It's one thing to finish college. It's another thing to land a job in your field after graduation.
Thousands of new grads across the country will soon be faced with the task of entering the workforce.
To help job seekers land their first professional job, we’ve talked to job-placement experts who shared their wisdom on what you should do to position yourself for success.
It’s key to be able to communicate why you’re the top candidate. One of the best tools is a polished résumé.
Marcus Smith, internship coordinator for the Office of Career Services at Delaware State University, said new grads should limit their résumé to one page.
On the résumé, job seekers should list internships they’ve had, part-time jobs in college, volunteerism (being active in church counts as community service), job shadowing and if they were involved in tutoring or student teaching.
It can seem a little daunting to some students to figure out how they can fill up one page, Smith said.
Furthermore, it’s no secret a number of new grads face a Catch-22: needing experience to get the entry-level job they want, yet they can’t gain that experience unless someone gives them a chance.
Smith said there are ways around that hurdle.
“A lot of students have way more experience than they give themselves credit for. Do you know how to create an Instagram ad?” he said. “That counts as marketing experience, and people don’t even realize that.”
Another overlooked skill some grads could add to their résumé is graphic design. If a grad ever used Photoshop to create a meme, that counts, Smith said.
The internship coordinator said if a new grad didn’t have many student internships, it’d be a good idea for them to use the top portion of their résumé to write a short paragraph highlighting career objectives.
Here’s a sample from DSU’s Career Services website:
“A Mass Communications Major with a concentration in Convergence Journalism at Delaware State University pursuing internships or professional opportunities specifically in television production, radio, music, sports, entertainment, and/or pop culture related industries; experience in television production and radio hosting; ambitious, confidence, loyal, trustworthy with a strong work ethic and attentive to details; able to learn quickly and multi-task; responsible and willing to work from the ground up.”
2. Cover letter
Similar to a strong résumé, crafting a well-written cover letter is another essential tool to attract potential employers.
The cover letter should include at least three paragraphs. The first paragraph states the position you’re applying for and how you learned about the opening.
The second paragraph summarizes your skills, experience and knowledge needed for the position.
The last paragraph is to thank the reader and ask for an interview.
Cover letters should be limited to one page, Smith said.
3. LinkedIn is king
Imagine if your dream job was to make Hollywood films. Then you learned a famous director lived next door to you; and all have to do is knock on their door and they’ll share the blueprint of how to get to where they are.
That’s basically what LinkedIn is at a glance. It’s a prominent networking platform to allow professionals to connect with more than 500 million users in more than 200 countries and territories.
Various job listings are posted daily on LinkedIn.
Jill Pante, director of the University of Delaware’s Lerner Career Services Center for the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics, said the social site is an incredible resource for job seekers.
“LinkedIn has such a wealth of people on there that want to connect, that want to give someone 20 years their junior some advice on a job search, or to open a door to them,” she said.
Pante said she recently met with a UD student who’s looking to work in finance in New York. She ran a search on LinkedIn and discovered a lot of alumni who are professionals in this area.
“We drilled down into New York, into finance, and we found 1,300 UD alumni,” Pante said. “The best thing he can do now is do some outreach.”
The career services director said it’s always good to connect with alumni on LinkedIn.
Pante said job seekers who don’t know how to start networking on the app can simply start things off by finding an alum who’s advanced in their field. Then ask for advice, and what steps they took after graduation to end up working for their present employer.
Moreover, she said new grads should also ask, “What were some of the websites they went on [to find their job]? How did they leverage their networks and contacts?”
DSU internship coordinator Smith said cold emailing people on LinkedIn, asking the questions Pante mentioned, is also a good idea.
Smith said he’d reach out to a member in human resources who’s employed with a company he’s interested in working for. He’d also try to connect with an intern, since they’re essentially a peer who has their foot in the door.
“Make contact with that intern the same way you’d follow them on Instagram,” said Smith. Ask them, “‘How do I get to where you are? What steps did you take?’ They might ignore you. But keep doing that [with various interns] over and over again.”
Pante said job seekers might not get a response each time, but that shouldn’t stop them from trying.
“You have to put yourself out there and you have to be proactive, or else no one is going to know you need help,” she said.
4. Be professional on social media
Smith said new grads should expect potential employers to research the social media platforms they’re on once they’ve submitted a résumé.
