It is an honor to have Dr. Mary Lucal, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Human Resources Officer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, co-write this blog with me. Mary possesses over twenty years of human resources experience at Harvard University and the University of Tennessee. The university has received prestigious awards including the Forbes magazine designation “Best Place to Work.” It was most recently recognized as one of America’s best employers for new grads. Welcome, Mary! We are grateful to have you share your human resources and hiring expertise with us.
Whether you refer to yourself as a member of “Gen Z” or feel more comfortable with the tagline “early career employee,” you’re ready to hit the market!
You have a lot to offer: new perspectives, life experiences, and contributions that any employer would be lucky to have. Here are a few thoughts on how to secure a career launch that makes your employer feel like they won the lottery.
In this piece, we’ll take a look at some tips for entering the workforce so you feel like you’re truly on your way.
Tips for Entering the Workforce
It’s not always easy to find your first job, but here’s how to launch your career if you don’t have a job lined up before leaving college.
1. Network and Practice Interviewing
Why wait until you’re hired? Hire yourself now. Dress business casual and start your day at 8 a.m. at your workspace (coffee shop/home office/kitchen table). Spend the day networking, targeting jobs, researching employers, and even looking at various geographical areas.
Keep your professional social media fresh and do some mock interviews while you’re waiting to hear about the real thing. Take a lunch break and finish at 5 p.m. or whatever time makes you feel like you’ve worked a full day on your job search. This gets your headspace where it needs to be, builds your confidence and your brand, and enhances the possibility of getting contacted for interviews.
2. Know What Jobs You Are Passionate About
“Cast your net broadly” is probably the first piece of advice you’ll hear about how to job search. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, particularly if you have a goal to get hired during a short timeframe. (Those pesky bills!)
But being a prolific job applicant is only one part of the equation. In order to be an effective job searcher, it’s important to understand the industry, area, type of organization, and work you prefer.
One idea is to build tiers of potential employers:
- First tier: Your dream job/employer — definitely apply here first!
- Second tier: It could be a good fit but you may not be totally sure — it deserves second priority for applications.
- Third tier: You probably don’t want to work here forever but you’ve gotta pay bills — apply here if the first two do not pan out.
3. Learn to Expand Your Personal Boundaries
Job searching will likely push you out of your comfort zone and test your resiliency. It’s never easy to receive the news that you won’t be selected for a job, but remember to never take the rejection personally.
Job searching takes sustained and dedicated effort each week, including scheduling networking meetings, applying to jobs, interviewing, and following up on recent applications. The more time you can dedicate to the job search can increase your chances of finding a job and company you will enjoy. Check out some job search tips on a busy schedule.
4. Do Your Research When Entering the Workforce
You might have heard the old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine.” In other words, doing your homework is definitely worth it when it comes to your career launch. There are so many ways to assess whether an employer is right for you. Check out websites, public or corporate profiles, recent news releases, and ask your college’s career office to see if they have any information about employers you can review.
Be cautious about using sites where employees can leave reviews. Happy employees rarely seek out those sites. You might overlook a great employer because someone with a grudge left a poor public review. Do your homework and make your own judgments!
5. Identify Company Values You Can Get Behind
So how does an organization tell you its values? You can learn about them on a company’s website, public or corporate profile, and by talking to current employees.
How often is professional development mentioned? Is merit pay available on an annual basis? What about inclusive and affirming healthcare for LGBTQ+ employees? Do they support employees who wish to volunteer in the community? Do they offer tuition assistance for those who wish to pursue an additional degree?
These are just some examples, but you can see how these benefits reflect the values of the organization.
6. Find a Mentor
When entering the workforce, we all need a helping hand along the way. You may feel uncomfortable asking for help, but don’t let it hold you back. Your career services center at your college or university can offer career advice and you can also get help from teaching assistants, academic advisors, professors, and more dedicated professionals. All you have to do is ask! A mentor can be an invaluable resource to help you:
- Identify your key strengths
- Suggest target companies
- Provide networking connections through their own network
- Keep your job search goals on track
- Provide a professional job reference
7. Identify What Makes You Stand Out
If you’re getting close to entering the workforce, you’ve likely had some experiences that can help you identify your particular strengths. Perhaps you’ve been a teaching assistant, joined a club, played on a team or in a band, or had a summer job. Think back on these things and find similar themes that run through them.
