Whether you’re in college, fresh out, or have been out for a while, these are tips you can use to find a great job. While these are mainly geared towards recent graduates, many are universal, regardless of your age.
Preparation is Key
Landing a great job starts with work done before you even graduate. This will make more sense when I explain the networking and referral section of this article. In general, here’s what you’ll want to do and not want to do while in college.
Show up to class on time
This seems pretty obvious, but it’s a slippery slope to start skipping one class, then another, then another, until you’ve racked up a considerable number of absences. You might think it doesn’t matter as long as you get the grade you want, which is partially true.
However, your professor will notice. Even in the larger lecture hall classes, your professor may be taking notes. Your reputation builds as someone who only shows up part of the time, or not at all.
This is not a reputation you want. Your professors are a resource for a potential job and career opportunities. They will not want to refer someone they don’t believe will represent their recommendation well.
Your professors are a great resource for:
- Resume help
- Job opportunities
- Mock interviews with professionals in their network
- Letters of recommendations
For me, I only had about 2 large lecture classes that I can really remember. Apart from leaving on a Thursday for road games, that were already approved absences; I showed up to every class.
After reaching out to professors after I’ve graduated, I’ve learned that many of them keep records on attendance and whether or not something was an excused absence. When a former student is asking for a referral, it’s easy for the professor to look at the grade the student earned, their attendance, and any memories of them and make an educated decision.
Don’t have a negative public image
Aka, don’t get arrested and don’t do anything stupid. And definitely don’t do something stupid, have someone take a picture or film it, then post to social media - which happens more often than not.
That offensive Halloween costume is a no-go. You urinating on a cop car is a no-go, or tweeting out that you’re mad at work for firing you for failing a drug test is 100%, not a good idea.
The things you do and the actions you take while out in public are seen by everyone, and everyone talks. If you make one stupid decision, you could be labeled with that decision for a very long time. This is especially true if it makes the news or circulates on Facebook.
If you're going to make a name for yourself, make it positive. Don't be known as any of the more negative stereotypes in the video below.
Nobody is going to forget about, let’s call him ‘Corona-Spring-Break-Guy,’ along with other people in the interview.
Being stupid is one thing, being stupid on a voluntary news interview… well, that’s only the level of a stupidity a want-to-be SoundCloud rapper could achieve. Don’t hit the ‘Want-to-be SoundCloud Rapper’ level of stupidity.
Volunteer for events and join clubs
One way of not only improving your reputation but boosting your resume and making connections is to volunteer for events and join some clubs. Apart from the generosity of donating your time, many companies will want to know about your volunteer and charitable work.
Be sure to keep track of the dates and hours if done at irregular intervals. Otherwise, listing it just like another job displays commitment to the cause. Something as simple as the log below, found here, will you help you keep track of work.
Volunteering can also put you in connection with individuals that could help you later. While you may not be considering a job at a non-profit, that is an option, and non-profit folks have friends in the private sector too.
Clean up your digital footprint
Do you remember what you tweeted in high school? Me neither and neither do any of the NBA draft prospects. But guess what, it doesn’t matter for them. They’re about to make millions of dollars being a professional athlete. They can almost do whatever they want as long as they can win games.
You and me on the other hand? Well, god forbid we make one politically incorrect statement, and we’ll be in HR’s office.
Point of the matter is, the less you open yourself up to scrutiny, the fewer problems you’ll have. Go through and delete all of your old tweets using something like TweetDelete. Do an audit of your other social profiles like Facebook, Instagram, or whatever it is that you use. If you wouldn’t want your priest (or whoever your religious leader is) to see it, delete it.
Get additional certifications
Consider getting some additional certifications, or at least a head start on them before you graduate. For some careers, certifications have to be done through on the job training, go through review boards, etc. For others, like marketing, you can get them online for free.
For example, I started my career in Digital Marketing. To help land a job, I went ahead and obtained my Google Analytics and AdWords certifications, which are offered free by Google. Below are some more certifications that provide a good foundation for digital marketing. Some are free, some are paid. A quick Google search can probably turn up something for your career field.
