How Do I Pick My First Job Out of College?

How Do I Pick My First Job Out of College?

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As a fresh college graduate, you’re probably nervous about getting your first job. I understand– I was in the same position once. Now that I’m older and more experienced, I have a better idea of the do’s and don’ts of getting the first job, which I’ll share with you below.

To pick your first job out of college, remember these tips:

  • Make a five-year career plan.
  • Nurture your professional network.
  • Take advantage of your school’s career resources.
  • Ask the right questions during interviews.
  • Keep your other interests in mind.
  • Don’t stop learning.

Want to learn more about the above tips? Read on to find out.

Does Your First Job Out of College Matter?

If the statistics are any indication, then yes, your first job out of college can impact your career for the next five years. That can either be good news or bad news, depending on how much you like your career. The good news is it’s entirely possible to change jobs as long as you’re strategic about it.

Your first job out of college matters. According to statistics from CNBC, college graduates whose first jobs didn’t require a degree are five times more likely to stay in the same position for the next five years than those who obtained jobs related to their degrees. 

If you want to stay in your first job as long as possible, the first step is to choose your first job carefully. If you already have a job, don’t worry. The steps below also apply when you want to hop into a different (and hopefully better) working environment.

Make a Five-Year Career Plan

A five-year career plan can seem like a pointless waste of time. After all, anything can happen within that period. What you want from your career now might differ from what you’ll want three years down the line.

That said, a five-year career plan has its merits. These are:

  • It increases your chances of getting a job. Many recruiters ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” If you can provide a concrete answer to that question, you’ll have an advantage over fellow applicants who are less sure about what they want out of their job. 
  • It saves you job hunting time. Instead of sending your resume to every company with a vacancy, you apply only to the ones where you’re most likely to land a job, thrive within the organization, and achieve your career goals.
  • It keeps you focused. Whenever you’re unsure if you’re on the right track, you can refer to your five-year career plan and decide what you’ll do from there.
  • It shows you how far you’ve come. It feels great when you check off all the milestones you’ve set for yourself in your five-year career plan.

To draft your five-year career plan, you can download this template from Grand Valley State University’s website. You can also follow the tips below:

  • Set SMART goals. The goals in your career plan must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. Take stock of where you are now (Point A), where you want to be (Point B), and what you must do to get from Point A to Point B. 
  • Break your plan into manageable parts. If you want to achieve many things for yourself, a mile-long To-Do list can become overwhelming. Instead, divide them into something you want to do within the next three months, six months, etc.
  • Make room for unforeseen events. As the old saying goes, even the best-laid plans can go awry. It’s okay to set as many SMART goals as you can fit into your five-year career plan. However, take care to leave wiggle room for significant life changes.

There’s no one-size-fits-all format for a five-year plan. You can make a table like what Grand Valley State University provided or write it out like a multi-page journal entry. You can even make a detailed flowchart if that’s what gets you motivated. It’s entirely up to you. The important thing is that it makes sense to you and serves its purpose. 

Take Advantage of Your School’s Career Resources

Any college or university worth its salt should equip its students with the practical tools (as well as the theoretical know-how) needed to survive the working world. Otherwise, what’s the point of paying thousands of dollars of tuition fees?

Check whether your college or university has a career services office. A career services office can provide things such as:

  • Career counseling. If you’re still not sure what professional path to take at this point, you can get help from a career counselor. A career counselor can advise you of your professional options, given your personality, interests, and degree.
  • Internships and cooperative education. Through internships and collaborative education programs, you can get hands-on experience working in your field while applying what you’ve learned in the classroom.
  • Alumni. A career services office can put you in touch with alumni, who can give you advice, insights, and firsthand accounts about your field.
  • Application critique services. You can get advice on the dos and don’ts of writing a resume, drafting a cover letter, and preparing for an interview through your school’s career services office.
  • On-campus recruitment programs. Watch out for on-campus job fairs, where you can contact employers directly and impress them with your resume.   

No matter what services your school’s career office provides, they’re worth checking out. If you do that, you can improve your chances of landing a decent first job.

Nurture Your Professional Network

Did you know 70 to 80 percent of jobs get filled through networking? Whether you believe in the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” the numbers don’t lie. Connections matter when getting jobs. You can also learn more about your field through your friends. 

If you don’t already have a professional network, here’s what you can do:

  • Focus on genuine connections. It’s okay to connect with someone primarily for professional purposes, but that shouldn’t be your only purpose. Although you don’t have to befriend everyone in your network, it helps to establish connections that go beyond “Hey, you work for this company, right? Can you help me get my foot in the door?”
  • Increase your value as a professional. Like most relationships, professional relationships are two-way streets. If you want to connect with someone in your industry, you should offer them something in return. You may have exceptional leadership skills, or you may have a project with the potential to become The Next Big Thing. 
  • Look for mentors. Most experts love to share their knowledge with anyone who wants to listen. If there’s an expert whose opinion you genuinely value, you can reach out to them and pick their brain about subjects related to your industry. For instance, you can ask them what to look for when getting your first job as a (insert your field here). 
  • Use professional networking sites. LinkedIn is arguably the most popular professional networking site with 660 million users to date. Still, it won’t hurt to check out similar websites to widen your net. 

If networking feels “icky” to you, think of it this way: effective networking teaches you to establish healthy working relationships with others. If you’re unable to do that, you’re unlikely to last long in places (read: almost all companies) where you have to work with at least one other person to get anything done. 

Keep Your Other Interests in Mind

Earlier, I mentioned statistics that underscored the importance of choosing your first job carefully. That said, you should also prepare for the possibility of following a different career path in the future. 

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, over 50 percent of Americans wanted to change their jobs for one reason or other. Even without a pandemic, you may still experience life events that’ll make you reconsider your current career choice (e.g., death of a loved one, injury, illness, etc.).

That’s why it’s important to have interests not related to your current line of work. No matter how much you love your job, there’ll be days when you’ll dislike it. When you have too many days where you hate what you’re doing, you have to decide whether to continue or move to a different track. 

Don’t Stop Learning

If you’re at your first job or still looking for your first job, you probably have your whole life ahead of you. You can still expand your skill set through online learning platforms or gain work experience through volunteer work, temp jobs, freelancing, and the like. Do these things, and you’ll have a better idea of what you want and expect from your first job.  

Ask the Right Questions During Interviews

An interview doesn’t only help recruiters know you better. If you’re lucky enough to land one, consider it an opportunity to learn more about the company too. 

When you’re interviewing with a company, ask questions like:

  • What’s it like to work here? A company’s overall culture will make or break your ability to flourish in your job. No matter how skilled or experienced you are, you’ll struggle as an employee if your personality clashes with everyone else’s. 
  • What is a typical career path for someone in my position? What are the advancement opportunities available, assuming you do well in your job? 
  • What training programs will I undergo for this position? A good company invests in the professional development of its employees. Find out if you’ll train only for the job you’re applying for or if the company offers cross-departmental training for employees who want to try out different hats.
  • What kind of person will succeed in this role? What personal qualities do you need to grow beyond the stated job qualifications, duties, and responsibilities? 

Like a networking relationship, an interview is a two-way street. The company wants to see whether you’re worth paying for, and you want to see whether the company is worth working with for at least a year. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.


College students are usually not able to land their dream job right after college. However, through hard work, planning, and experience, it is possible to progress toward your dream career. Do not forget that it takes time to realize a college grads career.