The Key to Landing Your First Job Post-Graduation

Before I delve into the crux of this post, let me lead with this little disclaimer: No, I don’t have a job lined up for after graduation, and I’m fully aware that I might be breaking the cardinal rule of counting my eggs before they’ve hatched, but I am writing this to explore my feelings on the job search process. I also want to offer some advice that I’ve stumbled upon along the way, commiserate with others going through this stressful ordeal, and solicit help from those who have been in this position before (hmm… that broadens my audience a bit, doesn’t it?)

Thanks to Facebook’s stellar countdown application, I am agonizingly reminded that graduation is looming a mere 1 month, 28 days away. I know there are professionals and professors reading this, rolling their eyes with knowing smiles spreading across their faces, but for us students, this job search business is nerve-racking. It may seem like we have plenty of time to line up that first job, but every day that passes only adds to our increasing stress levels. We dread the prospect of being unemployed!

I admit that I probably worry about finding a job more than most, but I promise I don’t need to be prescribed blood pressure meds yet. I’m learning that it’s a normal process—college seniors WILL ALWAYS want that sense of security that comes with job offers, and because we aren’t sure how to handle ourselves, we worry.

We get stressed. We spend hours reviewing our résumés. We meticulously edit every line in our cover letters. We hound our professors. We whine to our junior and sophomore friends who are lucky to have a couple more years. We e-mail and call potential employers until we feel like stalkers.

It gets a little daunting, not to mention time consuming.

Personally, I’ve been feeling the pressure for the past two weeks. For USF’s spring break, I decided to head to Washington, D.C., which is where I want to move after graduation. I planned on visiting old friends from Elon University and sightseeing, but I figured I’d set up some interviews while I was there. I thought this would be a relatively easy process—contacting agencies, expressing my interest in the firm and industry itself, and networking along the way, while agencies raved about their opportunities for recent grads.

Um, right

At first, the results were discouraging. Few e-mails were returned, and the ones that were felt like letters of rejection. Résumés and cover letters went unanswered. My confidence was waning, but I was determined to schedule at least one interview while I was in the area.

The turning point came when I enlisted the help of several outstanding
professors and reached out to what I thought was a limited network of friends newly relocated to the D.C. area. These two separate entities selflessly sent out e-mails and made phone calls on my behalf, which eventually led to interviews at some very renowned PR and consulting firms. Working off this confidence, I took it upon myself to directly contact some agencies’ HR departments. After speaking with them and sending my résumé, I added a couple more interviews to my itinerary. So, no, I don’t have a job lined up, but making that first step has suppressed my anxiety (a little bit, at least).

So, here’s the secret:

The new rule for landing that first job isn’t really new. It’s merely a reminder to maintain confidence in yourself and your abilities. Yes, you will feel discouraged, but find comfort in knowing that there are people out there who want to help you succeed. Even when you think you’re fighting a futile battle, you aren’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, and use the network you have to meet new people and find out about the field, not just job opportunities.

If anyone has any words of wisdom for the class of 2008, feel free to share. I’m very interested on how my peers are handling their own job searches, and what professors and professionals recommend we do from now until graduation!

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14 thoughts on “The Key to Landing Your First Job Post-Graduation

  1. I still have one more year before I graduate, but I know exactly the sort of feelings you are talking about, both for next year and for this summer’s job/internship. I really want to know what that next step is, but I have to keep it in perspective. Just make sure to enjoy where you are and all the pieces will fall into place, perspective is important!

    Best of luck in D.C.

    -David

  2. David,

    I completely agree, even though that mentality can be hard to maintain when time starts running out– so to speak in melodramatic terms!

    But my recent endeavors have certainly shown how things all seem to “fall into place” as long as you maintain confidence and keep it all in perspective.

    Good luck to you, too!

    Meg

  3. Hi Meg,

    I was browsing through Penelope’s new website when the title of your post caught my eye, and I thought I’d leave my two cents on this familiar topic.

    My advice: I strongly suggest that you take a month-long break to somewhere you always wanted to go. Forget about work/school for a month.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a job that would be willing to give you (right off the bat) a block of “time off” to backpack in Europe, to explore the Far East, to chase kangaroos in the land Down Under, or whatever destination excites you. At this point in time, it may seem like a luxury to go away and it probably sounds like the easiest way to financial suicide as well. That’s what I thought too.

    I graduated from university in 2006 and I thought I was lucky when my last internship transformed into a part-time gig during my last semesters, which eventually turned into a full-time position the second I was handed my degree. I thought I had a head-start on my class in paying off that enormous student loan that was looming over my head 24/7. I thought that learning about the company, how to play the politics game, transitioning from textbook-knowledge to reality, and even adapting to the 9-to-5 routine was enough to keep me happy. I’m eager to learn, and I had plenty to learn.

    But then I hit a wall – and I hit it hard. In sports, they call it the rookie wall – where a first-year player just hasn’t acclimated from the college schedule to the treacherous schedule of the professional sport that he or she is in (It usually comes up in the second half of the season, where the college schedule would have ended).

    I found that I wasn’t spending a lot of time on my personal life and development. I wanted an extended break to explore the world and to take in other cultures and perspectives. Really – to learn more about myself. And two weeks out of the year just does not allow for it. You have your Christmas holidays, your last-minute long weekends, plus some emergency days just in case. So for now, I’m going to have to wait for another three years before I get another week of vacation.

