I get it. Trying to line up your first after-college job—while still managing everything else on your plate—can make you feel like the “real world” is about to hit you like a freight train.
You’re not alone in this. People call in to The Ken Coleman Show all the time to get advice on their career direction, and most of them are way older than you. So take a deep breath, because I’m here to help!
Here are a few simple, practical steps you can take now that will not only help you get a job after college, but also get you one you actually love.
Figure Out What You Really Want to Do
College can be an overwhelming season, and a lot can change in four years. Take some time to think about whether that degree you just earned (or are still in the process of earning) is in a field that you want to keep pursuing after graduation.
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Ask yourself this: How can I use my top talents (what I do best) to do what I’m passionate about (the work I love to do most)? Don’t stress about this—it’s ok to dream big and brainstorm about all your possible career options!
When you answer that question clearly and honestly, you’ll have a clearer sense of what opportunities to look for and what you really want to do with your life . Remember, you don’t have to have it all figured out right now and it’s ok if things change in the future. The main thing is to use what you’re good at to do work that brings you joy.
The main thing is to use what you’re good at to do work that brings you joy.
If you need more help figuring out what it is that you really want to do, try my free Career Clarity Guide. It's a worksheet that will guide you through how to identify what you do best, what you love to do most and what results matter to you so that you can take one step closer to landing your dream job.
Before You Get a Real-World Job, Find an Internship
I call this finding a “place to practice.” Once you’ve honed in on a career direction, you need a place where you can learn what that career is all about, actually do the day-to-day work and connect with people in that field while you’re still in college. Unpaid work might not sound like a ton of fun, but if you go at it with the right attitude, getting an internship can be an important stepping stone in your career.
Even if you’ve already graduated, you can still take this step—but it should be a short-term situation until you land a paying job you’re passionate about. And be open to the possibility that you may need a “placeholder” job or two to cover your living expenses while pursuing your dream.
How to Find a Meaningful Internship:
Make a list of companies and organizations in your field of interest that you would love to work for and ask these questions:
Do they offer internships?
Are they open to internships?
Are they open to volunteers?
Do they allow job shadowing? If so, do you know anyone connected with the company who you could shadow?
Three ways to maximize your “practice” opportunity:
Be eager to help. Attitude is everything—whether you’re doing a regular coffee run or something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone. Always be thinking about how you can best serve your team.
Ask questions. This shows that you’re invested and engaged with the company and want to learn as much as you can.
Take initiative. Treat this like a paying job. What would the ideal employee do in this position? Be teachable, but don’t be afraid to solve problems when you see them, speak up, and contribute your ideas.
Who knows—you may find yourself with a job offer based on your work, without even going through a formal application process! At the very least, you’ve gained vital experience and made valuable connections that can help you with the next step.
Remember, Your College Can Be a Resource for Getting a Job
Most colleges have on-campus career resources that are free for students. Well, actually, they’re not free. You already paid for them when you paid the tuition, so you might as well take advantage of them while you’re still in school!
Career resources to look for on your campus:
Your career services office – This should give you access to job listings, seminars or workshops, job-shadowing or internship opportunities, and interview coaching.
Job fairs – Learning about local businesses and meeting different employers can be a valuable chance to explore your options.
Clubs or honor societies – Not only is this a great way to bond with others over something you’re all passionate about, but it can also help you sharpen your skills by giving you a place to share your work or bounce around ideas.
Your professors – It’s always a good idea to get to know your teachers and work hard in their classes—they could be the ones you list as references on future applications. At the very least, a trusted professor can be a great mentor and friend.
Peers and alumni – You never know where a college acquaintance could lead you in the future, especially if they’re pursuing the same field that you are. Keep those connections when you graduate!
Job-Hunt Smarter, Not Harder
Now that you’ve gotten a chance to practice in your field, it’s time to look for some paid opportunities! The key to finding a job right out of college that can kick-start your career is to look for a place where you can both perform (use your skills to their full potential) and grow (have a clear path to advance personally, professionally and financially at the company).
The key to finding a job right out of college that can kick-start your career is to look for a place where you can both perform and grow.
