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Wouldn't it be nice if life came with step-by-step instructions? Now it does! We break down how to master pretty much any money-related task right here in our "How to Do Everything" series. Whatever the goal, we'll cover the steps to take and things to know to reach your next financial milestone, all in one place.
Here, we explain how to land your first job — and rock your first day.
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: After what feels like forever, you’re finally finishing school and entering the real world. And as exciting as that is, it also can be terrifying — especially as friends and classmates begin to receive job offers. Don’t worry; yours is around the corner. Here’s everything you need to know to land your first job.
1. Create a Resume That Shines
The main goal of your resume is to open the door so you can wow them with your personality and experience. But today’s applicant tracking systems (ATS) can make it harder than ever to get past the first hurdle and land your CV in the hands of an actual person.
While you might be tempted to show off your creativity on your resume, that can be a mistake, cautions Debra Boggs, co-founder of D&S Professional Coaching. “To make a resume ATS-friendly, use a standard format, rather than something with graphics or visuals since more modern resumes often don’t work with all systems.” Of course, she adds, you can certainly have a second resume that is more visually interesting to send via e-mail and present at the interview.
In order to give your resume the best chance of getting past the bots, stick with basic section headlines like "Experience" and "Education," rather than "Career Highlights" and "Professional Development."
“The scanners parse out the information based on what they read, and they do not often pick up on more obscure headlines,” Boggs says. You also should tweak your resume for each posting to echo the keywords they are using, which is what the system will be screening for.
A resume should be organized to highlight your most marketable trait at the top — so if you have just graduated from college, your education and any internships should go first, says Laurie Berenson, founder of Sterling Career Concepts. After one or two years of full-time work experience, you can move your education section down to the end.
Once your resume is in the hands of a real person, they will likely visit your LinkedIn profile, which should be designed to provide more context to your resume, especially if you’ve added videos, images and other examples of your work, Boggs says.
Keep in mind: While your resume is important, job hunting doesn’t consist of blindly responding to postings, notes career consultant Josh Evans. “Many new professionals assume that handing out resumes at job fairs or applying online will be the primary job-searching method, but your best option is to network with people who are working in your target companies.”
In fact, he says, initiative is one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself from all other job applicants. “If someone in a high position likes you enough, they can and will create a role for you.” Build a diverse network even outside your desired industry — you never know where your next lead might come from — and keep your connections strong.
2. Nail the Interview
Received a call for an interview? Congratulations; it means that your resume did its job, and now it’s time to showcase your expertise in person.
Be prepared for the questions your interviewer will ask, many of which can be anticipated, says Berenson. She recommends practicing concise, insightful answers to common questions, such as:
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- How does your education relate to this position?
- What about this position interests you?
- What are your top strengths?
- What is a weakness?
- When was a time you handled a conflict at work or in a group situation?
- What would a past manager say about you?
Be prepared to show your understanding of the company by doing comprehensive research — scouring their website, social media profiles and related articles specific to them and the industry in general. Read about members of the team and look at their LinkedIn profiles — you might discover an instant “in” if they are also an alumnus of your school or have another interest or contact in common. “These touches can help set you apart, even against more experienced candidates who may be less prepared,” Boggs says.
She also recommends visiting sites like Glassdoor; not only will you get a pulse on company culture and intel on salary norms that will be useful later, but you can learn more about the interview process and other data that can help you prepare. “It’s worth it to create a login and complete a few questions to unlock tons of free information,” she says.
Use this research to prepare a few smart questions that convey your knowledge. And keep the dialogue focused on learning more about your potential role and expressing your excitement and why you’d be the ideal fit, says Berenson. “Save any questions about what's in it for you — as in vacation days and benefits — until you’ve received an offer,” she says.
3. Make Them Show You the Money
All that interview prep paid off, and you’ve been offered the position. Now it’s time to talk money — and remember that you want more.
“When an organization makes an offer, they have already chosen you, and negotiating will not make them change their mind,” Evans points out, adding that in his experience most HR professionals offer anywhere between 8% and 22% less than they would be willing to pay. And that can be huge over the course of your career, since your first salary sets the stage for future raises. In fact, if you negotiate a 5% salary bump on a $40,000 job offer at the age of 22, you could eventually make an extra $170,000 at retirement age, based on average annual salary growth of 3%, according to a NerdWallet study.
Before entering the negotiation, take the time to check out sites like SalaryExpert, Payscale and Job Seekers Salary Calculator to find out what similar jobs pay to prevent accepting a low-ball offer, Boggs recommends. If, after negotiating, you’re still concerned about the salary number, ask if you can have a mid-year performance review, rather than waiting for your anniversary, Evans suggests.
And remember that your salary is only one component of your compensation — benefits account for about 30% of the pie — so once you’ve arrived at a salary number, don’t neglect the other areas. Check for a top-notch health care and retirement offering (like a 401(k) match). This guide can help you understand the benefits that may be on the table.
4. Rock Your First Day
There’s a reason why they say, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Because while your overall career trajectory will be framed by all the days that follow, it’s still vital to put your best foot forward as you meet your new colleagues. “The energy you bring on your first day will set the tone with each person you meet and work with, so be intentional,” Evans suggests. That means quelling your anxiety and nervousness to focus on portraying your enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
While your new week might be a blur of new faces, systems and paperwork, there are two things you should make sure to do, says Boggs.
- Get to know your manager's leadership style. One key factor is how they like to communicate. For example, do they prefer a weekly in-person progress meeting or a short email? Are there certain times that are best to ask them questions? Are you encouraged to answer emails after hours?
- Set achievement goals. Ideally your manager is helping you with these, but if not, you’ll want to find out how she will measure success so you can make sure that your focus areas align with expectations.
As you settle in, avoid these first-job mistakes, like not picking up on the office culture. Then, start crushing your new role.
5. Put the First Job in Perspective
Finally, says Berenson, remember that your first job will not define your overall career. “My 'big picture' advice for young professionals is to not get too caught up on your first position, but rather to view your career as a series of stepping stones or rungs on a ladder,” she says. And while your first position is unlikely to be glamorous or everything you dreamed it would be, it can be a solid first step on your career path. “You want to consider the overall opportunity in the industry and with that specific employer when deciding whether or not a position is a good first job.”