Landing Your First Post-Graduation Job: 7 Practical Tips

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Congratulations! Graduating from college and looking for your first “real” job is an exciting and daunting time!

The good news is the national unemployment rate is only 3.6 percent as of April 2019.

The bad news: It takes an average of five months to land a job, and 82 percent of job seekers find the process stressful, according to a recent study.

So while the economy may be strong, you are still likely to face some challenges along the way. If you want to find the fastest path to job search success, use these tips:

1. Focus on the Basics When It Comes to Your Resume

What makes for a perfect resume depends heavily on the industry and specific job you’re targeting, but there are a few best practices every applicant can follow.

First and foremost, do not lie on your resume. Embellishing slightly to position yourself in the best light is different from outright misrepresenting your skills and experience. Bottom line: You will be found out quickly, so stick to the truth.

Be sure to spellcheck and proofread your resume as well! Spelling and grammatical errors indicate carelessness and a lack of attention to detail on the part of a candidate. Do not rely totally on digital spellcheck tools; they are not perfect. Print out a copy to review carefully for yourself, or ask someone you trust to proof it for you.

Lastly, always bring a hard copy of your resume to an interview. This is a tried-and-true rule, and it shows you are prepared to present yourself for the opportunity at hand.

2. Understand Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant tracking systems (ATSs) are increasingly popular. According to Jobscan, about 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use them.

ATSs help weed out unqualified applicants based on job- and company-relevant keywords and criteria in their resumes. This is why it’s a bad idea to blanket apply to every job you come across. Getting through the initial ATS screening requires that you tailor every part of your application, including your resume, cover letter, and any supplemental information. Make sure your experience and qualifications are presented in a way that is clearly relevant to the job, and incorporate keywords from the job description itself to pass the ATS scan.

3. Ask Thoughtful Questions

Once you land an interview, you have to do your homework. You should come prepared with a list of questions about the role and company. Skip the vague and generic questions, and instead ask ones that are concrete and specific. Thoughtful, nuanced questions show that you are a serious candidate who has thoroughly researched the company. In my experience, these three questions from candidates were especially impressive:

– What is the financial well-being of the company?
– Can you tell me about the history of the company?
– What is the employee engagement score of the company? What are you doing to improve it?

4. Prepare for Different Interview Styles

You may encounter many different types of interviews. For more technical roles, you might even be expected to whiteboard or take tests. Always gather as much information as you can about the interview format ahead of time to prepare properly.

In general, there are two types of standard interview questions you must be ready for: behavioral and situational.

Behavioral interview questions focus on things you’ve done in the past. The interviewer may ask you about a difficult experience or how you managed multiple tasks at once. They want responses based on real-life events that demonstrate your ability to work through problems and adapt to various situations.

Situational interview questions are more difficult, and they generally require you to think on your feet. The interviewer will a pose hypothetical situation to get a sense of how you would handle yourself in a certain circumstance.

Many employers will incorporate both types of questions into their interviews to get a well-rounded understanding of the individual and determine whether there is a good fit. Prepare for both so you are not caught off guard.

5. Make a Strong First Impression

Even in our age of laid-back workplaces, it is still incredibly important to be mindful of how you present yourself. If you’re unsure about proper interview attire, ask about the company dress code or wear business casual to be safe. Remember that you can never make another first impression.

6. Know the Proper Etiquette

Many interviewees are unsure whether they should ask about salary and benefits. The short answer is: Don’t bring the topic up during the first interview, unless the employer does. During the initial stages of the hiring process, it is far more important for you to focus on the role and company and determine if you can see yourself there. Once a fit is established, you can open lines of communication about salary during the next step.

7. Be Proactive After Your Interview

If you don’t already have your interviewer’s email address, be sure to ask for it before you leave. Then, send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the interview. It’s a simple practice that many job seekers forget, but it can make all the difference. Hiring experts agree that a thank-you note will make you stand out from other applicants.

Additionally, make sure to ask about the next steps so that you have a timeframe and know when it is appropriate to follow up.

Take the time to properly prepare for your job search. Research and due diligence will make all the difference!

Sandi Knight currently serves as senior vice president, chief human resources officer, of HealthMarkets.

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