College is over and the real world awaits. It’s time to enter the workforce and put into practice what you’ve learned in school. It’s one of the most exciting times in your life—the world is your oyster. What are you going to do?
Get a job, obviously. This guide will walk you through every part of the hiring process, from writing your resume to negotiating your very first job offer.
How to prepare during your final semester in college
Your last semester will probably be jam-packed with classes, homework, extracurriculars, and plenty of social activities, but this is also time you can use to prepare to enter the workforce.
Write your resume
Tackling a resume can be intimidating, especially when your professional experience may be limited. Most college students don’t have a robust work history, and employers understand this.
Your first resume out of college might include things like your major and school, part-time jobs, internships, extracurricular activities, clubs, volunteer work, awards and recognitions, and specific coursework that’s prepared you for the workforce.
If you haven’t written your resume yet, check out InHerSight’s guide to writing your first resume.
Yes, but you don’t need to rewrite the entire thing. For example, if a specific job is looking for experience in operations management, you might want to add a few more bullet points about your time as managing editor of the school literary journal. If it calls for someone with experience in Adobe Creative Suite, you might mention your proficiency in the summary.
Write your cover letter
Your cover letter should be about a page long (two is too long) and should clearly state the following:
Here are some cover letter guides to get you started
Not necessarily. You won’t need to rewrite the whole thing, but you should tweak it for the position to highlight your relevant skills and express interest in the company. Treat it just like you would your resume. Whatever you do, don’t send the same templatized cover letter for every job application.
The types of jobs you can get after college
When you enter the workforce after college, you’ll be presented with all kinds of work arrangements: freelance, part-time hourly, full-time salaried, contract, and internships.
Let’s talk about what each one means.
Working as a freelancer means that you’re self-employed and do hourly work for a number of clients. This is a kind of contract work, which we’ll talk about later.
For example, you might be a graphic designer who designs sales collateral for a marketing agency, book jackets for a small press, and logos for real estate companies.
Being a freelancer often means you can work from home, set your own schedule, take on a variety of projects, and you can even start while you’re in school. You’re essentially a small business owner. But it does come with its downsides: You have to be your own sales and marketing departments, you’ll have to buy your own health insurance, you don’t get any paid time off, and paying taxes can be complicated.
Typically, part-time means you’re working less than 35 hours per week, though definitions of part-time vary.
You might have already had a part-time job or two, or more, already—waiting tables, working in retail, or even at an on-campus job. If you’ve participated in the federal work-study program, you’ve had a part-time job.
Part-time work often means you have some flexibility in your schedule and more free time than you would if you worked full-time. However, part-time workers don’t earn as much as full-time employees, even proportionally. And part-time employees aren’t always given the same benefits, like paid time off and health insurance, as full-time workers, and there are few federal mandates for what benefits employers must provide to part-time employees.
Full-time employees typically work at least 40 hours per week and are employed by a company or organization. As a full-time employee, you might be required to work at the company’s physical location during the work hours they set, though remote work and flexible work hours are becoming much more common.
Jobs like these usually (but not always) come with a salary, health insurance, paid time off, and fringe benefits.
Contract work is an employment arrangement in which you perform work for a company but are not an employee of that company, which means you’re paid hourly or are on retainer and do not receive benefits.
You might be hired to work 10 hours per week, or even 40. Some contract work is for a defined amount of time, like 12 months, other arrangements are for an indefinite amount of time. Like freelancers, you’ll be responsible for your own health insurance, and you won’t get any paid vacation time. You might, however, be able to flex your schedule and work remotely, but all contractor arrangements vary.
An internship is typically a short-term job that is meant to give you practical work experience in your field. Internships are typically low-paying part-time jobs that don’t come with any benefits or paid time off. Some internships lead to full-time jobs within the company, but don’t assume this will be the case. If you’re hoping an internship will land you a permanent position, talk to the recruiter or hiring manager about how often that happens and what criteria they use to hire interns to full-time jobs.
Be wary of unpaid internships. It’s a red flag if a company is not willing to pay you for your work.
What jobs are you qualified for?
