New Graduates: 10 Steps to Help You Navigate Your First Job Search

first job searchJust graduated college? Ready to start your first job search? Put some extra effort in planning your first job hunt!

The first steps: researching where you want to work and, just as important, starting the professional network that will support your career for many, many years.

After all, grabbing the first job offer that appears just to start collecting a paycheck can lead to delayed success or a temporary career derailment.

So, be different. Take the time to do execute both these critical steps the right way, the first time.

Start now, and follow these steps…

1. Have 1 or 2 Target Jobs

This is the biggest mistake people make. No idea what they really want to do – they just want a job, any job! That lack of focus makes your first job search so much more difficult! Exponentially more difficult!

People who don’t know what job they want end up wasting time and energy applying for everything and anything. Worse, their network will be useless to them. And, sadly, they usually end up accepting the first job offered.

Avoid that mistake by taking the time to examine what you enjoy doing – and what you hate doing – and figuring out what jobs are the best fit for you, with your interests, skills, experience, and education. Your school’s Career Center should be a big help.

When you have finished, you’ll know what you really want to do. Without that knowledge, you’re cooked. Without that knowledge, you’ll end up in a job you don’t like, just putting in your time to bring home a paycheck. Truly a terrible waste!

“W-o-r-k” IS a 4-letter word, but if you enjoy what you’re doing, it won’t feel like work. And you’ll get paid, too! Awesome!

2. Put Together a List of Potential Employers

One of the best lists of technology companies is the Deloitte Technology Fast 500.  If you want to work at a “large” company, see the Fortune 500. Forbes has many interesting lists of employers including the Forbes 2000, world’s largest publicly held companies, and America’s largest privately-held companies are also very good places to look if you are interested in a very large employer. Having a “big name” on your resume early in your career can be a great starting point, as long as that employer doesn’t become infamous (think Enron).

For smaller companies, look to the Inc. 5000, the appropriate local Chambers of Commerce, and even the online Yellow Pages or SuperPages for that specific location.

3. Research those Potential Employers Yourself

When you have a list of potential employers, check them out. Start with to find information about working conditions, job interview questions, and salaries.  Yahoo Finance has excellent company and industry research resources in the investing section. Also, go to, for publicly-traded companies, to see what information is available in the company’s most recent annual report. For more help with company research, check out the articles by Job-Hunt’s Guide to Company Research.

4. Identify Contacts at Those Potential Employers

Check with your school’s Career Center to see if they have contacts for you who are currently working at your target employers. Hopefully, some alumni/ae of your school are working in those organizations now (or have worked there recently).

Also check with your Facebook friends and your LinkedIn contacts to see how you are connected to people currently working at one of your target employers. Chances are pretty good that you will have some connections. Use the appropriate method to establish contact with those people. For help, read Job-Hunt’s Guide to LinkedIn for Job Search and Guide to Facebook for Job Search columns for helpful how-to’s.

Ask your school’s Career Center to put you in touch with alumni/ae working in your target companies. Check your school’s alumni directory, and look for a LinkedIn Group for your school’s alumni.

5. Research Contacts to Find a Connection

Find out what you can about them to see what you have in common, how you can “connect” person-to-person. Were you born in the same state, lived in the same cities, attended the same schools? Did a parent or other family member work at the same company where this person worked? Or for a competitor? Do they show dogs or horses or do award-winning pottery? Or????

You will be very likely Googled by potential employers (see # 10, below), so do the same. Take everything with a bit of a grain of salt, depending on the source. And don’t scare the person with an esoteric detail about their far distant past. You are NOT trying to become a stalker; you ARE trying to find common ground for connecting on your first job search.

6. Get in Touch with Contacts and Ask Questions

It’s wise to look at factors in additon to compensation in your first job search. Certainly a good and fair salary is very important, but a job is also where you’ll spend most of your waking hours. You don’t want to work where you hate everyone you work with or everything you’re asked to do.

Notice that you are not asking these people for a job! You are asking for advice and insight.

7. Have your Contacts Review Your Resume

When you have completed the 2nd draft of your resume (with help from your school’s Career Center, preferably), ask your contacts if they would review your resume to see if it’s the right format and content for their employer. Customize your resume for each potential employer based on your research and the advice your contacts have given you.

8. Ask Your Contacts for an Employee Referral

If it’s appropriate for the organization (and it usually is), ask one or more of your contacts to take your resume to the appropriate hiring manager(s). I don’t recommend having 2 people submit your resume to the same manager, but having 2 people submit to 2 different managers should be OK. Or, how ever many hiring managers are of interest to you.

Recent data indicates that an applicant who is referred by an existing employe has a 14% chance of being hired while one applying “cold” through a job board or the employer website has a 1% chance of being hired.

9. Follow Each Employer’s Recommended Process

Your research in the steps above, should help you in your first job search. Follow the processes recommended by your contacts, and you should be hired before Spring Break if your grades are decent.

10. Take Time to Manage Your Online Reputation

Since most recruiters and employers (80% according to a well-respected study by Microsoft) will do an Internet search on your name before inviting you in for an interview, you need to be managing your online reputation.

Clean up your Facebooks posts as much as possible, and then be sure to have complete and public LinkedIn Profile. Both sites rank very well in Google search results, and can enable you to show employers your best side (in your own words). See Job-Hunt’s Guide to Online Reputation Management for more information.

Don’t forget to do some Defensive Googling to see what those employers will find about you, too. Then, delete, fix, replace, or manage as necessary.

Your first job search shouldn’t seem like a take-what-you-can-get proposition. It’s the gateway to the rest of your career. Start your career the right way by following the steps above.


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Susan P Joyce AuthorAbout the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.



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