What to Look for in a First Job After Graduating from College

by Sharon Elber | April 23, 2022

First Job After Graduation

After working hard for your degree, you may think that getting a job in your chosen field should be a breeze. After all, your degree proves that you know everything you need to do the job, right?

The truth is that employers will often choose candidates that have some experience over those with a degree alone. The reasoning behind this often comes down to the belief that knowledge alone does not demonstrate a potential employee’s ability to succeed on the job.

And, larger market forces are at play. For example, you may be looking in a field that has a low demand relative to the number of recent grads, making entry level jobs extremely competitive.

The fact is that a college degree alone often isn’t enough to land the perfect job to kick start your career. If you find you have been unsuccessful finding the ideal starter job for your field, don’t get too frustrated. It is not at all uncommon to start your career with a first job that isn’t the perfect fit.

Here are some tips to find a first job out of college that will still contribute to your ultimate career dreams:

1) Relevancy to Your Career Ambitions

The ideal first job is an entry level position in your field of study. However, if you have been applying for such jobs, and haven’t had any luck landing one, then it may be time to widen your net. Start by looking for entry level positions that have at least some overlap with your studies and ultimate career ambitions.

For example, if you have recently graduated with an associate’s degree in Veterinary Technology, your ideal entry level job may be to work in a vet’s office as a Veterinarian Assistant. However, such jobs may be scarce in your area and highly competitive. Getting an entry level job at a local pet store, as a professional dog walker, or at a pet daycare center, will give you valuable relevant work experience that will make you more competitive for Veterinary Assistant positions.

2) Transferable Skills

Another consideration for your first job after college are the types of transferable skills that will ultimately help you succeed in your chosen field. This is particularly true if you are unable to find a job that is directly relevant to your field of study.

For example, if you have recently graduated with a degree in marketing and your ultimate career ambition is to work in advertising, then an entry level job in retail or sales can offer important transferable skills that you will be able to leverage down the road. Both jobs offer opportunities to engage with the public, learn more about the psychology of sales, and expose you to current market trends.

Being able to mention these experiences on your future resume will improve your outlook for entry level positions in advertising that make better use of your degree in marketing.

3) Room to Advance

Regardless of whether your first job after college is in your field of study, it is important to choose an entry level job that has opportunities to advance, preferably in a direction that continues to benefit your ultimate career goals.

One tip is to look for larger companies which tend to have a more complex organizational structure and a tendency to hire from within. If you decide you would prefer to work for a smaller company, be sure they are poised for growth which may open up the door for you to expand your job responsibilities as you grow with them.

Don’t be afraid to show your hand to potential employers when it comes to your desire to advance beyond the position you are applying for. Most employers are looking for driven and ambitious employees with a desire to succeed. They know that if advancement is what you are after, you will take the current position seriously and do your best to succeed.

4) Training Opportunities

Many companies offer training opportunities as part of their benefits package or commitment to employee advancement. These may take the form of in house training retreats, funds for continuing education, or advanced certifications through on the job training. Be sure to prepare questions about training opportunities during your interview.

In some cases, the right training opportunities can be more important than your starting salary when it comes to weighing your options out of college. This is particularly true in fields where keeping current with licenses and certifications is critical to remaining competitive.

5) Supportive Leadership

As you consider your options for entry level jobs out of college, be sure to consider the value of supportive leadership within the company. If you get the sense that management isn’t invested in the enrichment of their employees, then it may be a red flag that you will meet resistance if you try to expand your responsibilities in your first job.

Be sure to ask questions during your interview to find out more about the corporate culture and leadership style of the people you will be working for. In addition, do some online research to find out what other employees have to say about working for the employer to learn more about the quality of management.

6) Consider an Internship

If entry level jobs in your field are scarce, you may want to consider applying for internships. These low or no pay jobs can be a way to check the experience box in your chosen field. In addition, they offer you a chance to be hired right into the company you intern for, or a chance to get high value referrals to other opportunities.

Internships are highly competitive and applying can be a time intensive process. In addition, not everyone is able to survive on the small stipend they usually offer for compensation. However, if you have the means, an internship in your field is probably more valuable than an entry level position in an unrelated field, or worse, a dead-end entry level job.

7) Make the Most of Your First Job

Once you land that first job after you graduate, be sure to make the most of it. Put your energy into mastering the responsibilities of the job, and then take advantage of any opportunity to expand your responsibilities, seek to broaden your knowledge base and climb the ladder from within.

Remember that you are also trying to establish strong working relationships. A glowing recommendation from your current supervisor can make a big difference when it is time to interview for the next job on your career journey.

In addition, your first job offers a great deal of potential to expand your professional network. Remember that each person you work with knows hundreds of people. In fact, they may even learn of an opportunity that becomes available in your field and be willing to provide you with a valuable referral to the position.

8) Keep Looking for the Next Step

The days of working for the same company for your entire career are long gone. In fact, to make the most of your education and work experience, you should expect to leverage the experience you are gaining in your first job within the first year.

This may mean applying for another job higher up the ladder within the company you are already working for or looking to another employer for your next opportunity to advance.

Remember that if you are not able to land an entry level position in your field right out of college, all is not lost. In most cases you will be able to leverage the experience from your first job to demonstrate that you not only have a recent degree, but you also have what it takes to succeed as an employee in your chosen field.

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