Okay, so it sounds next to impossible to actually land your dream job fresh out of college, right?
I always loved how, as I was searching for jobs, I would find “entry-level positions” that required five years of experience.
How does that even make sense? Can someone please look up the definition of “entry-level”?
Everyone always says, “Just take what you can get, and don’t expect your dream job right out of school.” Now, this is somewhat true if you want to be the CEO of a multibillion dollar company, but it is totally possible to find a job that you love and that is related to your major and interests.
I am a graduate of Appalachian State University with a major in Business Management (concentration in Entrepreneurship) and a minor in Apparel Design and Merchandising.
I found the perfect combo of my interests in a job as a custom clothing salesperson (aka haberdasher) for Tom James Company, the largest custom clothing retailer in the world.
When I landed my dream job before graduation, I thought, “Man! I sure am lucky,” but when I really think back on it, there were a series of small but critical steps I took in order to get that job.
Warning: This post is somewhat lengthy, but I really thought it was important to put all of this information in one place. So, hang in there with me and learn how you can master your skills to land your dream job right out of college!
You have butterflies in your stomach as you approach your potential future employer. The only sound you can really hear is the thump of your heart and the clack of your brand new black pumps on the tile floor.
However, you know your resume is perfection!
You shake your potential employer’s hand with confidence and hand over your resume, printed on nice cotton bond paper. You’re beaming on the inside because you know that your resume will knock their socks off!
Your resume is the first impression that you make on your potential employer, so it’s extremely important to have a clean, professional resume, no matter how little work experience you have.
Employers won’t read it word-for-word, so making sure it is organized and easy to read with plenty of white space is essential!
A resume should never be more than one page long, even if you have to use small font and half-inch margins. However, your font shouldn’t be smaller than 10-point Times New Roman.
You should be sure to include information about your education, work experience, internships, extracurricular activities, awards and achievements, and leadership experience.
To make sure your resume looks polished, right align dates beside each achievement.
So, now you may be wondering what to add in if you don’t have much work experience. Do you add in extra accomplishments from high school?
You know those guys who still live in their high school glory days? Don’t be those guys.
Never include any high school accomplishments, even if you were a rock star.
I speak from experience…no one cares.
I know it sounds harsh, but as a competitive athlete, I practiced golf throughout high school and college as if it were my job. It did earn me a college scholarship, but it made my resume look weaker than some of my friends who’d had an internship every summer and worked during school too.
Instead of adding in high school accomplishments, make your resume more impressive by describing some of the important activities you participated in and your critical roles in those activities or what you learned from your experiences.
This way, you can capitalize on the awesome stuff you’ve done that will be valuable to your employer.
If you’re interested (or you think it might help), I’d be happy to send you a copy of my resume for reference. Feel free to comment below!
2. Interview Skills
So now you got a call from your potential employer about an interview.
You feel a wave of overwhelming excitement and accomplishment…but that feeling is soon overcome by nerves and a twinge of self-doubt about your ability to close the deal during the interview process.
I was the exact same way…the thought of an interview for a job I really wanted was terrifying.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: you don’t have to be an extreme extrovert or an articulate walking dictionary to be great in an interview.
Now picture this…
You are seated in an office chair across the desk from your potential employer. You are definitely nervous for your interview, but you know that you are prepared and ready to answer whatever question your interviewer may come up with.
She asks you some basic questions and then hits you with, “Tell me about a time that you faced adversity in a leadership situation, and what did you do about it?”
You have this one in the bag! You’ve already thought about a million different scenarios and experiences that showcase your drive and skills. As she finishes up the question, your well-thought-out answer just rolls off your tongue, and you’re overcome by a feeling of satisfaction.
With some practice and preparation, anyone (even YOU, my friend) can amp up their interview skills and feel confident walking into their first interview for the job of their dreams.
I, personally, struggled with answering interview questions under pressure. I couldn’t come up with my greatest strengths and weaknesses, a time that I had been an exceptional leader, or a time I overcame adversity on the spot.
I knew that my university’s college of business offered one-on-one interview preparation with an advisor, and I desperately needed the help! So, I signed up and went for counseling and a mock interview.
It was super helpful for me to practice interview questions.
In addition, my advisor also offered me a list of the 50 most common questions asked during interviews.
Before my interview, I thought about, wrote out and reviewed those 50 questions, and guess what? I’d written out and studied almost every single question I was asked during my grueling 6 hour interview process in some way, shape, or form.
That extra preparation totally paid off and made me feel so much more confident during my interview! Speaking of preparation…
During your interview, you’ve impressed your potential employer with some great examples of why you’re the perfect fit for their company!
Then she asks you if you have any questions (and we all know, you never say “no” to that).
Yes! Yes, actually, you do have a question!
She urges you to go on, and you ask about a new initiative that the company is taking. You read about it in a news article, and you were intrigued by it.
Her face lights up at the inquiry. You know, at that moment, that you NAILED IT!
This may sound completely ridiculous and overly ambitions, but you should spend at least 5 hours doing research about the company you will be interviewing with.
Trust me, its necessary and SO worth-it.
Typically a company will send you a little bit of information about the position, company, and your interviewer.
That seems like enough information. You know what you’re doing, right?
I hate to break it to you, but there is much more work necessary in order to prepare and absolutely blow your interview out of the water in a seemingly effortless manner.
Begin by knowing exactly what the company does.
This way, if you are asked “So what do you know about our company?” you aren’t completely blindsided by what should be the easiest question ever. If you fail to answer that one knowledgeably, you’ve set yourself up for failure from the beginning.
You should also be sure to know who the current CEO is and have a little bit of extra background information on that person too.
In addition, look up some current news stories about the company and know what the company is presently focused on. It always impresses interviewers when you bring up a less-known fact or know more than the average citizen about the company’s current state.