How to look for a job that you’ll find rewarding:
Identify the type of company you’d love to work for. Make a list of values and details about the company culture that are important to you.
Research entry-level jobs in your field at companies that meet that description. Think about whether you want to stay local or look at national opportunities.
Examine the open positions and answer these questions:
Will the open positions give me relevant experience in the field I want to be in?
Can I clearly see the potential for my career to grow at this company?
Will the open positions regularly give me a chance to perform under pressure?
Does the company usually promote from within?
Remember: We’re focusing on entry-level jobs here. If you get something bigger than that—great! But don’t put pressure on yourself to make six figures right now. There’ll be plenty of time to buy a yacht later.
What About Networking?
Ah yes, the buzzword you’ve been waiting for.
Most people dread going to networking events, but here’s some good news: If you’re interning or volunteering in the field you ultimately want to work in, you’re already networking organically. You’re building relationships with people who are doing what you want to do, using something I call the Proximity Principle.
What’s the Proximity Principle? It’s all about finding opportunities to do what you love. And it’s as simple as getting around the right people and being in the right places. For example, if you want to be a professional chef, you should be around other professional chefs in a place where they’re mastering their craft (so probably in a kitchen—not a bad place to be).
This is the right way to network — and now those relationships become an important part of your search for your first post-college job.
Why? Because relationships are the key to a good resumé.
Update Your Resumé
Ok, so you’ve found some jobs you’re excited to apply for. Remember those connections you made while you were interning and volunteering? Time to showcase them on your resumé!
Here’s how to write the perfect resumé to get the job you want:
Tell them who you know. Highlight relevant relationships right at the top of the page. If you have a connection to someone who works at the company where you’re applying, mention them! Just make sure the people you mention actually know who you are.
Tell them why you want to be there. Do your homework on the company’s vision, purpose and mission statement, and then show them you’re a great culture fit by explaining the connection between your values and the work they do every day.
Tell them how you can add value. This is where you showcase your relevant skills and character strengths. Why does this company need you?
Tell them where you’ve been. This is where you put your relevant past experience (the key word here is relevant—don’t list a job if it has nothing to do with the position you’re applying for). Follow the job title with a one-to two-sentence description of your job responsibilities. And don’t be shy about listing your unpaid internships.
Tell them what you’ve learned. The last section of your resumé is where you list any relevant education, training and certifications you hold. Be sure to include where you went to school and what you got your degree in—you graduate, you!
Hiring managers will appreciate seeing a resumé that’s one page, relevant and smart. So much so, I bet they’ll ask you to interview.
Be Prepared for the Job Interview
Interviews take some intentional preparation, but all that work in advance will make you feel way more confident.
To get an interview, spend time and effort on these five key areas:
What you need to know – At this point you’ve probably already done your research on the company’s products and mission statement, but what else can you find out? Research the company history, media hits or appearances in the news, and anything else you can discover that will show the hiring manager you’re already invested in this place.
What you need to expect – You’ll be answering a lot of interview questions, of course (questions like: why do you want to work for us, what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses, etc.). You’ll also need to be able to easily explain how your experience and skills relate to the job you’re interviewing for.
How you need to dress – Leave your leather jacket and combat boots at home. You want to dress for the interview similarly to the company’s dress code and choose classic, professional neutrals that don’t look wrinkled or outdated.
How you need to act – Make good eye contact, be enthusiastic, and don’t close yourself off by crossing your arms or legs. And remember to express gratitude at the beginning and end of the interview. Following up with a brief email or note thanking the hiring manager for their time can go a long way (but after that, be patient and don’t pester).
What you need to ask – Be prepared to ask the hiring manager some questions. A couple good examples are: “What types of people fit in well (or succeed) here?” and “How will my performance be measured?”
Congratulations! If you follow all these steps, you’ll be well on your way to landing a post-college job that you’re truly passionate about! If you want a more detailed look at creating the perfect resumé or more in-depth advice on nailing that job interview, check out my Get Hired Digital Course. It's an online video course that will give you the tools and strategy you need to stand out in the application and hiring process.
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.