Since employers want to make sure new hires are professional, it’s a good idea to have content on social media accounts that’s “work safe” and appropriate across all their accounts, not just LinkedIn, Smith said.
In other words, “if they showed [your posts] at a board meeting, you wouldn’t be embarrassed,” Smith said.
5. The interview
No matter what job you’re interviewing for, it never hurts to arrive in professional business attire, Smith said.
During the interview, “the very first question you’ll hear is ‘Tell me about yourself,’” he said. “I’d discuss different strengths such as: I’m a big believer in hard work. I’m extremely ambitious and dedicated to finishing anything that I start.”
From that point, he would share his career goals, he said.
For instance, when applying for a marketing assistant position, discuss how your ultimate goal is to become a chief executive officer; and explain how the entry-level position you’re applying for will help give you the experience to achieve that goal.
“Keep your answer short and kind of simple,” Smith said.
Pante said students should anticipate lots of behavior-related interviewing. This includes questioning about their past actions and behavior.
Students should anticipate questions like, “‘Tell me about a time that you had a leadership role,’” she said. “‘Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a supervisor.’ These sort of questions are looking for examples. They want to hear the stories.”
Pante said some grads struggle with answering those questions because they think they can easily freestyle them on the spot.
“I find that a lot of students think they know themselves. But when they actually go to tell their story, they don’t,” she said.
To prevent that, Pante said job seekers should rehearse answers. They need to highlight their strengths and deliver good anecdotes that emphasis their leadership, initiative, organization, good communication skills and teamwork.
“Think about the story about the time you led this incredible event; or that time you took initiative and created a new program in your office,” she said. “If you’re not comfortable talking about yourself, you need to practice.”
New grads should always come into an interview with at least one question to ask their potential employer.
“My go-to question is, ‘What do you like about working at this company?’ Also on the flip side, ‘What would be one thing you’d change in your day-to-day activities?’” Pante said.
She explained if the interviewer said, “‘’I’d like to change everyone I work with,’” that would be a red flag the work environment there might not be a good one.”
Pante said she recommends new grads also ask questions regarding their professional development, such as “What is the company’s commitment to developing me as a person – whether that be going to conferences, additional training or having a mentor?”
DSU internship coordinator Smith said there are some questions you want to avoid asking at an interview.
“Never have a wise question like, ‘When do I start?’ or ‘How much will I make?’” he said. “You’ll come off as arrogant.”
Pante said to stay away from asking questions about benefits or how much vacation time you’d receive.
6. Strategies that work
Ramon Sosa, 25, graduated from DSU in 2017 with a bachelor’s in kinesiology.
He was hired about three months after graduation as the DSU graduate assistant of Aquatics & Training in the Department of Wellness & Recreation.
Sosa said he relied on making sure he researched the people who were going to interview him.
Something as simple as learning his interviewer has children is something that a job seeker in his field could use to their advantage, Sosa said.
“If you can say, ‘You have kids? Well, I taught swimming lessons to kids from this age to that age.’ I love seeing a smile on their face,’” Sosa said.
“Let’s say you’re interviewing a female boss, now her mom instinct is going to kick in. She’s going to say, ‘I see you’re good with kids. We have a lot of kids in our facility.’
“Now you’re starting to fit [as a stronger candidate for the job]. And that’s a big thing,” he said.
Sosa said he worked for DSU’s wellness center as an upperclassman. After graduation he left to work a job for a few weeks in his hometown of Baltimore.
Then DSU contacted him for an interview.
Though Sosa was familiar with the DSU staff, he still did additional research on his interviewer because he wanted to get an edge on the competition, he said.
7. It only takes one ‘yes’
Some new grads might find employment in just a few weeks, while others might go several months (or longer) without landing their first job.
Smith, from DSU’s Class of 2015, said it’s common to receive lots of rejection when submitting résumés. In fact, Smith said, he applied for over 200 jobs before he landed one.
Before getting his first professional job, Smith was working 9-to-5 selling cell phones. And when he wasn’t working, he was persistently applying.
“After a while it discourages you. Why apply if they’re only going to tell you no?” Smith said. “But you should keep applying. My mentor told me it only takes one yes.”
Sosa said he also applied for over 200 jobs before getting his at the wellness center.