With limited professional experience, it may feel like there aren’t many jobs out there that you’re qualified for, but there are plenty of employers that are looking for young, fresh talent.
You don’t need to meet every requirement in the job description, but if it asks for someone with eight years of experience, the position is likely beyond your reach.
Our guide will help you read a job description:
Women tend to apply for jobs only if they’re 100 percent qualified for the job, but guess what, recruiters say . Go for it.
3 ways to find a job
Apply to open job listings
The most straight-forward way to get a job is to apply to open positions. You can find these on job boards, company websites, and your university’s career center website.
There is an abundance of job boards out there. Here are all of them:
Get matched to a company
You can also get matched to a great company that’s hiring right now.
Use InHerSight’s job match tool to find a company that shares your values: If, for example, paid time off, flexible work hours, management opportunities, and equal opportunities are important to you, the job match tool can help you find a company that values those things too—and is looking to hire someone like you.
Or, you can browse open job listings on our site.
Use your network
In the professional world, networking is key. More than half of jobs are filled through networking, and many job openings aren’t even posted online, but are filled either by someone already in the company or by a recommendation from someone within or close to the company.
As a recent or soon-to-be college graduate, talk to internship supervisors, former bosses, professors, teaching assistants, friends and connections who have already graduated, cousins, aunts—everyone—about the kind of job you’re looking for. You never know who knows someone who is looking for someone like you.
How to interview for a job
Once you apply for jobs, you should be getting called back for interviews. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t fret. Most job seekers wait an average of 38 days to hear back about a job application. And if you’re not hearing back, you can always follow up on your application.
The phone interview
The first step in the interview process is usually a phone interview. This is when a recruiter, or sometimes a hiring manager, calls to ask preliminary questions about your application.
Here’s a list of all the phone interview questions they’ll probably ask, and how to prepare for a phone interview.
It’s your chance to ask questions too. At this stage in the interview process, you might ask them to clarify or expound upon parts of the job description, whether they allow remote work or offer flexible work hours, and what their interview and hiring process looks like, for example.
After the phone interview, send a thank-you note. Here’s how.
An important note about interviewing
The interview process is just as much for you as it is for your potential employer. Yes, they’re going to come with a lot of questions, but so should you. Make sure this is a place you want to work.
The in-person interview
If you make it past the phone interview round, you’ll move on to in-person interviews.
This means you’ll meet at the company’s offices or location with the hiring manager and possibly potential coworkers. The questions at this stage get harder. They’ll ask you about previous experience, “what would you do if…” questions (these are called situational interview questions), the kinds of things you’re looking for in a job, etc.
Here are some resources to help you prepare for in-person interviews.
And don’t forget to come with your own list of questions.
Send a thank-you note
After the interview, it’s a good practice to send a quick thank you note. In it, you can express your gratitude, reiterate your interest in the job, or withdraw from the interview process if you find the job isn’t for you.
Following up after the interview
Before you leave the interview, ask the hiring manager or the recruiter when and how you should expect to hear back from them. If you don’t hear back, you can follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager. It’s best to reach out to your primary contact—the person who has been scheduling your interviews and answering basic questions about the interview process.
Wait at least three days between follow-ups, and wait at least three days before following up a second time.
Here are resources on following up after an interview.
How long will it take to get a job after college?
On average, a job seeker will spend around five months looking for a new job. But it can vary depending on your field, where you live, and the current job market.
Negotiating your first job offer
Since it’s your first job offer after college, your leverage is limited, but that doesn’t mean you have no room to negotiate. Here’s what you should keep in mind when talking with your future employers about the nitty-gritty details.
Know the going rate
Do your research on average pay for the position (how to do that here), and know the salary you want.
Don’t just negotiate salary
Pay isn’t the only thing to negotiate. Healthcare, PTO, working from home—there’s a lot more to compensation than just your paycheck. Think about the benefits that are important to you, and if your future employer isn’t willing to budge on salary, then see if you can’t finesse a few extra benefits instead.
Preparing for your first day (of your first job) after college
Congrats! You made it. You nailed the interview, negotiated your salary, and signed the offer letter.
Here’s a guide on preparing for your first day: