Are You Doing Your Job Search Right? How to Land Your First Job After Graduation

Photo: Brooke Bell

Graduation day conjures many emotions. It's exciting to reach this big milestone, but it also brings anxiety — what's next? How will I get my first job?

It's understandable, given how the job market is changing — one day, it's a great market for job seekers. The next day, you're hearing about companies rescinding offers because the economy is shaky. But you can't always blame not getting a job on the market! Of course, the economy plays a big part. But the biggest factor is how you approach it.

"When the job search doesn't work out, it's tempting to think 'Oh my goodness, I'm just not cut out for it,'" said Gorick Ng, author of "The Unspoken Rules." "But when we start breaking down the process, we can get more specific about: What are the one or two things I need to change about my job search?" 

If you do your job search right — and stick with it — you will land that first job in no time.

Tips for getting your job search right

So where do you start?

Make sure your resume is easy to read. With many companies receiving thousands of applications per position, having a well-organized resume and including key words that address a job's main interests are needed to get the attention of a hiring manager. Review job listings for several jobs in your field and profiles of people on LinkedIn who have that job, and you will find some common skills, traits and experience — those are your key words.

Set up a LinkedIn profile. In today's market, having a LinkedIn profile is just as important as a resume. Make sure your profile is updated with all of your work experience and key words. Many employers review applicants' LinkedIn profiles to see your employment experience and the accomplishments you couldn't fit on your resume. This is also where you get endorsements for different skills, create posts on news or issues related, participate in discussions related to your industry and find jobs, whether they're official listings or through your network.

More from College Voices:
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I want to move to New York after college graduation. Can I afford it?

Apply for internships. Doing an internship while you're in college or even post-graduation is a great way to get experience, beef up your resume and network. Internships can also lead to full-time jobs after graduation! The company already knows you, the quality of your work, what you'll bring to the table as an employee and that you will fit with the company culture — so, from a hiring manager's perspective, hiring a star intern is a no-brainer. Even if it doesn't lead to a job, everyone you meet through that internship is now part of your network, which could lead to a job down the road. So, make sure that you are friending everyone you meet at your internship or in your job search on LinkedIn. You never know when one of those connections will turn into a job!

Do research on the company you are applying to. Not only is this a great way to see if the company would be a good fit for you, but it allows you to be a stronger applicant.  

Tailor your application to the job you are applying for. After figuring out the needs of the organization you apply to, it's best to tailor your resumes and cover letters to each listing and not recycle the same materials.  

That's one of the biggest mistakes that Jesse Downs, the director of Louisiana State University's Olinde Career Center, sees among college students when applying for jobs.

"When applying for jobs, really analyze the job posting you're applying to, the company, the mission, the values, vision and then think about how you're communicating to demonstrate you're a good fit," Downs said. "It's less about what do I think I'm good at, [but] what are the needs of the employer and the organization I'm applying for and how can I show them that I can meet the need?" 

Corey Johnson, a May 2020 graduate, said making his applications personal made him a stronger applicant.  

As opposed to just stating why he would be a good fit for the job, he made his applications personal and compelling to read. That helped him land a job as a distribution engineer at Power Engineers.

Follow up! After applying, it's a good idea to keep a record of where you applied and to reach out to a hiring manager. This can show your interest in the position and even bring your resume to the top of the pile.  

Go to your college career center. If you're not confident in your application materials, go to your college's career center. They're experienced with assisting students in the job search process and are able to help you fine-tune your skills. 

When do you start applying for job?

There is no one right answer, but for a lot of students, a good time to start is between junior and senior year.  

"I really think that depends on your field," Downs said. "What we see at LSU is that some of our more technical fields actually recruit in the fall — September and October. And they could have full-time offers by November and December, and they wouldn't start until after graduation. Maybe in June."  

Downs encourages students to start applying by January at the latest.  

Where do you find jobs?

Thinking strategically about where to apply can make a major difference.  

Before graduating, make sure to attend your college's career fairs. Not only are they a great way to build impressions upon potential hiring managers, but many of the companies that attend them are avidly hiring.  