Another way to do this is to actually talk to some of the people that have interacted with you during those experiences. Would a teacher or coach be willing to tell you what you brought to the group that was unique? This is a great way to learn about the strengths that you can offer future employers.
8. Build Your Brand When Entering the Workforce
This may be a surprise to many college students, but you do have a brand. You can take steps to develop and refine your brand during your college years. You should likely have a clearer focus on your brand during your senior year, which will be important to your career launching efforts.
Many majors, such as business and engineering, have hundreds of students who graduate from the same class. You need to differentiate yourself in the application process. Having a strong brand can help know your strengths and improve your messaging.
9. Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts
It’s best to assume that potential employers will take a look at your social media. Right or wrong, many feel it is simply another way to learn about you. Set aside a day for electronic spring cleaning. Take a look at all of your accounts — Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and others — to remove any controversial posts, set accounts to private, or even delete some accounts altogether.
If you don’t already have one, it’s also a great opportunity to create a LinkedIn page. Think of this as your “professional social media” page. A few quick tips can make a huge difference between you and other candidates.
10. Make Your Resume Real-World Ready
We’ve all seen those resume templates available through Microsoft. These are fine, but only use them as a starting place. You can use the Microsoft template as a place to collect all of the information about yourself that you will need. Then create a resume that is reflective of you.
Perhaps you are into graphic design and have a portfolio website. Put it on your resume!
List your LinkedIn address. Move things around until it feels like a good reflection of you. And don’t forget to add volunteer work to your resume. That’s important and you should proudly share it!
Another tip is that most large employers use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that allows them to accept large volumes of applications. Be sure to create a customized resume and cover letter for each role to which you apply, and use some of the keywords from the job advertisement. If an employer is using automated algorithms to scan your materials, this may allow you to stand out among dozens of applicants.
11. Add More Skills to Your Resume
Entering the workforce with skills related to your major can make you more employable and open up new career possibilities. A well-developed skilled section will help your resume stand out from other applicants.
For example, a data analytics student may stand out significantly by attaining a Google Analytics Academy certificate. It can signal to employers you are willing to invest extra time outside of the classroom to gain industry knowledge and you take your career seriously.
13. Improve Your Communication
Embrace the numerous opportunities college provides to develop your communication skills. Take advantage of leading classroom presentations, developing your writing skills, and collaborating with other students to succeed on a project.
Your communication skills are more important than ever in a global economy. Employees now need to have excellent in-person and virtual communication skills. Many top employers still use Zoom meetings to save time and money. You will likely be working on teams with coworkers in the office and some coworkers working remotely. It is truly the new norm and something you need to embrace for long-term career success.
14. Explore Your Career Possibilities
It’s normal for students to be uncertain about appropriate career opportunities when entering the workforce. If you are feeling seriously stuck, check out these 7 steps and resources.
One of the most important steps is to dedicate time each semester to career exploration. Don’t wait until your senior year to try and figure everything out. It’s natural for students to be uncertain about all of the job possibilities in a job family. For example, if you are interested in working in the human resources profession (great choice, by the way!) you need to determine which jobs fit your skill set. Take a look at some of the job possibilities:
- Human resources generalist
- Human resources information system specialist (analyst)
- Benefits and compensation
- Training coordinator
- Recruiting and talent acquisition
- Diversity and inclusion
- Human resources business partner
You may want to check out Ongig to learn about the importance of well-written and engaging job descriptions. These will provide you with some perspective because you’ll probably review a lot of job descriptions as you start your job search.
15. Plan for Your Financial Future
You are your own financial advisor on the first day of your professional job. Even though you may not have much exposure to financial terms or understand a thing about retirement savings, you can take a few steps to get yourself on the right track.
- Budget: Create a budget and stick to it. Rework it as you receive salary increases.