Also, you should know what position you applied for, what that position entails, and the relevant skills you have that make you a perfect candidate!
This will not only show interest but also help you decide on what strengths you should focus on when preparing for your interview questions.
You are an impressive and skillful candidate, so make sure your employer knows that too!
Okay, so don’t call me a suck-up after I share this nugget of information, but…
You should definitely do some research on your interviewer.
If they’ve done something notable or are a bigwig in the company, you should let them know that you’ve done your research and know how important they are!
Trust me, interviewers appreciate it when you’ve very obviously studied up.
Of course, you don’t need to go to their personal Facebook page and learn about their family and their dog, Scout.
If you do that, probably don’t bring it up at your interview…that could be construed as creepy.
Just check out the company website and the wide array of news articles, and you should be good to go!
Remember when your mom told you it’s what’s on the inside that counts? And never judge a book by its cover? Don’t take that approach when it comes to an interview.
First impressions are everything!
You walk into an interview standing tall and dressed to the nines. You see your potential employer raise their eyebrows for a millisecond, and you know that you look sleek, confident, and ready to take on the world like the gladiator you know you are.
For my ladies out there, a skirt suit is ALWAYS the way to go on when it comes to any interview.
Really, I mean any and every interview throughout your whole life.
One of my apparel design professors in college told our class that a woman should wear a skirt suit to every interview, even when interviewing for a job in fashion.
Can you believe that?
I always thought that one day I would land an interview with a major fashion retailer, dressed like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, all dazzling and svelte, after her amazing transformation.
Unfortunately real life isn’t as glamorous as Hollywood portrayals…*sigh*.
But that is why I’m here to help you!
The best outfit is a navy or charcoal colored skirt suit, white collared shirt, nude tights, matching pumps, and conservative jewelry (like pearls).
I know, what you’re thinking…ewwww. But just hear me out.
I remember getting ready for my first interview and walking downstairs in that exact outfit with my unruly, wavy hair pulled back into a neat bun so stiff with hairspray that even a 60 mph gust of wind wouldn’t even tousle it.
My mom was smiling as I walked in the room, and I said, “Mom, I look like a grandma…” She said, “No, Lily, you look cute!”
At that point my sister and I burst into laughter. I felt so hideous.
However, I realized how important my clothing choice was when, during my interview at Tom James Company, one of my interviewers told me he was able to tell I was serious about the job by how I was dressed.
He then went on to tell me about a guy who had interviewed for that job a week earlier and wore a red button-down (with an open collar and no tie), slacks, loafers, and sunglasses on his head the whole day. This kid really thought he looked cool.
But my interviewer wasn’t amused.
He said that he almost just told him to go home within the first hour because he knew that he didn’t want to hire the guy who showed up to his interview dressed like he “didn’t care.”
At that moment, I was so very thankful I looked like a grandma!
5. Network Building
It’s all about who you know.
This statement carries a lot of truth when it comes to landing your first job.
You walk into a career fair hosted by your university each year. You’re prepared because you already looked at the list of employers and know where they’ll be set up.
You’re prepared with a padfolio in hand and 30 copies of your resume tucked away inside.
You’re poised with a smile on your face because you’ve done this (what feels like) a million times before.
In college, I took advantage of almost every networking event that the college of business offered. As nervous as I was to talk to strangers at job fairs and seminars, these encounters were instrumental in leading to interview opportunities.
In fact, I got most of my interviews through talking to recruiters at job fairs and handing them my resume.
One helpful tip for making sure that a recruiter remembers you (because they meet a million other hopeful college kids at a job fairs) is to be sure to collect the recruiters’ cards and email them after the job fair thanking them for talking to you and expressing your sincere interest in the opportunity.
This has gone a long way for me!
LinkedIn is also a great tool for networking.
It’s very easy to create one, and if you take the time to make it look appealing with a nice, professional headshot as your profile picture, you can utilize this platform to its full potential.
When I got lazy about applying for jobs, I’d go on LinkedIn, look at the jobs that the site suggested for me, and use their quick “apply” button. This literally takes five minutes.
I am not saying it is the most effective, but I’ve been called for interviews after just applying the quick way on LinkedIn.
Don’t underestimate the power of a LinkedIn profile!
6. Internship, internship, internship!
You got an internship this summer, and you’ve actually loved it! It was everything you’d hoped for.
You worked so hard all summer at your internship, and people are noticing.
As the summer is winding down and your internship is coming to an end, you are called into your manager’s office. YIKES! Did you do something wrong?
As you walk in, the excitement in your manager’s eyes lets you know you aren’t in trouble. Instead you are offered a job before you even begin your final year of college!
*proceed to internal happy dance*
Full disclosure: most of these steps, like practicing interview skills, beefing up my resume, and buying my first skirt suit, were taken before I interviewed for my first internship. I was so enthusiastic about landing this internship, and I truly wanted it to lead to a job. Fortunately for me, it did!
Even if you’ve participated and even been a leader in a lot of extracurricular activities throughout college and had a great GPA, employers love to see internship experience because it’s the closest thing to real-world work experience.
SO many of my friends in college have had internships that have led to jobs, and the overachievers have done multiple internships over multiple summers to see what they liked.
Internships are becoming increasingly important for college kids because more people are realizing their importance, and more companies are weeding out candidates without internship experience.
In conclusion…I know what you’re thinking…FINALLY…
I truly believe that if I didn’t spend endless hours working on my resume, interview skills, and preparation, buy a professional skirt suit to wear to my interview, work on building my network, and have an internship, I wouldn’t be so “lucky.”
Charge on and chase after your dream job with your tuned up skills and charming personality! You CAN do this!