market.

Read more: Can’t Find a Job? Here are 23 Actions You Can Take Today

Negotiating your first job offer

Since it’s your first job offer after college, your leverage is limited, but that doesn’t mean you have no room to negotiate. Here’s what you should keep in mind when talking with your future employers about the nitty-gritty details.

Know the going rate

Do your research on average pay for the position (how to do that here), and know the salary you want.

Read more: How to Negotiate Your Salary (Even if It’s Your First Job)

Don’t just negotiate salary 

Pay isn’t the only thing to negotiate. Healthcare, PTO, working from home—there’s a lot more to compensation than just your paycheck. Think about the benefits that are important to you, and if your future employer isn’t willing to budge on salary, then see if you can't finesse a few extra benefits instead. 

Read more: How to Accept a Job Offer: When to Negotiate & What to Say

Preparing for your first day (of your first job) after college

Congrats! You made it. You nailed the interview, negotiated your salary, and signed the offer letter. 

Here’s a guide on preparing for your first day: Welcome to Your First Day of Work: Here’s What to Expect

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