If you’re graduating from college (or grad school) this month, things probably look a lot different than what you’ve always imagined. The way you’re celebrating has certainly changed, for one thing. And then there’s what happens after that. Because the job market is extra competitive right now.
Maybe you haven’t found a job yet, and now you’re applying alongside lots of other people. Or maybe you’re fortunate and have a job lined up, but perhaps not with the salary or company you’d hoped for, and you’re having second thoughts.
All that is very real, but it doesn’t make this impossible — you can navigate this season with confidence. Here’s my best advice to help you search for a job while the economy continues to recover.
Don’t limit yourself
You might have a picture in your mind about the kind of job you want. And if you’re like any of the students I’ve advised in the past, you might also feel like your first job is super important in helping you build the career you envision for yourself. And it does matter — but you have more flexibility than you think.
You do have time to find your way, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. The fact is that most people (including me) see all kinds of twists and turns in their career paths — none of which they could have foreseen, but all of which have led them to where they are today. This will be true for you, too.
It’s OK to take a job that’s not quite what you imagined, especially in this environment. I have no doubt that you will get something valuable out of it, even if you only stay there for a little while. So don’t be afraid to look for jobs more widely than you otherwise would have.
Now’s the time to be curious, creative, and bold. Take a big step out of your comfort zone and trust that everything you experience will lead you down the right path, even if it doesn’t start off like you expected.
Find new ways to grow
Once you start interviewing, you’re going to want to be able to tell a strong story of how you continued to grow after graduation. What can you do to broaden your skill set, dig into the things that interest you, and make a difference? Consider volunteer work, part-time work, temp work, freelancing — all of these can enhance your personal narrative, and any of them could lead you to your next job.
During the pandemic, virtual networking opportunities soared as people looked for ways to connect in the absence of physical events. But now that we’re slowly resuming in-person events, outreach is just as important. (In fact, networking is such a career game changer that we made you a thing: Ellevest members can log in and sign up for our 7-Day Networking Boost email course.)
Find organizations and people you’d like to work for or with. Reach out to those people and ask for a virtual coffee chat. Even if they aren’t hiring right now, you’ll be a step ahead of other candidates if a role opens in the coming months. I recommend reaching out to several people a day as part of your networking efforts. Informational interviews can be helpful, too — learn as much as you can about people’s career paths, ask for advice and tips navigating the job search, and ask to keep in touch.
Your college or university’s alumni network is also a great place to start, because you’ll already have something in common to help spark a connection. In fact, you can click “Alumni” on your school’s LinkedIn page to find alums in different geographies, industries, and more.
Staying in touch with your friends counts, too — for women, a core inner circle of other women who look out for each other is often the key to career success. (Plus, they can tell their friends, and “a friend of a friend” might be that next opportunity.)
Also: Tell everyone that you’re looking for a job, and post about it on LinkedIn from time to time. You truly never know where your next job will come from! Spread the word far and wide.
Use your school’s career resources
Take full advantage of the resources at your school’s career and professional development office. The folks who work there are dedicated to helping you find a job, and they’ve built well-established relationships and networks that can help connect you to potential employers. Don’t just search the job boards — make an appointment to speak with a career counselor, if you can; have them review your resume and cover letter; seek their advice when you run into challenges. They’re there to help.
Build and cultivate your personal narrative
Your personal narrative is the story you can tell about yourself that connects the dots between where you are now and where you want to go. It’s your unique magic. And it takes some intentionality to get it just right.
Your personal narrative may not really be a script that you can speak out loud from beginning to end. It’s really composed of the things you want people to know about yourself as a professional — the things that you feel best showcase your strengths, skills, experience, and personality. You might use it in networking conversations, informational interviews, job interviews, or even as a self-examination tool to help guide you as you explore possibilities in your job search.
So what does that look like, and what should it include? First, what you’re passionate about and why. Why did you choose your current career path? What is it about certain job descriptions that makes your eyes light up? And second, experiences that show why you’re right for a job. That could be a “problem-solving challenge” you faced — one that highlights your ability to get things done. Or maybe it’s a “resource challenge” — one that showcases your teamwork skills.
Another thing to consider putting in your narrative: You just finished school in one of the most turbulent moments of history. You likely had to make drastic changes to your habits, priorities, and mindset. You can tell that story. You can highlight what it taught you about how you work, what you value, and what you can do. You can showcase why that prepared you to be a seriously awesome member of a company’s team, especially if they’re working remotely right now. Spend some time thinking this through and getting comfortable with it; I feel sure that it will be helpful.
Finally: You might have heard of an “elevator pitch” or “elevator story” — that’s the traditional name for the super-short (maybe three-sentence) thing you’d say to the hiring manager of your dreams if you were somehow magically alone in an elevator together and only had 30 seconds to wow them. You might have also heard this term to describe what you’d say to a recruiter at a career fair. The point of an elevator story is to condense your personal narrative into something really focused and compelling that anyone can understand. You’ll use it when you meet people IRL, but maybe also in cover letters, emails, LinkedIn intros, etc.
Pay attention to the details
Even if you’re applying for jobs in an industry with an informal feel, you still want to come across polished and professional whenever you can. Especially when competition for jobs is so tough, it’s worth the extra time it takes to avoid grammar mistakes and typos, use names (and get them right) every time, and speak and write clearly and with compelling language. I also recommend choosing a professional photo for LinkedIn — get everything zipped up, top to bottom.
Be ready to negotiate future job offers
Eventually, you will receive a job offer. And when that time comes, it’s absolutely in your best interest to negotiate the terms of that offer, including your salary. This is one of the most powerful ways to take charge of your own financial future, because negotiating will not only help you get the compensation you deserve, but also increase the salary that all your future raises will probably be based on. And that’s a big deal, especially since you may need to do some catching up thanks to this pandemic.
That being said, remember that some (though not all) potential employers may have less wiggle room in their budgets right now. But if you’re at the point of an offer, then they want to hire you, and you can still negotiate. If it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to negotiate much on salary, you can start a discussion on negotiating for things you want beyond salary — for example, the ability to work remotely, or a better title, or extra paid time off.
Work hard and stay hopeful
Finally, hold on to your hope and optimistic outlook — this is important, because it can help you stay resilient on a daily basis. Stay productive and busy during these uncertain times. Learn new skills. Dream big even when things are challenging. Your patience, resilience, and hard work will pay off.
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