College prepares people for many things, but in a lot of cases getting a job is not one of them.
Most schools have career offices and even on-campus hiring fairs, but very few require that students take classes in how to get a job. In many ways that's a disservice to graduates who may have the skills to work in their chosen profession (or may not) but lack the tool set needed to get hired.
For graduates however, all is not lost. Just because you're entering the workforce without being trained in how to actually do that does not mean you're doomed to struggle to find work. It's possible, and important, for the class of 2017 to get the jobs that college prepared them for; graduates just need to do a few simple things.
Get a resume and cover letter together
Whether you are applying for jobs over the internet or attending job fairs, you will always need a resume. A cover letter will only apply in the first case, but it's important to have a default version of each that you will tweak depending upon the job applied for.
Your resume and cover letter should be edited by either a professional or someone well-skilled in grammar. Ideally, for your resume, you will use a template that's common for the industry you're looking to work in. For both your cover letter and resume, you will also want to make tweaks -- or significant changes -- based on the specific job you're applying for.
Find a mentor
Getting your first job in journalism is a very different process than landing your first position as a teacher or a nurse. Many professions have specific requirements and hiring procedures that are not always easy to navigate.
To make sure you do things right, try to find a mentor in the field. This could be a college professor who has real-world experience, a family friend, or a contact from an internship. If none of those are options, look to trade or industry professional associations, and reach out for help.
Don't expect the jobs to come to you
There was a time when most jobs were listed in newspaper classified ads or in industry trade journals. That's no longer the case, and while there are lots of great online job boards like Indeed.com, many positions never make it that far.
To find that first job, it's important to be proactive. Identify companies that may hire you and make sure each human resources department has your resume. Try to find out who the hiring manager is, and then contact that person -- who would most likely be your boss if you get the job -- and ask for an informal introductory interview.
The goal is not to be a pest, but to be a known quantity when a job comes up. Simply having the people who do the hiring know your name can make it so when a position does open up, they give you an interview, or even make you an offer so they don't have to go through the entire recruiting process.
Don't have an ego
You may have been a big man or woman on campus with a fabulous grade-point average, various accolades, and all sorts of important positions. That matters very little in the real world.
Going to work means starting over again. The skills you acquired will matter, but you should use them to prove yourself. That means if a company interviews you for one job, but offers you something else -- even if it seems beneath you -- consider the value of just getting your foot in the door.
"Humble and hard-working" goes a long way in nearly every profession. Be willing to learn and to admit that you don't know. Sometimes just that willingness will convince someone to take a chance on you.
Treat interviews seriously
Getting an interview is a major step, but it's also one many college graduates have little experience with. If you are interviewing for a job in nearly any profession, you must do these things before, during, and after your interview:
- Dress appropriately: That means a suit for men or the equivalent for women.
- Prepare: Know as much about the company and the job as you possibly can going in, and have some questions ready.
- Keep it professional: It's an interview, not a first date.
- Send a thank-you note: An actual handwritten note is best, but email is OK if that's how you've been communicating with the person who interviewed you.
An interview can take the candidate with the least impressive resume and get him or her the job. It's an opportunity to subtly sell yourself while also showing a willingness to work hard, learn new things, and do whatever is needed.