Securing a job after college is a top priority for many grads. Although the job searching process can be time-consuming—it takes an average of three to six months for college graduates to find a job—landing your first job where you’ll deepen your skills, learn about yourself, discover your work style, and make connections in your industry will be the ultimate reward.
Recruiter Meghan McCormick has helped countless students navigate career fairs and graduation seasons. Her advice to recent grads looking for a job after college? “It's going to work out. Graduation and the pressure to land a job is overwhelming. If I could go back and tell my 22-year-old self something to quell post-grad fears, I'd say this: Your first job is going to teach you a lot about your strengths and interests. It's not the end-all-be-all, it's the beginning!”
If you’re ready to dive into your post-college job search but don’t know where to start, read these 21 tips to make the process a little less daunting.
21 tips on how to get a job after college
1. Define what you’re looking for
Whitney Kahn, a client advisor at talent acquisition and advisory firm Kelaca, says, “You need to define your dream but also determine what type of company you’re looking to join. Think about the size, location, in-person vs. remote, culture, benefits, social issues that the company represents or supports that are important to you, and make a list of companies that fit into those groups.” Having a list of non-negotiables will help you stay true to your wants and needs.
Read more: Does College Count as Job Experience?
2. Craft your elevator pitch
When talking to recruiters or networking at job fairs, having a short elevator pitch to introduce yourself is crucial. Your elevator pitch should address who you are, your work experience, and your future goals.
McCormick says, “Tell me your story. Who are you and what are you looking for? [For example] ‘I’m an art director looking for an internship or entry-level role. I'd prefer to stay on the East Coast.’ I’ve heard a lot of, ‘I'm open to anything!’ which is one, likely not true, and two, doesn't give me an indication of how your skills could fit with our current needs and openings.”
3. Attend career fairs
Career fairs give students the chance to establish professional relationships and discuss potential job and internship opportunities with recruiters. McCormick says, “Show your work. When you're at a career fair, you have just a few moments to show off who you are and what you can do. Be prepared to show one or two pieces of work that represent your ability and thinking. This makes it easier for me to remember you (‘Oh, that was the student who did the cool campaign about trash and sustainability.’)”
4. Take advantage of your career center
University career centers are some of the best resources for new job opportunities. Many employers leave their information with guidance counselors, and in addition to giving you career guidance, counselors usually also offer resume and cover letter workshops, mentoring programs, and mock interviews.
Accounting firm PwC offers university career centers a careers recruiting map to help students and recent grads find their school recruiter’s contact information. From there, they can explore important dates and deadlines in the recruiting process. Plus, they offer a video on virtual interview tips for grads looking to impress recruiters.
5. Take new headshots
When applying for jobs, you’ll want to have a professional headshot to fill out your LinkedIn profile, email icon, website, and any professional social media accounts. There are plenty of options to get high quality headshot photos done for free or very cheap. Plus, if you’re looking to work in a more creative field, headshots can be a great way to show off your personality.
6. Talk to your family and friends
Networking doesn’t always have to involve cold emailing people you don’t know. Tap into the people closest to you to learn more about how to get a job after college.
Ask them questions like:
What does a typical day at your job look like?
How did you get your first job after college? How did that lead to your current job?
Which skills have been most important in your career?
Does your current employer have any open jobs that you think might be a fit for me?
Is there anyone in your network who would be a good contact for me?
7. Create or refresh your LinkedIn profile
If you have an existing profile, write a summary that explains a little bit about yourself and what you’re looking for in a job, and make sure all of your internship or job information and skills are up to date. If you’re creating an account for the first time, take a look at our guide on LinkedIn best practices and tips for getting the most out of your profile. You can also play around with using LinkedIn’s #OpentoWork frame feature to alert recruiters and employers that you’re on the job market.
Kahn discusses the importance of building up your online presence beyond just having a profile: “It isn’t enough to just have a profile on LinkedIn, you need to connect with people that are from target companies, or in the field you would like to go into, and then have a presence on LinkedIn that will drive people to be interested in you. It is important to post original content, add quality comments to other people’s posts, share posts, engage with groups, and more.”
8. Start networking
Upwards of 85 percent of job positions are filled through networking, so it’s beneficial to start thinking of memorable ways to introduce yourself. Are there professionals in the industry you want to work in that you admire? Friends of friends who have interesting career paths? Former coaches, professors, or bosses who used to give you sound advice? Reach out to connect (or reconnect) and offer to buy them a cup of coffee.
“Connecting with people and then setting up coffee or a virtual meeting to learn more about them and the work they are doing will help you much more than blind applying for jobs. These informational interviews are not intended to be places to ask for a job but more of an opportunity to learn more about the company and how they got to where they are. Make it their idea for you to apply for a particular job at their company,” says Kahn.
