There’s nothing more rewarding than making it through senior year and completing your graduation. Finals are all done, you finally have ample free time to enjoy yourself and you’ve achieved just about all your academic goals.
Unfortunately — as you’ll soon realize — college graduation is just the beginning of a long, stressful road. Now, it’s time to go out into the world and make a name for yourself. But before you can do that, you need to power through the age-old job hunt to find a suitable position, hopefully with a prestigious and rewarding employer.
Where should you start looking? How and when can you apply? What else should you keep in mind when searching for work opportunities?
To help assuage the mounting stress, if only a little, we’ve put together a useful checklist you can follow to ensure you land your dream job as soon as you pack up your cap and gown.
Secure Your References
Any reputable employer is going to want references that can attest to your dedication and work ethic. Whether you’ve selected some of your favorite professors, student aides or even friends and family, you’ll want to ensure you have your references lined up and clued in. That also means collecting the necessary contact information, as well as mapping out their schedules over the next year or so. If a reference you use is going to be traveling abroad, for instance, that’s something you’ll want to plan for — especially if a potential employer comes calling.
Build a Custom, Relevant Resume
It stands to reason that for each position or potential opportunity you apply for, you’ll be submitting a personal resume with both education and work experience. One juicy little trick is to customize or update your resume according to each field you are interested in.
If you are applying for a position in computer science or programming, for example, listing retail experience is not going to do you any good. The only exception, of course, is if you’ve been with one employer for a long time — this can show you’re willing to remain loyal and invested.
Do Some Work
You’re probably not going to have a lot of experience in the field you’re applying for, even if you have secured an internship or apprenticeship of some kind. Still, employers will want to see you can do what you say and that you have both the talent and skills necessary to make it in your chosen field.
Many creative industries — freelance especially — call for personalized projects or samples that you can present to potential clients. Writers and designers, for example, might put together a few design samples to submit with their resume. But this practice can be lucrative even outside creative markets. If you have the opportunity, do some work that’s in line with what you’re applying for, and submit that as part of your resume or hiring documents.
Try Not to Specialize Early
Unless you’re entering a career field that is highly specific, try not to specialize by choosing incredibly niche job opportunities. While looking for programming and development work, for instance, you might chase after potential programming jobs, while also considering IT, maintenance, security, and similar opportunities. Specializing would see you focusing on game or software development specifically, which limits you considerably when you’re just starting out. Instead, try to keep your search broad and look for opportunities outside what you might normally consider.
Do Use Your Connections
This point won’t apply to everyone, and that’s OK. However, if you have connections — such as a family member already working at a company — absolutely use them to your advantage. Much of what you will experience in the world has to do with who you know and how they can help you. Have a favorite professor with some pull? Use that to your advantage. Know about a job opening at your dad or mom’s company? Go for it!
Workforce development programs exist to get your foot in the door within a field or trade. Use such programs to your advantage whenever you can.
Don’t be a nuisance, but you should definitely follow up with every potential employer or opportunity you apply for. After you apply, make sure you get the contact information for a recruiter or rep at the company you’re interested in. Check back regularly with that person to see if there’s anything else you need to do, the status of the job opening or even whether they have posted any new opportunities. Too many people turn in a resume and then never communicate with a potential employer again.
While looking for opportunities, don’t be afraid to reach out to influential people in the industry you’re looking at. Networking with fellow developers or potential professionals can help you out in the long run, especially if you need advice or guidance in the future. You may even be able to secure an apprenticeship or potential job offer in this way, provided you’re vigilant and smart about it.
BONUS READ: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile to Land Your Dream Job
No Opportunity Is Beneath You
Remember, you are wet behind the ears in whatever industry or field you’re considering. Before you can land an opportunity at the biggest companies in the business, you’ll need to amass years of experience and talent. Yes, it’s entirely possible to land a lucky job at your dream company or employer, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
Be prepared to take any opportunity that comes your way, at least in the field you’re pursuing. Even if it turns out to be something you don’t enjoy, you’ll be building experience and resume chops until you can find something better.
Good luck, and congratulations on that academic achievement!
Bio: Nathan Sykes is a business and technology writer and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. To stay up to date on all things tech and business read his blog, Finding an Outlet, or follow him @nathansykestech.