When is the best time to start looking for your first job out of college?
In whatever stage of college you're in, there is something you can be doing right now to prepare yourself to find that first job out of college. While many of us find ourselves looking for a job after college (which is completely okay and understandable in our current economic climate) the earlier you start searching, the better.
And when it comes to actually applying for the specific job you want to get after college, that search is best done a few months before you graduate from your 4-year university.
I recently spoke with an incredible woman and 26-year-old Forbes Reporter - Jenna Goudreau - who graduated college in 2008 and had a job offer from Forbes the day after she graduated.
This is the dream - something many assume will happen after that squared cardboard hat is thrown in the air. But of course, that is not always the case. And while Jenna is the first to admit the economy made it a lot tougher for post-grads after 2008, after talking to her it was clear to me that she worked very hard and did a lot of things right in order to land her first job.
Her story will give you insight into what you can do while you're in college to help you land a job as soon as possible after graduation.
Jenna began college with the intention of becoming an actress. To save money, she attended the State University of New York, Purchase College in order to be in New York - the heart of the theater world. She did some college plays, but also took some journalism classes. "I had always been interested in writing and I really loved it." The plays become less and less important to her, and she realized she "really liked journalism."
A year into college one of her journalism professors pulled her aside and said, “you are really good at this" and encouraged her to think about transferring to a top-of-the-line journalism program. Jenna took the advice, and transferred to NYU.
Notice how Jenna was willing to alter her path when she found she had a talent that was being noticed by professors and that she found she enjoyed. Never be afraid to change your path/major. Explore many opportunities to use a wide variety of your skills in college, and always be on the lookout for what professors and advisors are saying about your best talents. Listen. Take their advice.
While at NYU Jenna began honing her journalism skills and applying for internships. When asked how she found the internships she said: "There's really no secret. I just checked the job boards and applied." (She mentioned a great job board for media/journalism internships: MediaBistro.com). Jenna searched and applied for internships and got some incredible positions: a full time summer internship with Businessweek and an internship with Ladies Home Journal. "Those internships were pivotal in my getting a full time job right after college."
Both internships allowed Jenna the opportunity to contribute to the magazines, which gave her an incredible portfolio to start applying for full-time jobs in February of her last semester at NYU. She had work to show.
It can be difficult to figure out what kind of job you want early in college, and it is okay to change your mind. However, the sooner you are able to hone in your best skills, top interests, and where those intersect with market need (e.g. what someone will pay you to do), the easier it will be for you to start developing work to show and relevant experience to get a job sooner.
I love Jenna's advice: "Identify what kinds of jobs you want while you’re in school and tailor your extracurriculars and internships to get that job."
I think this is especially important to do in your last two years of college. Take your first year or two of college to explore a variety of classes and activities that allow you to uncover your interests and talents, but by your last two years you'll really want to be able to tailor your extra curricular activities and internships to build relevant experience for the industry you'd like to pursue.
In addition to the internships Jenna also did freelance writing and worked on the college newspaper.
When it comes time for you to apply for jobs: "Quantity of applications isn’t the best route. You should really go for things you know you are qualified for and would be a really good fit for, and then spend a lot of time tailoring each cover letter and resume to fit those positions. Make looking for a job your full time job as long as you can."
I highly recommend Jenna's work on Forbes. She has an incredible Youth in the Office series that was inspired by her own life; she started Forbes at age 22. "People were constantly commenting on my age. It was ever-present, and often felt like a barrier to my authority. I was interested in talking to other people who were my age and explore some perceptions on being young and looking young in the workplace."
The series had been very popular, and I am a huge fan.
Since Jenna is an expert on women in the workplace, I just had to ask if she had any specific advice for my female readers when looking for their first job (sorry guys). She had some great advice:
"When looking at qualifications on a job posting, sometimes women undercount themselves. For example, when there is a list of five requirements and a woman has four out of the five she might say 'I don’t have all the requirements, so I won't apply.' Round up and go ahead and apply. Go into interviews and be strong. Don’t use words like “but” or “just” (e.g. it was 'just' an internship; I have management experience, 'but'). Be confident in your abilities."