9. Comb through your social media
It’s no secret that employers screen potential candidates by looking at their social media profiles—70 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, and of those that do social research, 57 percent have found content that caused them not to hire candidates.
Take the time to sift through old posts and review what’s appropriate and not. There are probably a few older posts that could be deleted before the job process begins—a post that may have seemed funny from a night out on the town in college may come off as inappropriate to a hiring manager now.
10. Research the job market
Since fall 2021, the job market for college grads has started to look up again. Jennifer Neef, director of the Career Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, says, “The appetite for college labor is strong right now, whether it’s student positions, or part time, all the way through entry-level jobs.”
If you’re looking for a job after college, do some research on which industries will be the highest-paying down the road and which jobs are in-demand right now using these guides:
11. Volunteer in your community
Community service and volunteering offers recent grads real-world experience and deepens skills like leadership, problem-solving, and time-management. If you’re not ready to take on a full-time job yet, there are tons of volunteer programs like PeaceCorps and Teach for America that gap years to serve others and explore other cultures and locations.
12. Invest in professional clothing
Interviewing is a key part of getting a job after college. To prepare, check out what women are wearing to interviews in 2022, whether virtually or in-person, and browse through different clothing store options that take into account different styles and budgets.
13. Create a portfolio
Online portfolios and websites allow recent grads to set and control their personal brand, showcase their projects, awards, and accomplishments, and easily network with recruiters. When getting started, check out these 15 sites to help you build your personal website.
14. Apply to internships or part-time jobs
Fifty-five percent of employers believe having internship experience is one of the top factors for considering candidates, and it’s a great way to make a few extra bucks on the side. Plus, getting an internship or part-time job can help you build connections and even lead to a full-time position down the road.
15. Take an online course
Although soft skills still go a long way, hard skills such as coding, web development, and web design are in increasing demand and can seriously increase your chances of getting hired after college. Consider taking a free course on EdX or Codecademy if you want to get a head start in your tech career.
16. Update or create your resume
Recruiters only spend six seconds scanning resumes, so every word you write carries weight. Make sure you have all of your work history listed with correct dates, your hard skills and certifications, and any leadership experience. Kahn adds, “When possible, taper your resume to the job description, using their language throughout your resume. If the job description is looking for someone who has mentored and led staff, don’t use other words like ‘oversee’ or ‘guided.’”
Use these guides when updating your resume:
Read more: How to Make a Resume for Your First Job
17. Find a mentor
Mentorship is proven to be extremely important for career development. Basically, you’ll have a successful person in your corner to give you career advice, help you make professional contacts, find job leads, and be a source of inspiration.
Have someone in mind, but you don’t know how to ask them to be your mentor? Try saying something along the lines of, “I’ve always admired you as a professional. I’d love to get your advice on the regular. Would you be okay with my emailing you with questions or grabbing coffee occasionally?”
18. Join a women’s support group
Joining an online professional development or support group can help you connect with wider communities, receive support via a mentorship or internship, and open you up to positions or areas of an industry that you didn’t know existed. If you want to network and learn more about how to get a job after college, check out these 12 women’s support groups.
19. Find an accountability partner
Kahn suggests finding “someone who can hold you to what you say you are going to do in your job search efforts.” Let them check in with you and hold you accountable to your goals, and ask if they’d be willing to let you practice answering tough interview questions with them or read over a cover letter.
20. Set and measure personal goals
“Make weekly goals for what you want to accomplish and stick to them—share them with your accountability partner and track them from week to week,” says Kahn. Example goals could include things like connecting with a certain number of people, setting up a certain number of informational interviews, applying to a certain number of jobs, posting content on LinkedIn, and more.
21. Take care of yourself
“Our brains only have so much decision-making power, and challenging tasks like job hunting burn those resources fast, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhausted,” says Dr. Nicole Byers, a clinical neuropsychologist at Rocky Mountain Neurosciences.
Rather than applying to jobs all day, every day, it’s imperative to build a sustainable routine that prioritizes self-care. Simple healthy habits could be taking a daily shower, getting eight hours of sleep, going outside at least once, talking to a friend, eating more greens, or reading for 30 minutes.
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About our sources
Whitney Kahn is a client advisor at Kelaca, a talent acquisition and advisory firm founded with a vision to redefine the recruiting experience. She has over 15 years of experience in leadership development, team management, and program development.
Meghan McCormick has been working in the advertising industry for 14 years, and in 2019, she took her passion for building teams and made the switch from social media marketing to recruiting. As a recruiter, she's passionate about partnering with hiring managers and organizations to reduce bias and make the interview process more equitable.