Here’s that question again. You know, the one your parents, grandparents, and that one cousin who seems to have it all figured out have been asking at every opportunity the last year or two.
A lot is expected of you once you move that tassel to the left. For one, you’re expected to transition from being a student for the last 20+ years to being a successful member of the workforce … immediately. CONGRATULATIONS!
At Koru, we work with hundreds of college grads trying to answer their “Now what?” We’re also fortunate to work with a group of amazing companies who hire a lot of recent grads and have taught us a lot about what makes someone fresh off campus standout.
If you’re looking to figure out what’s next, here’s our best advice on choosing a career path and landing that first job that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.
1. Find your 51%.
The hardest part of finding your first real job after college is often figuring out what kind of job you want. The options seem endless, and maybe none of them stands out to you as the perfect fit.
You don’t need to know exactly what you want to do after college. Very few people actually do (and very few of them will still be on that path 5 years down the road.) It is, however, extremely important that you have some direction in your job search and are not just applying blindly to as many positions as possible. One of the biggest turn-offs we hear about from the companies we work with are candidates who seem wishy-washy about what they want to do. Companies want to know that the job you’re applying for is something you’re serious about pursuing and that you’re not going to change your mind in 3 months when the going gets tough (because it always does).
How do you find that direction? Like we said, when choosing a career path, nobody is really 100% sure. At Koru, we talk a lot about finding your 51%. Get to a place where you’re 51% sure of something, and then commit to it. At least for a while. Once you’ve committed to a direction, you’ll be able to focus your search and start gaining some traction as you hunt for your first job.
2. Start taking names.
But wait … how do you find your 51%? The best way to find your 51% is to talk to real people about their jobs. When I graduated from college a few years back, I had a very skewed perception about what the jobs that interested me actually entailed. Despite summer jobs and internships, it’s hard to have context into full-time roles at a business or non-profit until you’re actually in the ringer.
Find people who are doing things that you’re curious about and invite them out for coffee. I would recommend targeting people who might have graduated a few years before you, as they’ll have a lot of insight into entry-level jobs and what they entail day-to-day. LinkedIn is a great way to find connections who are working at places or in roles that you’d like to learn more about. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your brother’s buddy from high school or someone you only knew a little in college. You’re not going to get a job staying inside your comfort zone.
Ask questions. Lots of them.
- Ask them to walk you through their day.
- Ask them what they enjoy the most and the least.
- Ask them about where they work and what the culture is like.
- Ask them how they found the job and what the application process was like.
- Ask them what qualities you need to succeed in their role.
This isn’t your time to ask for a job. This is your time to figure out what kind of job you want.
3. Get to the bottom of a job description.
When you’re applying for entry-level roles, it can be difficult to figure out what Don’t think of job descriptions as an actual job description, especially if you’re looking to join a young, growing company. Companies don’t have job descriptions. They have problems that need solving.
This is an important mindset to have when job-hunting. Too often, we see cover letters that briefly explain a candidate’s qualifications from previous jobs or classes, but that neglect to show how these experiences will help them solve the company’s problems. Every stage of the job application process is a chance to add value.
When you find a job posting that you’re interested in, put in your time researching both the company and the people who work there. Figure out what their pain points are, and show how you can add value to the team in your resume and cover letter. It’ll immediately make you stand out.
4. Mine your experiences.
It might surprise you what tid-bit from your past will get you the job. A common mistake for young job-seekers is to only include their actual work experience when in reality, they have a lot more compelling stories to tell from non-work projects and extracurricular activities.
Did you build sets for your college’s theater productions? Did you order supplies? Did you manage a budget? Did you troubleshoot any problems?
Did you help run charity events on campus with your club or Greek organization? Great. What was your budget? How did you market it? What was the result?
Played sports? What was your role on the team? What were your goals? Did you achieve them?
Think long and hard about your experiences and craft a narrative around them that shows the qualities that make you perfect for the job. This will not only help you stand out in the job application process, but also during the interview stage. At Koru, we recommend using the START framework when telling stories during an interview.
5. Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. You find a job that seems perfect. It’s as if it was written with you in mind. You call your mom and gush over the job. You frantically research the company, putting everything else on hold. You prioritize your application completely until you’ve created a 100% perfect cover letter and catered resume. You submit it. And you wait. You keep waiting and halt all other efforts for other jobs because those jobs suck and this job is The One.
Don’t close doors because you’re waiting for your dream job to fall into place. I did this a lot right after college. It ended up slowing me down immensely. I was always waiting for something to come together, and when it didn’t, I was back at square one.
It’s immensely important to keep your momentum going when job hunting. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prioritize the jobs you’re jazzed about. It means that you shouldn’t hone in on it completely. You should always have a healthy funnel of back-up opportunities to pursue, so that you never feel like you have to start all over.
So you got the interview. Here’s a free guide to help you nail it.
Michaela Gianotti is Koru's content manager. She attended Whitman College, where she spent the better part of four years convincing her family that English majors can get jobs too. She has since found awesome work (SEE!) at 826 Seattle, msnNOW, and Koru.