- Get on your employer’s retirement plan: Take advantage of employer-assisted retirement savings right away. If your new employer offers a 401(k) and an employee match, that means they will add some money to your retirement plan, in addition to what you’re already contributing. This is free money from your employer — never pass up free money! Over time, you’ll benefit from compounding interest. (Look that one up — it’s good stuff!) This is one benefit you really want to pay attention to!
In addition to these fifteen significant and insightful tips for entering the workforce provided by Mary, I would like to conclude with five additional steps to help you organize that launch:
5 Steps to Coordinate Your Career Launch When Entering the Workforce
Believe it or not, getting ready to enter the workforce starts your freshman year! Yes, those freshman semesters matter more than you realize, from establishing networking connections to getting involved in professional associations. Check out the five steps below to maximize each semester.
Step 1: Plan in advance.
Starting to look for a professional opportunity a semester before you graduate can add unnecessary stress! It will take time to identify appropriate jobs, apply, make it through multiple interviews, and make it to the job offer stage.
Ramp up your job search efforts a few semesters early. It will help you target companies and inform your network of the type of opportunities you seek. If you want to ensure your early efforts are on the right track, check out these job searching tips.
Step 2: Network during college.
Networking will be critical when entering the workforce.
One of the biggest missed opportunities we see when working with new college clients is that they are unaware or have not built connections in college. For example, professors can provide leads for internships or research projects and can even connect you with successful alumni.
One way to ensure you develop networking connections is to give yourself an attainable semester goal. It may be easier than you realize to foster eight to ten networking connections each semester. You can build these connections by:
- Attending speaking events on campus
- Meeting with alumni in your desired major
- Getting involved in clubs with fellow students and advisors
- Building meaningful relationships with your classmates — you never know who may create the next Fortune 500 company!
Step 3: Join a professional association.
Professional associations can expand your industry knowledge and networking connections. They enable you to learn trends and emerging technologies, and most importantly, help you directly interact with professionals in a specific field. These new connections can help you identify internships or job opportunities. Industry professionals can also help you determine if a career fit is right for you by candidly explaining the daily duties you may be required to perform.
Collegiate chapters provide students with amazing business simulated opportunities or competitions which you can incorporate into your résumé or LinkedIn profile.
Step 4: LinkedIn is essential.
You are likely a social media networking pro by adding followers on Instagram or TikTok. Now it is time to transfer those networking skills to LinkedIn, the only social media platform for professionals. Recruiters and hiring managers will come here to check you out and see the professional image you have established. Not creating or maintaining a LinkedIn profile draws red flags as well.
You should start developing your LinkedIn profile your freshman year and add to it over time. Note that your LinkedIn profile should not be an exact copy of your résumé. LinkedIn allows you to have a professional presence but a more personalized career narrative with many more sections than a one-page résumé. Definitely take advantage of headshot picture opportunities on your campus or career center. Your picture sets an important tone for your profile. No selfies, please!
Also, be sure to connect on LinkedIn with all of the networking connections you are establishing on campus and throughout professional associations.
Step 5: Know your strengths when entering the workforce.
If hiring officials read the same résumé basic information, it can be difficult for them to identify the best candidates for a position. Unfortunately, many applicants do not have a strong grasp of their unique strengths and cannot answer fundamental questions when applying to jobs:
- What strengths would help you excel in the positions you are seeking?
- How would you help a company continue to grow both in the short and long term?
- What key traits would help you connect with the company’s mission?
- What makes you unique compared to your classmates?
Your professional documents (résumé, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile) need to address these questions and others. It takes time and a keen self-awareness to understand the key messages your professional documents should send.
If you are feeling uncertain when defining your strengths, you may want to consider a career assessment. This is a career tool we use frequently with clients at Campus to Career Crossroads. It allows clients to recognize their strengths, interests, ideal work environments, and even jobs that would best fit their aptitudes.
Enter the Workforce with Success
Even for the most accomplished college student, finding that first job can be challenging. You may not know exactly where to start. You may also get stuck sending out résumés but not hear back from employers.
If you feel that you need some extra personalized career assistance when entering the workforce, Campus to Career Crossroads is happy to help you reach your goals.
No matter where you are in your career launch, we can help streamline your steps and help you reach a successful outcome!