By Brooke Niemeyer
If you’re a college senior and are nearing the time when you’re going to walk across the stage, you’re probably filled with a lot of excitement. And maybe even some panic, especially if you don’t have your next step lined up.
According to the Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment study, four out of five graduates thought about how many jobs were available in the industry they were considering before choosing their major. But even with that foresight, only 21% of the class of 2016 had accepted a job before graduating.
So if you’re about ready to throw your cap in the air and don’t have your first job lined up yet, here are 50 things you can do to help make that happen.
1. Remember, It’s Your First Job
Yes, you have the education, but now you need real-world experience. The first job you get right out of school probably won’t be your dream job, so adjust your view and think of it as another step in getting you there.
2. Start With an Internship
It may seem like something you stop doing after graduation, but having an internship means you’ll “have something on [your] resume, learn some real-world work skills and possibly have another reference for [your] ongoing job hunt,” Dr. Crystal I. Lee, a licensed psychologist and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist, said. And this role could ultimately land you a full-time, permanent position.
3. Fill in the Gaps
Take a look at your industry and see what skills you may need that you didn’t gain in your formal education. “There are lots of relatively short programs, many of them at universities themselves, to teach these kind of ‘last-mile’ skills,” Andrew Overby of Yonderwork, an international community experience for remote workers, said. “It can only help.”
4. Expand Your Network
“Go out there and get coffee meetings with people you respect and look up to,” said Phi Pham, co-founder of Building Beats, an education startup in New York City. “Find a way to provide value to them and the dividends will pay off in job connections.”
“Reach out to a local nonprofit and see how you can put your skills to work [during] your job search,” Pham said. Plus, the people you meet when doing this can build up your network.
6. Start a Side Project
Having something you’re doing while you’re looking for full-time work “shows that you spend your time learning and figuring out how to make something meaningful for the world,” Pham said.
7. Adjust Your View
Try not to limit your applications based on pre-conceived notions about the working world. “You may think you want to work for a large corporation, bu find yourself interning or working for a small business and you feel satisfaction in knowing you are part of a team and making a valuable contribution,” Candace Dennig, director of student services at the Art Institute of Washington, said.
8. Ask for Advice
“Talk to instructors, friends and fellow students and ask for advice — are there any companies that they suggest reaching out to in hopes of securing employment?” Dennig said.
9. Take a Look at Your Credit Reports
It may seem strange, but knowing what’s showing up on your credit reports may be insightful. After all, many employers review a version of these reports as part of the vetting process. You can see a free snapshot of your credit reports on Credit.com.
10. Think About Relocating
“You sometimes do need to be living in the city in which you want to work before getting a job because it makes it easier for you to get in for interviews on short notice and network in the community,” Erin Lowry, millennial finance expert and author, said. Not sure which city may be the place to go? Check out this list of the best (and worst) cities for new graduates seeking work.
11. Visit Your Childhood Bedroom …
Going home to stay with your parents may not be feasible for everyone, but if it’s an option, it could save you some rent money until you land a job. See if your parents will offer you a discount on rent in exchange for doing work around the house. This will offer you some flexibility in terms of not having to worry about breaking a lease if you get a job out of town, plus you won’t be racking up as many bills while you look for work.
12. … But Don’t Get Too Comfortable
Yes, there are many perks that can come with staying with your parents, but don’t let that put you in a rut. Use this time to your advantage — put money in savings for all the things you’ll need when a job comes your way. This includes things like paying rent, student loans and all your other bills.
13. Set Aside Time to Apply
From finals to social events, your schedule is probably pretty packed. But it’s important to set aside blocks of time to research jobs and apply for the ones that fit your skillset. This will help make sure you aren’t rushing and making mistakes on the applications.
14. Polish Your Resume …
You may not have a robust resume, but padding it won’t help get your foot in the door. Marc Cenedella, the founder and CEO of Ladders, a career site, offers these tips: “Keep to a one-page resume, remove references to high school and focus on highlighting your education, leadership skills and accolades achieved while in college.”
