It felt delicious when I graduated. I had always been more about the parties than the exams. When push came to shove, I was always stressing out about making a passing grade. Now, the day after the ceremony, I was lying in my bed, looking at my bedroom ceiling, and thinking to myself:
“Wow. I have so much more free time.”
Fast forward a week, and my mother was kicking me out of the house, telling me to go find a job. Ouch. Thanks, mom!
Graduating from college is the beginning of a new journey. For most people – I was definitely in that group – that is the goal. What comes after? “Hell if I know!” was the answer back them. A lot of people never think further ahead than graduation. If you are one of the few that are already aiming at the next thing, well, good on you. That’s the right attitude. Implementing the following tips is easier with a roadmap already formed in your head.
For the rest of you, the ones that haven’t given much thought about what comes after graduation? Well, as you work on the things below, you’ll get a better picture of where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to experiment and course-correct with your goal!
Tip 1: Presentation Matters
We all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But it’s a bit disingenuous to think your potential employers will follow this advice when you don’t. Sure, you’ll pick a book on someone’s recommendation without glancing at the cover. But when you go to the bookshop without any particular book in mind, the cover is the thing that grabs you.
Don’t think this is unfair. It’s a shorthand. Presentation is usually a good marker for competence. People who groom themselves properly and dress tastefully tend to have discipline and attention to detail. Scammers have known this for the longest time – that’s why the best con artists dress sharp. When faced with a total stranger, – with no references, no previous work experience, nothing but a CV – it’s natural for an employer to rely more on first impressions. We are visual creatures. Even in businesses that work exclusively online, video chat is still the gold standard for interviewing new hires.
You don’t have to dress as if you were going to meet the president; you don’t want to show off. Just care to put in the effort to look sharp. You can get bonus points with some research: look up the company online, and find out their dress code. You can even try to get in touch with someone who works there. Try to approximate the dress code as much as possible. Doing this will be an excellent first step in helping your interviewer develop some empathy toward you.
Tip 2: Projects Speak Louder Than CVs
Hiring at DistantJob, I’ve noticed that smart people full of ideas and with shining academic degrees are dime-a-dozen. You know what’s in demand? People that can take a project and make it happen, overseeing it, working their ass off, and pulling in help and resources when needed.
The worst sin of the modern employee is having great ideas and then dragging their feet when it comes to execution. This is especially true for small to midsize businesses where every able-bodied employee counts.
So what makes a hiring manager’s day is not looking at a CV brimming with excellent grades and glowing professorial praise. What makes a hiring manager’s eyes shine is getting their hands on a project you developed or played a significant role on. Your greatest asset in the modern workplace is your ability to make things happen!
So if you are having trouble being picked up by your dream company, try a different strategy. Volunteer at a non-profit. Work more than any other volunteer. You’ll get the chance to make something happen soon enough – take responsibility for it and over-deliver.
Not your style? Start your own business. It need not be complicated and overwhelming – you can be a one-person business, or team up with a couple of friends. Or don’t even call it a business – develop a project on your own, on your area of expertise. Anything goes, so far as you can point to it later, when you’re meeting with your dream employer, and tell them: “Here, I did this!”
Tip 3: See Low Salaries As Cheap Education
As much as I’d like to tell you that by the end of this article, you’ll have the key to landing high-paying job this week and start making a dent on that student loan, that’s very unlikely to be the case.
More often than not, what few proposals you will get at the beginning will sound like raw deals. I don’t think you should sell yourself short – indeed, you should strive for enough to make rent and eat healthily – but I will urge you to look at your first couple of jobs as an educational pursuit, not a financial one. No matter how good your college, you could always use some real-world experience.
That’s the primary goal of your first job: to be a kind of apprenticeship where you can learn the ropes, see how business is conducted, and start building a network. You’ll cash in on this investment sooner than you’ll think.
So when you are contemplating an offer where the paycheck doesn’t excite you, ask yourself if the experience and connections might.
Tip 4: Don’t Overthink It
A job doesn’t have to be for life. You’re allowed to experiment, to see how you like a specific industry, to see how you fit a company’s culture. You wouldn’t expect the first guy or gal you take out to be the love of your life, so why would you expect to land your dream job right out of college?
Make a conscious decision about the kind of company and industry you want to work in, and then go look for them, but don’t shy away from unexpected opportunities. Quirky offers may lead you in exciting directions. And if you don’t like where you are? Gather a war chest to future-proof your rent, and then jump ship and look for a better place.
Tip 5: Get Out There And Market Yourself!
Finding a job is a grind. No matter how well you pitch yourself – and you can definitely work on your chances by improving your pitch – this is a numbers game. And numbers games rely on discipline and luck working side-by-side. Since you can’t control your luck, what you have to work with is your discipline.
A bazillion websites have yawned themselves to death with posts about writing a great CV and a top email pitch. I’m not going to repeat that here. Google is your friend; skim 5-7 such articles and pick the two that catch your eye the most.
Then, set two days a week to work on your job search. Craft and send your CVs and pitches in the mornings, while you’re sharp. Set a goal. Decide you’re going to look over X job board entries every such day, and pick out Y places to send your CV and pitch the next morning. Stick to your schedule. If you feel browsing job offers and submitting yourself doesn’t take up a whole day, hit Linkedin and do some research on the places you are submitting to. Try to talk to people who work there, see what the company is all about; then use the info to tailor your self-pitch to them.
Again, stick to your schedule. Finding a job is a marathon, not a sprint, and what wins marathons is pacing and discipline.
Some Parting Thoughts: Don’t Become A Resentful Person
As you look for your first post-college job, you’ll be rejected a lot, in ways that you weren’t during college. Sometimes, you’ll be rejected for reasons that will look and sound unfair to you. Often, you won’t even get an answerback. Becoming resentful is easy. You worked your ass off on college. You are working your ass off now, following the advice that this weird guy gave you through some website. And you know you can do good, even great work if you get the chance.
The thing is that the people on the other side don’t get that. They don’t understand – nor should they care – for your effort. Their priority is finding the best person possible for the position they want to fill. They owe that to their bosses, colleagues and even their families, all who stand to lose when a business suffers through a bad hire.
Their job is not to acknowledge your effort and good-will; it is to avoid risk. And someone fresh out of college always feels like a risky bet.
From a practical perspective, if you let resentment in the face of rejection take hold of you, you’ll find it harder to follow the points outlined above. Bitterness kills the discipline to look your best and to put in the work as per your goals and schedule. It destroys the humility and forward-looking intuition needed to evaluate a job opportunity. It will seep into your written and verbal discourse and make your pitches have something off about them.
Don’t do it. Roll with the punches. You didn’t get an answer? It wasn’t meant to be. Onto the next. Were you rejected? Ask for feedback, politely. Tell them you’d like to know what made them reject you, so you can improve. If they come back with an answer, consider it with care. If they don’t, roll with the punches, move on. There are plenty of opportunities out there.
About the Author
Luis Magalhães is the Director of Marketing and editor-in-chief at DistantJob, a remote recruitment agency. He writes about how to build and manage remote teams, and the benefits of remote work. He‘s been hiring and managing editorial teams remotely for the past 15 years.