The job search may seem simple, but as soon as you dip your toe in the water, you realize it has many more layers. In 2018, a couple of days before my graduation ceremony, I said, “Okay, let’s start the job search,” but as soon as I sat down in front of my computer with a cup of tea in hand, I realized I didn’t even know where to start.
Yes, we have access to a plethora of resources, but which resources do we use and when do we use them? My best advice for before you start a job search is to be flexible and open-minded. At the same time, don’t forget to explore. See a job or opportunity that interests you, but doesn’t completely align with what you studied? Give it a shot. There isn’t always a straight line to your success or career. Just because you are not in school anymore doesn’t mean you stop learning.
Also, please make a schedule for yourself. If you don’t carve out time for the job search, it can drag on forever. Be effective and efficient. Limit the distractions and binge-watching, as tempting as they may be.
Before I dive into the details, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I graduated from American University in 2018 with a BA in International Studies, which included my primary focus in international development and my secondary focus in environmental sustainability/global health. All of those focus areas are quite general. I had several soft skills, but not too many hard skills.
My plan before graduation was to land two part-time, paid internships in organizations I was interested in. Instead, in early May, after watching a documentary on Netflix about a nonprofit school, I immediately jumped onto their website and searched for job openings. After a few weeks, I accepted a yearlong administrative manager position in rural South India at the school. After that contract ended, I began the dreaded job search again. This time, with the Democratic primary on everyone’s minds, I looked into job openings for the candidate whose values matched my own, and a few weeks later, I accepted a field organizer position within a campaign in rural New Hampshire.
Now let’s break down the job search.
What does the job search consist of?
In the simplest of terms, it is looking for, applying to, and locking down a job.
The specifics of the search may vary depending on your specific path. With my degree, I had more options and paths compared to someone in a more technical field.
What are you looking for?
(I’ve included a few helpful links for the job search at the end of the post).
- The field/area of interest
- Types of organizations you’re interested in
- Types of entry-level positions that exist in that field
- [Figuring out] the skills and competencies required for such positions (in some instances, you may need to brush up on those skills before you apply)
What do you need before submitting the job application?
Please edit your resume before submission to reflect the job/position requirements, which may mean taking out or including certain past relevant volunteer/internship/work experience. Also, change the action verbs to reflect the description.
Have career counselors at your university take a look at your resume. It can be intimidating at first, but they can tell you how to really shape your resume, especially to fit job requirements in your field.
Career counselors can also provide tangible, game-changing feedback to spice up your cover letter. I had to make major changes to mine when I did this, but it did result in more job interviews afterwards.
While a few job descriptions may be similar-sounding, allowing you to submit an application with a virtually unchanged cover letter, others may not. Always make sure that your cover letter reflects the requirements of the job posting!
Additional submitted resources
This will be different depending on your field, but here are a few that are required: a writing sample; a writing exercise or test after initial resume submission; and ask 2-3 academic staff or professionals to be your reference.
Note: Always, always, always double-check – did you send the materials in the right format to the right person at the right time?
What comes with locking down the job?
There are dozens of resources online to prepare for an interview, including common interview questions. Look around and prepare your answers beforehand, but it should sound natural.
Practice your answers in the mirror and in front of your friends and family.
Prepare for the initial – “tell me about yourself” question. How do your past experiences connect to this job? What are your motivations behind applying for this job?
Know the job description by heart.
Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses as well as your career aspirations. How does this position align with your future goals and aspirations?
If it goes well, they’ll ask for your references – so inform your references that you’ve made it past the first interview and send them your resume and the job description.
Second interview: Sometimes with another person or a group.
Be honest about your timeline. Know your worth – they need you just as much as you need them, and if it doesn’t work out – it’s not just you. Sure, there could be things you could improve on; this is all a learning process. The right position and opportunity will come around.
Helpful Websites for Job Postings
- Idealist.com – nonprofit organizations
- Globaljobs.com – international relations/development
Most of the jobs that I’ve gotten have been after I learned about or was excited about a particular organization/field and looked on their websites for job postings. It’ll be easier to show how passionate or excited you are for the position in a cover letter or interview if you’re actually excited to learn more about a job/organization!
Helpful Resume Links
Consider searching for articles specifically related to recent graduates:
- Avoid the Top 10 Resume Mistakes (Monster)
- Top Resume Writing Tips (The Balance Careers)
- How to Write a Resume When You’re Just Out of College (Forbes)
Helpful Cover Letter Links
Read different examples and articles before beginning to edit or write your cover letter from scratch.
- How to Write a Cover Letter: 31 Tips You Need to Know (The Muse)
- How to Write a Cover Letter (Harvard Business Review)
- Write an Entry-Level Cover Letter (Glassdoor)
- Cover Letter Tips (Time)
ABPA’s blog also has useful articles you can read to be more informed about careers, internships, industry best practices, cultural and educational experiences, and professional development from local, national, and international perspectives.
Aishwarya Sadh received her BA in International Relations from American University in 2018. Post-graduation, she worked as an administrative manager at a nonprofit Indian school as well as a field organizer for a political campaign in New Hampshire. She is currently studying how personal development and spirituality intersect with environmental issues.