My younger sister just got hired for her first real job out of college. It’s basically her dream job – the exact right blend of job duties, corporate culture, and management style. She found this job less than two months after she graduated. I thought maybe she was just really lucky, but it turns out that there are quite a few more open positions out there today than there were at the start of the recession. While organizations reported having an average of 45 job openings for college graduates in 2010, by 2012 this number had increased to 116 openings.
The increase in job openings is giving new grads a lot more options compared to my college class. I graduated in May of 2009, just after the recession had hit its peak. Pickings were extremely slim for job hunters that summer, and a lot of my friends ended up at jobs that weren’t quite the right fit for them. Now they’re either suffering (not so silently) or have already changed jobs.
New grads should really take the time to be picky and find an organization that will accept them, challenge them, and most importantly, engage them. In order to find that perfect first job, I have three pieces of advice for young people just joining the workforce:
Interpreting the Job Description
A huge problem for new grads is that they aren’t exactly sure what type of job they want. A lot of degrees (ahem, Liberal Arts) don’t point students towards a specific career path, so the initial job search can feel like blundering around in the dark. For students unsure of what career path to take, the job description can be hard to decipher because it is basically an advertisement trying to attract you to a position and an organization. My advice is not to look at job titles, but rather the specific job duties listed. For starters, do the tasks sound like things you’re interested in? Things you’re good at? More importantly, something that will continue to challenge you? If you aren’t challenged by your job duties, boredom can turn into disengagement quite quickly.
Don’t expect the job duties listed to all be things you love. Every job includes parts that aren’t very enjoyable. The key is to understand what percentage of the job includes duties you prefer versus the less desirable ones. If you like over two-thirds of the tasks you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, then the job is still a good fit for you. You should also search for deal breakers within the job description. For example, when I was job searching, database work wasn’t ideal but it was doable. Cold calling, on the other hand, was something I knew I would never be able to do, so I didn’t even bother applying for jobs that involved cold calls.
Research, Research, Research!
You know how everyone has warned you that organizations will research you online after receiving your resume? Well you can do the same thing to find out about your potential future employer. Don’t just look at the company website to figure out what exactly it is the company does. Instead, try to get a feel for the organization’s personality. For example, do they have a quirky social media account? The attitude presented in the account probably reflects the corporate culture. Search through LinkedIn to see if you have any shared connections with current or past employees of the organization. This type of connection can give you an insider’s viewpoint on what it’s really like to work for the organization, including whether there’s a scary boss to watch out for or if there are fun perks that aren’t advertised elsewhere.
Great organizations are also touted often for their excellence. Have they recently won any workplace awards? Have they been featured in newspaper or magazine articles? While no workplace is loved by all employees, receiving this type of positive attention is an indicator that you may love the organization as well.
During your research, look for qualities within the organization that you valued as a student. For example, if you were motivated by awards and honors, make sure the organization has an awesome recognition program. If you loved leading group projects, make sure there is room for job growth within the company.
Make Them Impress You
During that first job interview, most candidates focus on trying to impress the interviewer. The job interview, however, is an excellent opportunity for you to determine whether the job would be a good fit for you. Ask the interviewer what he or she likes best about the job, the organization, and the other people who work there. Not only does this give you great information about the company, it also shows that you are interested and engaged in the interview. Determine what the position will really be like on a day-to-day basis. Get a feel for the office environment – is it fast-paced or slow? Are people interacting with each other? Is it so quiet you could hear a pin drop? Make sure the feel of the office is an environment you would feel comfortable working in every day.
In addition, one of the interviewers is most likely your future boss. Does the person seem like someone you can work with on a day-to-day basis? Can you build a rapport with the interviewer? Having a bad manager is one of the top reasons employees quit. If you get a bad vibe during the interview, it’s likely that manager is not for you.
Being a bit picky and following these pieces of advice should help you find that perfect job the first time around. Good luck in your job hunt!
 “Brighter Prospects,” SHRM Online Staff, HR Magazine, June 2012 issue, p. 29.