Whether you’ve graduated from college with a top-paying major or you’ve been out of school for a couple of years, adjusting to the real world — AKA #adulting — can be tough, if not terrifying. That’s why we’re hooking you up with a checklist of things you should be doing as you attempt to get situated in the workforce:
1. Polish Your Application Materials
Prep your resumes and cover letters (yes, plural. You'll need to tailor per job you apply to.)
Before you begin applying for jobs, you’ll want to make sure you have a few things in order. You’ll need a killer resume (not sure of how to write a resume? That’s OK! Browse these resume templates for guidance). Filled yours with the best resume keywords and resume skills.
Decide whether you need a resume objective — having one may or may not make sense for you.
You also need to read up on how to write a cover letter and how to address a cover letter — and make sure you take note of these cover letter tips before sending one out. If you’re new to the game, browse these cover letter examples for inspiration.
2. Get Interview Ready
If you do hear back from a hiring manager, headhunter or recruiter who wants to schedule a phone interview or in-person meeting, be sure to prep for the 31 most common interview questions. Set up a session of mock interviews before eating dinner or grabbing drinks with friends. Many of you will be in the same boat, so it's worth making a little time to help each other be prepared before sitting in the interview room. Even though practicing with friends isn't the same as speaking with strangers about a job, just having someone ask you the question out loud can help if the only practice you've had is in your head. Whether you’re asked, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Why should we hire you?” or your interviewer simply begins the discussion with “tell me about yourself,” you don’t want to be caught off guard.
You should also prep questions to ask your interviewer — he or she will no doubt ask, “do you have any questions for me?” as your conversation concludes. This is where you can really get to know the company, so don't underestimate the importance of good questions! Any chance you have to get the interviewer talking rather than keeping the spotlight on yourself is an opportunity for you to learn more about the position as well as increase your chances of getting the job (news flash: most people enjoy talking about themselves. The more opportunities you give your interviewer, the better!).
3. Nail the Follow Up
Whether you feel like you bombed or aced your interview, you have. to. follow. up. Sending a thank you email after an interview is non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be long, but you have to do it. You can also send an analog note. Sending a handwritten thank you is an extra step that many don't bother with nowadays but only costs the price of a stamp and card, and shows that you put a little more effort in than the typical candidate.
Any recent grad should also know how to ask for a reference — chances are you’ll need one, or you’ll need to request a reference letter or recommendation letter, at some point for a job, apartment application (especially in places like New York City) or even if you’re applying to grad school. Before waiting until you need one ASAP, ask your potential references right after graduation or soon thereafter. That way, when the time comes, you already have someone (or multiple someones) on deck when you need them.
4. Be Prepared to Talk Money
Be ready to discuss your compensation, too. A hiring manager may or may not ask what your salary expectations are, but it’s better to be prepared than flustered. Arm yourself with research by using these salary calculators that allow you to input some information to determine what kind of compensation you might request or expect from an employer.
You can also talk to people in the industry you're interested in. Most people are more than willing to help a new grad and give some advice. If you have an offer in hand, or know that one is probably on its way, you could always give a salary range (based on your research or what the job posting listed) and run that by someone in a similar role to see if it's in the normal range. In the off-chance it's not even close, you may have a bargaining chip or know that it's not an employer you'd want to work for.
Negotiating a higher starting pay is your best bet rather than assuming (or hoping) you'll get a raise. Of course, it's nerve-wracking (especially as your first job post-college), but if you've been through multiple rounds and the offer isn't quite at market-rate, it's always worth speaking up before you say yes to the job. Think of it this way, if someone starts at the same company a week later but at a higher rate (simply because she asked for it), how resentful would you feel if you hadn't tried yourself?
5. Inspiration and Motivation
If words aren’t enough, browse this list of 18 movies to watch for career inspiration (in case your Netflix queue isn’t already long enough). The films might help you decide on a career path or motivate you as begin your job search.
Still feeling totally lost? That’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up, but do take action.