How to apply for your first post-college job without losing your mind


Post-Grad Tip #7568: If you ever feel like life is passing you by too fast, apply for a job online — it’ll feel slower.

Postgrad life is filled with waiting — for job interviews, loan approvals, concert tickets, school acceptances, and texts back. Though recent grads are job hunting in relatively favorable conditions, job application burnout is real, and the psychological and logistical toll of applying to jobs can hinder your success.

As an impatient job applicant myself, I want to share some of the most reliable tips I’ve used to reduce application anxiety and to get recruiters’ attention, fast.

Get a buddy

Having a job application buddy increases motivation, keeps you accountable, and alleviates stress. The summer after I graduated college, my job application buddy Zach and I would text each other every time we submitted a job application, and we’d follow up whenever we received updates. We would congratulate each other on every marginal step of progress — an applicant status change, an interview, an offer — with iMessage confetti and uplifting words.

Strengthened by mutual support, Zach and I sent out a greater number of high-quality applications than we would have alone. Within a couple of months, we both found ourselves happily employed.

Learn the language of your industry

Important skills writes Jeff Selingo, an education expert, LinkedIn top voice, and author“are often embedded in the college degree. The problem is that many employers, and even many college graduates, don’t know they are.”

To remedy this issue, Christine Cruzvergara, the chief education strategy officer at Handshake, told me one of her favorite tips: “Learn the language of your industry.” For example, a history major seeking a job in tech sales might not realize that the tech sales jargon term “prospecting” just means “deep research” — something she’s already familiar with as a history major. If she can use the right language, she can show an employer she’s up to the task.

To absorb the lingo, Cruzvergara recommends reading job descriptions with a marking tool in hand. Whenever you see an unfamiliar word or skill, “instead of getting intimidated … I want you to circle it or highlight it,” Cruzvergara said. Then speak with a mentor, or someone in the industry — for example, an alum of your school at your desired company — and bring up those unfamiliar words directly. Ask how you can learn this skill, or communicate how your existing experiences might be translated to fill the skill gaps you’ve identified.

Do (a little bit of) the job before you have the job

Come to an interview “informed and ready to play,” said Andrew McCaskill, a senior marketing executive and LinkedIn career expert. That is, be prepared to demonstrate and discuss exactly how you would solve a problem for the employer. This helps the employer truly envision you as part of their team.

I learned this tip from an applicant, Corbyn Carlson, I interviewed while running my college start-up. We were looking for a design student to help us create a website and logo. At the end of the interview, when I asked if she had questions, Corbyn surprised me by asking whether she could offer some constructive feedback on our existing website. She then walked me through a carefully organized list of points, suggestions, and ideas for nearly every page on our site — she had even found and corrected a typo we’d missed. She was the only applicant to come to the interview already prepared to engage with the problem we needed her to solve. We gave her the role immediately.

Have the right conversations before and during the process

Talking to people is the best way to find out what kinds of jobs exist, what they entail, and what might fit your skills.

In your first couple of jobs, consider that you might not even know your dream job exists. McCaskill, after a 15-year career in PR, recalls: “I grew up on a dirt road in Mississippi. I didn’t know what PR was until I graduated college.” He advises recent grads to invest in conversations “so that you can figure out what those jobs are.”

In addition to completing the formal application for a job, Cruzvergara advises job seekers to reach out to the recruiter and someone else at the organization. These conversations will give you the context you need to apply well, and could possibly lead to mentorship or a referral. “You can see a job title. You could see different skills for a job. [But] you really don’t know what the job is until you talk to somebody in it or you shadow them in it,” said Selingo.

End of carousel

When sending an initial message to a recruiter or someone in your target organization, be as specific as you can. After introducing yourself, mention something you have in common — a shared alumni affiliation, for example. Then ask one to three targeted questions about the role, field, or company. Don’t make the mistake of asking for a conversation — this request can read as overly vague and is likely to be ignored. Once you make one connection, you can ask if that person knows one or two more people you could connect with to learn more, Cruzvergara advises.

And don’t be squeamish about getting help from others, even if you don’t know them exceedingly well, McCaskill said. Studies show that “weak ties” can be more effective at helping us land jobs than close friends. And everyone gets help, he emphasizes. No one builds a great career alone.

Nolan Church, the CEO of talent marketplace Continuum and former Google recruiter, emphasizes the importance of including an interests section in your resume. Church believes that showcasing your passions and hobbies can make you appear more dynamic and demonstrate your capacity to care. By including a short interests section at the bottom of your resume, listing three to five things you are passionate about, you can provide a conversation starter and make yourself stand out to hiring recruiters. Church suggests including anything that shows passion or creativity and makes you unique as an individual. This interests section can ultimately be the factor that convinces a recruiter to give you a call if they are undecided. Church values authenticity and looks for people who have a genuine love for something beyond their work. In his view, hiring individuals, not robots, is the goal, and highlighting your personal interests can indicate your potential for caring about your work.  

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