- Google Analytics Certification | Cost: Free
- Google Ads Certification | Cost: Free
- HubSpot Content Marketing Certification | Cost: Free
- HootSuite Social Marketing Certification | Cost: Paid
- Facebook BluePrint Certifications | Cost: Paid
- SEMRush SEO Toolkit Course | Cost: Free
- Bing Ads Certification Course | Cost: Free
I have not personally done all of these courses, as now, I tend to only learn what applies specifically to my day-to-day duties. It may sound corny, but lifelong learning is essential for growth. A membership to Skillshare can teach you some practical skills you would likely use on the job.
When applying for jobs, the more of these you have, the better; HOWEVER, that does not replace getting actual experience, like I’ll go more in-depth on below.
Have some side projects
How do you get experience for an entry-level position that requires previous experience? Yes, you read that right and that’s the conundrum many people face.
You make the opportunity. I didn’t know this when starting out, but my side projects served as great discussion points while being interviewed.
I started building websites even before high school, but the quality of the sites I made picked up well into college. I started building basic WordPress sites for local businesses and even landed a few clients, but those eventually failed. Not because of my lack of dedication or work ethic, but because I lacked the skills needed for some complex jobs that needed to be done in a shorter time frame.
Shout to these first few businesses that gave me a shot.
Eventually, I reached the point where I focused on building affiliate websites to earn money. I started with and am still a part of Amazon’s affiliate program, amongst several others.
The point of telling you this is, even if it doesn’t show competence in whatever your side project is, it shows the willingness to throw yourself out there and fail. It shows you are ‘self-disciplined,’ ‘highly motivated,’ and all those other buzzwords everyone throws on their resumes, but aren’t.
There isn’t much of a downside in doing a side project, or ‘side hustle.’ It could be as simple as buying stuff at yard sales to turn around and flip on eBay. Track your cost, profits, etc. All of this shows competence in necessary business skills, and at worst, you lose a little bit of money and time.
Nailing the Actual Job Search
I’ve avoided all the typical job-search advice, such as making a good cover letter, improving your resume, word usage, etc. Instead, I want to help you focus on getting referrals rather than starting cold applications.
What I mean by this is there is probably a relative or friend of a friend that needs to hire someone with your skills, and they just don’t know you yet.
This is why all the preparation work above is vital. If your friends, or others, know you as an irresponsible or lazy piece of shit, why would they want to vouch for your credibility? You become a liability for them.
Reach out to your professors
Never ever a bad idea, whether it was a giant lecture class or one where you had 10 people in the class. In my experience, some professors try to stay in touch with a small group of students well after graduation.
As of writing this, I’m almost 3 years out and still stay in touch with my professors. I get invited back to help judge projects and offer feedback on presentations. It’s always clear which students put work into theirs and which put it together a few days or less before.
The point of that story is, your professor is probably aware of some opportunities out there and can put you in direct contact with respected alumni.
Pro-Tip: Always, always, always be as professional as possible in your presentation. You don’t have to be wearing a brand new suit, but put some effort into your appearance. Have a firm handshake upon introduction to whoever you’re presenting to, provide handouts, and be prepared for questions.
You never know when you might run into these people again. You do not want their only memory of you to be a poor presentation with a lack of professionalism.
Reach out to alumni
If you are eyeing a particular company, LinkedIn makes it easy to filter who works there by their alma mater. For example, Berry Global is headquartered in Evansville, IN - right next to where I completed my undergrad. They’re a massive plastics manufacturer. You can navigate to their company page and see who all works there.
I typed in my university, which will present a lot of results since they’re local. Looking at all the names and potential connections, I can see that I actually had a class with a lot of these people, or at least recognize their face.
Odds are, you probably have some overlap with friends who recently graduated. You don’t know all of your friends’ friends, so it’s worth seeing what friends you have in common and asking how well your friend knows them.
Again, the importance of reputation comes back here. If you message one of these people, they’re going to ask their friends, “Hey, do you remember John Smith?” What do you want that response to sound like?
They’ll also probably be looking you up on social media, so again the importance of a clean digital footprint comes up.
Pro-Tip: Don’t forget to add your professors on LinkedIn! They can also serve as your bridge to connect you with former alumni.
Let your friends know, family friends too
Is there any reason you wouldn’t use social media to your advantage?
If some people can use social media to help raise money on GoFundMe for tattoo removals, someone’s spiritual journey, or their first tattoo, I’m sure you have friends willing to make a referral. Yes, all of those are true.
Make a post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever! Include a link to the resume on your LinkedIn and a brief summary of the fields you’re interested in.