15. … & Then Have a Professional Review It
Once you feel you have your resume in a good place, it’s time to get a second opinion. “Having all your documents updated and formatted professionally is key when you go to networking events or start applying to positions,” said Valerie Streif, senior adviser with The Mentat, a San Francisco-based career service.
16. Customize Your Resume to the Role
Once you have a basic template for your resume, consider fine tuning it to each application. Sure, it may take a little more time but this way you can highlight to each employer what makes you right for that particular role. (And make sure you’re avoiding these big resume mistakes.)
17. Show You Can Do More Than One Thing
If you’re looking to join a startup, they’re likely looking for people who can take on more than one role. Show them they’ll be getting a jack of all trades (or at least someone with multiple skills) when hiring you.
18. Don’t Forget About the Cover Letter
Yes, that resume is important but so is your cover letter. This is the chance you have to say things about yourself your resume doesn’t. Make sure what you write is clear, targeted to the job and proofread for spelling errors and grammar mistakes.
19. Visit Your Career Center
Most colleges and universities offer career services. They may not have all the answers, but they have insights and may even have a listing of jobs, internships, freelance work and other opportunities.
20. Attend Career Fairs
“It can be easy to delete emails with notifications of upcoming job fairs on campus and instead go to the bars or spend time with their college friends — but making the effort to actually go to these events can bring incredible opportunities,” Streif said.
21. Attend Conferences
This is a great way to network with professionals in your given industry. Many of these are free or may offer a discounted rate for students.
22. Join a Professional Association
Do some research and find a professional organization in your industry that you find interesting. Participate in their meetings and other events and build that network.
23. Get Business Cards
You likely won’t always have a resume on hand and you never know who you may meet. Include contact information and a link to your website or portfolio on your cards.
24. Find a Mentor
Find someone you admire and who has a similar career to one you’d like and pick their brain. They can give you insights into what you may need to do and think about as you search for your first post-grad job.
25. Meet With Alumni
Your alumni network may be a good place to start when searching for a mentor. But beyond that, there’s partial truth when people say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and you already have a tie with this group of people. They may even be able to open some doors for you. Check with your school to see if they have alumni events or a database of alumni you can talk with.
26. Ask Younger Students
It may seem like it’s backwards to ask students younger than you about jobs, but they may know about companies you haven’t even heard of yet. Ask around and see where they’re interning or working for the summer for more ideas of where to apply. And maybe see if they can pass along your resume if you find an opportunity you’re interested in.
27. Refresh Your Online Presence
Recruiters and human resources departments often check your online profiles as part of your application. So, freshen up your social profiles (especially LinkedIn) and do a quick search of your name to see what comes up. You may consider setting up professional accounts in addition to your personal ones.
28. Get a Professional Email
If you don’t already have one, it’s time to get an email address you can use specifically for professional reasons.
29. Create Your Website
A website with your resume and examples of your work can act like a digital portfolio. Plus, if you start it now, you can build on it as you advance in your career. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date with your graduation date.
30. Branch Out on Application Methods
“Taking many different approaches to the job hunt is the best way to ensure quick success,” Streif said.
31. Contact a Recruiting Firm
These agencies can help get you placed in an entry-level position, some of which don’t have public listings online.
32. See What Others Did
Take a look at people who are a step or two ahead of you in your industry and see what they’ve done to get ideas for where your path could start. Browse their websites or LinkedIn profiles to get started.
33. Pick Up a Book
Odds are, leaders in your industry have written a book about how they got to be where they are today. Reading these books may not land you a job, but they could give you ideas. And, if nothing else, they can give you some talking points for any interviews you go on.
34. Post Your Resume Online
While you’re out there searching for jobs, know that employers are searching for candidates. Many job boards allow you to post your resume for potential employers to review and doing this may be to your advantage.