Follow companies on social media. If there's a company you're interested in working for, watch their social media accounts. Many companies post job listings or tips on improving your application to their feeds.  

Career networking sites such as LinkedIn and Handshake, which is specifically targeted at college students, are a good place to search. Plus, on LinkedIn, you can view stats on other applicants to evaluate your chances of getting hired. 

You should also be subscribing to any job newsletters and signing up for job boards offered by your school or industry groups. This will help you find out about internships, job listings and networking events, all of which could lead you to your first job!


Do not wait until you are a senior in college to start thinking about your job search. Start early by looking for internships and networking. You can do this as early as freshman year — or even when you are in high school!

A whopping 85% of jobs are found through networking, according to research by Lou Adler, a hiring consultant, and LinkedIn.

Don Lawrence, an accountant at KPMG, had two job offers before his spring 2021 graduation from Southeastern Louisiana University.  

"To be quite frank, I never did a job search," Lawrence said.  

After meeting a franchise executive at an on-campus event as a freshman and building a strong connection with him, Lawrence landed his first internship with a major company and his first job offer. 

LinkedIn and Handshake are great platforms for networking, being recruited and learning from other established professionals.  

"LinkedIn is useful for three purposes," Ng said. "One is it allows you to look at people who've been in your shoes before and to look at their work history. [The] second value is in putting your entire work history onto LinkedIn; you now become discoverable. [And] the last reason to use LinkedIn is that it's a good way to easily stay in touch with people that you've met."  

And you never know when someone in your network could lead to your next job.

"Just imagine for a moment that you've got a flooded inbox, a busy calendar, all these meetings and you have 200 applications to review," Ng said. "[You] have two options: One, you can take the time to sift through hundreds of applications submitted by nameless, faceless individuals. Or you can give an interview to someone who was recommended to you by one of your colleagues. What are you more likely to do?" 

Graduation is here — I still don't have a job!

So, what if all else fails and you haven't landed a job by graduation? No worries — there's still time to get a job!  But you might want to reevaluate the approach to your job search.

First, look back at your applications. Did you tailor each one to the specific job you were applying for? Taking that extra time in the application process can make all the difference.

Also, now may be the time to expand your network a bit. Reach out to past supervisors and professors; they may be able to connect you with companies looking for talented graduates. Plus, your friends, members of your fraternity or sorority or family members could know about job openings. Your network may know of unlisted job openings you can apply to. So, consider everyone you know a potential job lead!

This may be a good time to get social with established professionals. Consider joining a professional organization, attending a conference to network or sending a message on LinkedIn. 

Identify a few people in jobs and companies that you are interested in and request an informational interview. This is a great way to make a connection and find out more about potential job — without actually asking for a job. You'd be surprised how many people take you up on this. And, who knows, they may be able to refer you to a perfect job!   

Additionally, taking a job that's adjacent to your career interests can also lead you to your dream job.  

After graduating with an engineering degree, Johnson was recommended for a position at an ExxonMobil Plant by a friend. Although it wasn't an ideal position, he used the opportunity to enhance his resume.  

After working there for nearly two years, he secured his first engineering job at an engineering firm. 

Many graduates also consider attending graduate school if they haven't had luck finding work. While graduate school is beneficial, Ng encourages graduates to fully evaluate what graduate school could provide for them. Take a look at the alumni list and see who has graduated from this program.

"And what jobs did they end up getting after graduation?" Ng said. 

Getting your first job isn't easy, but it WILL happen! So, don't get discouraged. Be diligent in your search and just stick with it.

Many career experts recommend creating a routine to balance the application process. Having set days and times to review new job listings, prepare materials, research the companies you apply to and follow up with recruiters can lead to a successful job search.  

And finally, be yourself! One thing companies value greatly is authenticity. While experience is important, your personality and determination can open doors! 

College Voices″ is a guide written by college students to help young people learn about important money issues such as student loans, budgeting and getting their first apartment. Brooke Bell is a summer 2022 editorial intern with CNBC Events. She is currently a junior mass communications major at Louisiana State University. The guide is edited by Cindy Perman.

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