5 Things Nobody Tells You About Finding Your First Job

Though every stock photo will have you believe that job-searching is an invigorating, smile-inducing, perfectly lit process (see above), we all know better. It sucks. It’s a difficult, confusing, stressful, and unavoidable part of the transition into the real world. My first job search was one of the hardest times I’ve been through. Not because I was busier than a history major during finals week, but because I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually, I figured it out. But not without learning five important lessons along the way.

Application deadlines are not like college deadlines.

When searching for my first job, I often waited until the due date (or just before) to submit my application. Why? I wanted as much time as possible to make it super perfect. I’m also exceptionally good at distracting myself from important responsibilities. Deadlines in the world of hiring are not like deadlines in college. Recruiters don’t wait until all the applications have been turned in to start reviewing, nor do they give each resume equal consideration. Hiring isn’t fair. It’s hard, it’s a time-suck, and once a company finds someone who works, they’ll probably stop reviewing applications. So, don’t wait until the deadline. Go, go, go.

But every minute researching is worth it.

That being said, don’t apply without doing your research. It’s amazing how much you can stand out just by demonstrating that you understand what a company is about. Do your homework on the employer and the people who work there. Keep a list of questions that you’re genuinely curious about. (If you get an interview down the road, these questions will be a major help.)

Cover letter + resume isn’t good enough.

Because job applications are not like college assignments, you can’t bank on yours being reviewed and thus, appreciated for its amazingness. If the recruiter finds someone before they get to your application, better luck next time. So, how do you ensure your carefully constructed resume and cover letter get into a human’s hands? Network it up. This doesn’t mean only applying to companies where your dad’s college roommate’s brother works. (Though if you have that connection, work it.) Before you submit your application to a company, do some LinkedIn homework to see if you have any connections or people you can reach out to, however distant. If you don’t have any connections, see if you can find an email of someone on the recruiting team to reach out to and introduce yourself. Add some more value to the email beyond “I want this job.” Show them that you’ve done your research and that you’re ready to contribute.

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No job is “the one.”

This is an easy trap to fall into, but a hard one to live with. When you set all your hopes on one job being “the one,” you open yourself up to crushing disappointment. Getting rejected is part of the game, and it happens to everyone. What’s important is that when it does happen, you’re not back at square one. No matter how excited you are about a position, keep your pipeline full of other opportunities.

Companies don’t hire people. People hire people.

That’s probably the single most powerful lesson I learned in my job search. Submitting your resume online and waiting for a response doesn’t work, but it feels a lot easier than trying to establish a human connection.  Job searching is a pretty isolating experience, and I remember feeling both nervous and embarrassed about reaching out to people for help. Here’s the advice a mentor gave me that changed my outlook: If you share your dreams with others, people will go out of their way to help you achieve them. It seems aspirational, but there’s truth to it. People want to help. You just have to be willing to ask.

3 thoughts on “5 Things Nobody Tells You About Finding Your First Job

  1. I learned that networking doesn’t help if you don’t already have a career. I have spent three years trying to get my first job out of college, and despite having networked all over Cincinnati, I’m still no closer to starting my career. I have no doubt that if I already had a job, networking would help me get my next job, but every interview I’ve ever gotten came from applying online, so I’ve become resigned to the fact that if I’m ever going to get that first job that jump starts my career, I’m going to have to keep churning out those online applications.

    1. Hello Robert,
      I happened to see your comment on here and immediately thought about a book I read recently called “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans. It details an entirely different approach to finding and getting the right job for you. I highly recommend it to anyone in your position. Best of luck!

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