35. Go Where Others Won’t
Maybe you’re dreaming of working in a big city but so are countless other people. Starting in a smaller market may increase your chances so don’t cut these locales off your list.
36. Take Initiative
Is there a company you really like but no job openings that you qualify for? Take some initiative and call their recruiter and HR department and pitch them on hiring you. The answer may still be no, but the opportunity won’t be there if you don’t at least try. (Also, see point two — perhaps there’s an internship available to help you get your foot in the door.)
37. Remember: Odds Are in Numbers
You probably didn’t apply to one college so why apply to just one job? According to Adecco, an online staffing agency, recent graduates apply to an average of 12 jobs before getting offered their first job.
38. Think About What’s Important to You
Yes, you want a paycheck and benefits. Yes, you want to build up your resume. But there are other things involved in a job, so think about what you want. Perhaps a place you can advance or a job with a flexible schedule is important to you? Whatever it is, make note of these things so you can include them in your search (and ask about them in interviews).
39. Find a Way to Stand Out
Whether that’s bringing a hard copy of your portfolio or showing your design skills on your resume, whatever you can do to make yourself a bit different from the rest of the applicants, do it. (Just don’t go overboard. You don’t want to end up using tactics that get your application noticed for the wrong reasons.)
40. Try Your Hand at Freelancing
“Getting a freelance job could supplement your income and allow you to take a lower wage job to get your feet in the door,” said Linda Murray Bullard, a business strategist at LSMB Business Solutions LLC. Check out these 15 best companies for freelancers this year.
41. Start as a Temp
Temporary agencies may be a good way to break into your chosen industry, offering you some income while you wait for a full-time job. Some of these jobs might have the potential to turn into a permanent role.
42. Consider Teaching Opportunities
Irnande Altema, founder of FirstGenRise, suggests graduates “look into their public school systems and check the requirements to become a substitute teacher in middle or high school. … Also, another option is working for a summer camp where you are teaching a subject like science, math or history.”
43. Research the Company …
Once you get a face-to-face interview, it’s important to know details about the company and what they do. It will help you make a good impression.
44. … & Maybe Even the Interviewer
Whether you read their bio on the company website or read over their LinkedIn profile, finding common interests or details to break the ice can be helpful. Plus, it can give you more insights into what to prepare for.
45. Think About Interview Questions
Going into an interview without preparation can make it harder to think on your feet. After all, your nerves will probably be on overdrive while you’re there. Having someone do a mock interview with you — like people from your career center — ahead of time may really help you be on your “A” game. (Feel like the interview went well? Check out these five signs you may be getting hired.)
46. Follow up After Interviews
You’ll be surprised at what a difference this can make. Write a thank you note to everyone who took part in your interview process, and reiterate your interest in the position. It not only underlines your interest, it shows you have good manners and appreciate the time the interviewer(s) gave you.
47. Have References Ready
Be prepared by asking three or four people if you can list them as references. This way, when you get an interview and they ask for references, you’ll be ahead of the curve.
48. Find Out What You’re Worth
You’re just starting out, so you probably won’t be raking in the top salaries out there, but what’s fair? Take a look at sites like Glassdoor to find out what people in your industry, at your level and in the area you’re living are making. Information is power, after all.
49. Learn How to Negotiate
Once that job offer finally comes in, taking the seemingly big salary without thinking about it may be tempting. Find out what the job will entail and make sure you’re being paid fairly and negotiate accordingly. It’s highly unlikely they’re going to rescind your offer if you ask for more money. Don’t forget to factor in benefits, too. Just a week of vacation offered? If they won’t offer you more money, they may be willing to give you more vacation.
50. Consider Starting Your Own Business
Sure, it may be costly, but if you’ve always wanted to execute an idea you had for a company, now may be the time. Just make sure you crunch the numbers to see if this is feasible — after all, those student loan payments will kick in soon.