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Graduating College This Year? Here’s How to Get That First Job

You’re graduating college this year and you can’t wait to get out into the real world and get that first job. It’s both an incredibly exciting time and a nerve wrecking period -- you’ve got so much to do but with so little time. So what’s the best way to go about doing what needs to get done? 

First things first, you’ll need to get your resume in good shape so that you can start applying to jobs as soon as possible. Most seniors graduating college find themselves in a good spot because they usually have a resume by the time they enter their senior year. A few are also lucky enough to have one or more internship experiences during their sophomore and junior years that relate to the field of interest they’re targeting to find full-time employment in.

Writing a resume for your first entry-level job out of college

 “Almost everything you do in any job can be done well or it can be done poorly. When writing a resume, you want to paint a picture that shows you did it well.” That’s the advice Ask a Manager’s Alison Green gives readers in her article, How can I write a resume when my jobs don’t have measurable results. In the article, Green explains the importance of preparing a resume which presents quantifiable results.

When you don’t have much to write about, or your previous internship experiences or part-time work are short, this can be a difficult task. To tackle this task, Green suggests that you “Think of it this way: someone could have your exact same job and do it really poorly, right? You don’t want to have the same bullet points on your resume that they would.” 

The question that you have to ask yourself is how did your experience differ from the other interns that went through the same program as you? Were you the first intern to take on a particular task or did you go the extra mile to ask for extra-curricular work or did you accomplish something for the company that no one else did?

To attract a hiring manager’s attention, your resume shouldn’t just describe what you did in that internship or part-time gig, but what you accomplished and learned. Importantly, if you can relate your accomplishments to how you can add incremental value to the position you are applying to, you will fair better than your peers who are interviewing for the same position.

Use the Professional Experience section of your resume to present your greatest performances

While each section of your resume contributes to the overall impression an employer will have of you, it is in the Professional Experience section of your resume where you can paint the most vivid picture of just how well you perform. 

That’s because, beneath each internship or job listed in your Professional Experience section, you’ll place several bullet points describing your work. Many candidates fill this section with a list of the job duties they performed during their internship or part-time job. But savvy entry-level job seekers know that what hiring managers really want to see is not a list of tasks and responsibilities but of achievements and results.

In the article How to Assess a Resume: 12 Ways to Identify an Outstanding Employee Candidate, business owner Firas Kittaneh tells the authors that his hiring team looks for individuals whose resumes show quantifiable success. Kittaneh adds that his team uses this information to assess the potential value the candidate can bring to his business. 

 Prospective employers are looking at your past performance to gauge your future potential. Given that applications for most entry-level jobs will have limited experiences, you’ll place yourself in an excellent spot by using what experience you have and putting in the effort to make it stand out.

The need for your resume to have an attention-grabbing, performance-packed Personal Experience section is the reason you should start keeping a results journal now.  

The time to prepare for your first job search is before you need to do the job search 

Maybe you’re thinking, I still have time to work on this as I’ve still got many months or a semester to go; why can’t I wait to fill in my accomplishments when job fair season comes around or when I’m about to graduate college? 

Trust me on this: your memory isn’t as good as you think it is. 

You may think that when the time comes it will be easy for you to remember how many people were on the team or the specific tasks you worked on during an internship project or academic project at school, but don’t count on it. Memories fade and facts become distorted with time. Updating your resume will be much easier if you record each positive professional outcome when it happens. It doesn’t matter if your journal is a physical notebook or a digital log, just make sure you use it. 

In addition to recording your results, keep physical copies of recommendations, performance reviews, and other documentation related to your accomplishments in a designated file or scan them into your digital record. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but you’ll be glad not to have to dig through your old paperwork or call former managers to pin down information later. Now, if only I took this advice when it came to saving receipts for my taxes! 

Take control of your data and your career narrative for your first job

Of course, not all of your accomplishments will end up on your resume, but you should keep a record of each one nonetheless. It is from this longer list of achievements that you’ll choose the most relevant achievements to include when you prepare your resume for a specific entry-level job. (Tip: To decide which achievements to include for your first job, prepare several different variations of your resume and check each one using Carmen’s free tool to help you tailor your resume.) 

Should you still keep track of your accomplishments even if you intend on moving on to graduate school after your undergraduate studies? Absolutely! Keeping track of your accomplishments will provide you with valuable data about your strengths and might point you in the direction of new career opportunities for your first job post graduate school. Plus, a journal filled with quantifiable results can make you feel confident in your ability to justify a request for a better starting salary for that first job. 

Businesses are increasingly looking to data to guide their decisions. So, begin keeping your results journal now and you will be well prepared to create a winning resume whenever you need it for that first job.

Whatever your career goals are post college, Carmen’s free Skills Benchmark analysis and tool to tailor your resume can help you get a clearer picture of the skills you need to prepare for your first job out of college. 

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