    That is why I would suggest taking an extended holiday – if not, negotiate it into the terms of your employment.

    But maybe all this rambling is just me. Maybe I just need to manage and prioritize my personal time a bit better. Maybe I got a crappy deal at work. Who knows… like I said, just my two cents on the matter.

    Good luck,

    BWC

  4. BWC,

    Great advice! I did this a little earlier than most and spent the summer between junior and senior years in Spain and France. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend “getting away” for a summer if it’s at all possible.

    Most of the jobs I’m applying for don’t open up until June so if it’s financially sound, I want to spend the month of May traveling. It will help me rest mentally before I jump into a new position.

    Take care!

    Meg

  5. This entry really strikes a chord with me. My last spring break of college just ended. I spent most of my time writing cover letters and going on interviews. Now that the end of college is fast-approaching, I’m really feeling the pressure.

    Its so easy to get swept up in the worry and panic. I’m always being reminded that it’ll work itself out.

    So, I wish you the best of luck!! It sounds like you’re on the right path!

    Rachel

  6. Meg!

    How are you always in my head? You know I’ve been in panic mode for awhile now (and I’ve sure seen you!) but I must admit it’s getting worse.

    I was just turned down for my back-up position (my back-up! ugh!) today, so my confidence is a little shot for my BIG interview tomorrow.

    Wish me luck, or throw me a little more of that twin wisdom… I’m going to need it!

    -Tory/Twin

    P.S. Hope D.C. is still great!
    P.P.S. See how long it’s been since I’ve posted? That’s what you get for those stalker comments 😉

  7. This is my advice for the class of 2008 from a baby boomer (before email!). Update and add to your friends and your classmates email address book before you graduate and go your separate ways. View this as your long term network of contacts of your generation that should be maintained on a periodic basis (email addresses, real addresses, and names do change). The network/contact list may not contribute to your first job post graduation but may be helpful on the second or third. I can not say this is my *original* idea but wanted to post it here.

  8. I am a senior student and am graduating shortly and I did not enjoy the so-called comfort and security of having solid job offer until recently. I also agree that there are people that are willing to help you.

    A tool that I have found very useful during my job hunt is the “Ebook: The New Rules of Recuitment – Making Yourself Stick.” (http://thefdworld.com/edge/pub/cat/ebooks) I feel that every student should read this because it will help them prepare for the recruitment process.

  9. I graduated last year and had this same nervous feeling. My husband was starting law school in DC so I started the search out there. My advice is to just keep going no matter how discouraging the results are. I don’t know how many resumes and cover letters I sent before I got an interview. But I did get an interview and eventually a job that I really like, but only after hundred’s of unanswered emails and letters. Good luck.

  10. Good point about the “old” rule of job hunting. Panicking never does any good. Patience and proactivity are key. I’ve been through the job finding depressions, and felt the pressure to hurry up and get something landed. You’ve got a much better chance when you’re willing to try things, follow leads, and wait.

  11. Hello Meg,
    Your blog entry really caught my attention. I am only a sophomore at Towson University (Towson, MD) but the pressure has already begun! In order to graduate with a specialized certificate for both my PR and Advertising tracks in my Mass Comm major, I need two different internships for both – and summer internships don’t count. That thought is already stressful because I can not even get a job for this summer!

    I was hired as a Promotions Assistant for a radio station near my home in NJ and just recently was told that they decided they don’t need me and the other intern they hired. Since then, I have sent over 20 applications for a summer job and am having the hardest time getting responses – just as you described. It is completely draining because I spend hours and hours doing applications and critiquing my cover letter and resume (giving that more attention than my homework at times). I have only gotten 2 responses, and none of them say what I want to hear. My question is, do they even read it what I send it out?

    Though I know networking is amazingly helpful when it comes to finding jobs….it makes me feel somewhat defeated. Doesn’t anyone want me to work for them on their own? Why do I need someone to talk his or her friend into it, saying what an asset I’d be? Like you, I spend hours going over my resume and I, too, become a stalker when getting a hold of employers….and I’m only searching for a new summer job or internship in the field. It makes me a little worried about 2 years from now…

    I’m happy to hear that I’m not the only one with this problem. I know that it is rough now…and probably will for the next two years…but it can only get better. I wish you well with your job search and all that lies ahead for you. I know it’s nerve-racking now, but everyone says it’s worth it in the end, and ‘everyone’ can’t be wrong.
    Good luck with everything!

  12. Hi Melissa,

    You are not alone in that struggle. PR and advertising are two very competitive fields, and the job search process is extremely daunting.

    Being persistent is key, and trying to maintain a positive attitude in spite of the rejection and lack of responses is difficult, but it will make you enjoy your work more. As hard as it is, don’t let yourself get bitter. It sounds like you’re doing a great job keeping that at bay, though!

    I would recommend setting up informational interviews with a couple of companies as soon as you get back home to NJ BEFORE submitting applications. It’s a great way to meet people in the field, it will show the company that you are interested, and if you are prepared with great questions, it will show just how brilliant you are. Even if they don’t hire you, they might know someone who is looking for an intern.

    Hope that helps, and good luck!

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