UD staffer Pante said one of the worst things for job seekers to do is sit behind a computer, submit a résumé and then casually wait for a response.
Instead, she said new grads should apply for a couple dozen jobs, while trying their best to get in front of a potential employer.
“For me, I’d send out 30 résumés. Then let’s take 10 of those companies and find out if we have any alumni working there,” Pante said. “Find out if you can get a contact person. See who you can connect to on LinkedIn.
“See if there’s any upcoming events where you can find [and meet] someone who works for that company.”
During the interim, grads can take a certification course online to bolster their skills. They can teach themselves new skills to beef up their résumé.
“I had a student the other day who was going to apply for a job. But she didn’t know Java very well,” Pante said. “So she said, ‘I’m not going to apply for that job.’
Pante said not knowing a skill isn’t always a good reason for not applying for a job.
“I told her, ‘No, no, no. There are YouTube channels you can hop on where you can learn Java. You can get a program, a tutor or teach yourself essentially any skill these days,’” she said.
Actively learning new skills, tutoring or volunteering will help to keep new grads attractive to potential employers, especially if a few months have passed since graduation.
“Employers are going to say, ‘what have you been doing between now and then, besides sitting on the couch watching ‘Game of Thrones?’” Pante said.
And ... follow your heart
Some students study in a certain field because their parents tell them they’ll land a secure job. Yet the student isn’t passionate about working in that field in the first place.
Photographer Jakeem Smith didn’t want to work a traditional job. So he bucked the trend; and he won.
At 19 years old, Smith was drawn to the entertainment biz. Yet he didn’t know exactly what area in the industry where he wanted to work.
On a whim, Smith used his heart as a compass and relocated from Dover to Georgia, against the wishes of his loved ones.
“My mom was against it at the time,” the Dover native said.
Nine years later, Smith is now in the second year as the owner of Jay Productions Agency in Atlanta.
The Atlanta-based company is a strategic public relations and marketing agency specializing in servicing celebrity clients.
Smith’s clientele has included R&B star Faith Evans and rising actor/rapper Cortez Woods (Kore Stacks).
Smith, who dropped out of college, said it was a grind to build up his agency. Early on, he worked as a celebrity photographer for Sister 2 Sister magazine, networking and photographing red carpet events, while maintaining a day job at Walmart.
Eventually, Smith connected with “Football Wives” star Chanita Foster, wife of retired NFL player George Foster, at a fashion show. One thing led to another and he became her personal assistant.
Smith said his duties included taking Chanita’s kids to school and picking them up; and making sure checks were deposited into her bank account.
“The main thing is I had drive to New Orleans so her kids could see their father play football,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smith was also intent on being the assistant for R&B star Nicci Gilbert of the ‘90s trio Brownstone. He’d see her at events, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day, he said.
Yet Smith kept working diligently for Foster. Then he received a breakthrough.
“After working with Shenita for a year, Nicci said, ‘I like your work; and I can trust you,” Smith explained. “She sent me a long email saying, ‘I’d like to work with you.’”
As Gilbert’s assistant, Smith did location scouting for her reality show, “R&B Divas: Atlanta,” which aired from 2012 to 2014.
Beyond his background as a photographer, Smith said he didn’t have many skills when he moved to Georgia. Yet he’s made himself versatile by being adaptable and having a never-say-die attitude.
To date, Smith has worked with a barrage of celebs and now maintains a small staff at his agency.
Smith said he wants to inspire new grads interested in working in entertainment to make their dreams a reality, too.
In order to do so, Smith said, it’s important for them to understand that it’s okay to start from small beginnings, while having a humble attitude.
“With anything you do in this career, you have to pay your dues and you have to be teachable. You have to be willing to listen,” Smith said. “Use your knowledge you learned in school and use common sense.”
Smith said it’s also key to imagine yourself being more than what you are at the present moment.
“One of my mistakes was I put myself in a box. I was a photographer, so I put myself in that photography box. I was an assistant, so I put myself in an assistant’s box,” Smith said. “Now I’m an agency owner and I can do anything you want me to do.Trusting in yourself is necessary."
“Always believe in yourself and never get discouraged,” Smith said. “Sometimes you think you might not be good enough. But the resources you need will eventually align with the universe.”