Reach out to a company directly
Feeling bold or genuinely want a job at a specific company? Reach out directly to the CEO or the director for the department your ideal job would fall under.
If I were doing this today, I would send a handwritten letter with the best pen and paper I could find and include information about how to contact me. I’d give it a few days after mailing, then follow up with a phone call. Then follow up again after the phone call with an email whether he or she answers or not.
How you do it is up to you. I would choose a handwritten letter because it stands out, and honestly, when’s last time anyone received a handwritten letter?
Prime Example: You probably don’t know who Peter Barton is and I didn’t either until I read his memoir, Not Fade Away, which I highly recommend.
He is essentially responsible for why we have MTV, BET, CMT, and tons of other cable channels available to us today. He was a media mogul that changed the cable television industry.
His first job, where he ultimately became President, was obtained by going directly to the President and working for free for 90 days. That company and another company he was president of, were eventually sold for $32 billion dollars.
A little research goes a long way in finding the right person to contact. LinkedIn is a great resource, and even if you don’t reach the primary person, you can find someone beneath them who will forward your email.
Most companies follow a similar structure for their email system. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .
If you can at least find a name, then separate emails using trial and error of those common structures will eventually land the email in their inbox.
You can also use a tool like Hunter.io to find other email addresses in the company. From there, you can either ID the name pattern or email someone directly.
Pro-Tip: Use either your school email or a separate email that has a professional address. The one you created when you were 13 isn’t going to cut it. Would you take an email seriously from someone whose address is “firstname.lastname@example.org”?
Campus Career Center
The campus career center is there for a reason. These centers help you hone your job search skills, set career goals, and get referrals. Generally anything that helps boost your chances of success after graduating.
The career center is why you have career days, on-campus interviews, information sessions, and other events right in front of you. In fact, a career fair was how I landed my first internship. Make the most of the resources your tuition pays for.
Admittedly, I never used my school's career center that I can recall. I asked around through personal connections more than anything. Who knows, maybe I could have gotten a better internship had I used this resource.
Know what the current industry is like
Pay attention to current events, and understand how that is impacting the industry you are in. For example, finding a job in many sectors in 2009-2010 likely would have been very difficult because of the 2008 financial crisis.
Take the internship or part-time position
When you’re just starting out, never consider yourself too good for any job. Always keep that mentality with whatever you do in life. The most successful people are willing to do whatever job needs to get done to the best of their abilities. Even Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos do the dishes every night after dinner.
Sometimes the opportunities in your industry are scarce, and only an internship or part-time position is available. If you truly want to work in that industry or business and can afford to, take the job.
Do the job to the best of your abilities. Build up contacts, and always be on your manager to ask for referrals and let you know if any full-time positions become available.
Do a Self-Analysis
If you’re successful in finding a job, do a self-analysis of yourself. Take a step back and look at yourself in the mirror and make a hard comparison between those in the position you want and yourself.
Are your skills and experience on par with those people? What were the journeys those people had to take to get to where they are now?
You need to be hard and truthful. If you want to work in digital marketing, but only have a degree in marketing, what makes you different from anyone else? You need certifications, some experience in financial management (for budgets), understanding of the technical side of how those ads work, a little bit of creativity, and more.
Figure out what you’re missing and then figure out how to fill those gaps to the best of your abilities.
One of my all time favorite authors and former Navy Seal, David Goggins refers to this as the 'Accountability Mirror.' If you've never heard of his story, I highly recommend reading his book or at least watching other YouTube videos about him. His story is nothing short of amazing.
Consider jobs outside your repertoire
It may not be ideal, but you might end up liking it. Sometimes the job market is scarce and you have bills that have to be paid. Take this as a challenge to learn something new and become the best in the field.
You never know what the situation is like internally for the company, and they might be willing to give you a shot, even if your credentials don’t exactly line up. When making the transition from my first job, I took a “let's throw anything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. I was surprised at some of the responses I received.
Ultimately, I landed at my top pick, where I am as of writing this. Still, it was surprising to see significant interest from fields unrelated to my degree/background.
The job search sucks. Plain and simple. It’s even worse if you have a bad reputation. People don't trust you, and there isn't anything significant on your resume besides a single degree and a few clubs or groups. You need to stand out as much as possible. Do that through your character, your work ethic, and how others describe you. Have something to show for your efforts and be patient.