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Finding Your First Job Out of School Is Hard — Here’s How 10 People Found Theirs

Topics: Career Advice
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AnnaMarie Houlis via Fairygodboss

Finding a first job out of school might feel like an impossible feat. After all, you need experience to get experience — it’s a Catch 22.

So how do you do it?

Despite how difficult it can be to land your first job, it’ll happen with time and effort. Besides, everyone has to start somewhere. Here’s how other women have successfully gotten their first gigs out of school.

1. She kept in touch with former colleagues.

“My first job after college graduation was in a paralegal position for an attorney in my hometown,” says Kimberly Back, Virtual Vocations content division manager. “I had previously worked in a similar role for the law office during a summer home from college — and maintaining a positive relationship with that former employer is what landed me this job right out of school. I had earned a bachelor’s degree but was unsure about the career path I wanted to take within my field; however, I did know I would need a job after graduation to support myself while I mulled over long-term career goals.

“I contacted my former employer about a return to the law office, and with a higher hourly rate thanks to my degree. I landed the job thanks not only to the gumption of placing a cold prospecting call, but also the benefits of networking. Whether you send an annual holiday card or periodically reach out on social media, keeping in touch with former employers is an easy way to bolster your credibility, professionalism and job prospecting pool.”

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2. She kept an open mind.

“I completed my bachelor’s degree in journalism in May and then completed an internship over the summer; I knew my internship was ending this past August, so I had started applying to jobs as early as the beginning of July,” says Kerianne Vianden, a website content writer at Hotels4Teams, which is her first full-time job after college. “I was set on working in the media industry in New York City, which is obviously extremely competitive. I had high hopes at first and did not get discouraged when my interviews didn’t make it past the first round.”

August passed, then September and then most of October, and her spirits were really getting low. She still had plenty of preliminary interviews, which usually led to her being “ghosted,” she says.

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“I didn’t know what I was doing wrong; I even started paying for LinkedIn Premium,” she says. “I also had plenty of prior experience; I was a staff writer for my school’s newspaper, an editorial intern for a finance blog and a digital marketing intern over the summer. I probably applied to 400 jobs, ranging in areas from marketing to social media to editorial.”

She continues, “I finally decided that maybe I should start smaller and look for jobs in New Jersey, which was hard for me to do because I was so set on the Big Apple. Feeling defeated, I went to a job interview for in New Jersey, which, at the time, I wasn’t ecstatic about. I didn’t know much about the role, but it turned out I would be writing travel guides for places around the world! And it just so happens that my two favorite things are traveling and writing. I was offered the job on the spot and started a week later. In a span of 24 hours, I went from feeling lost to thinking I may have landed my ideal job.”

Two months into working at Hotels4Teams, and she says she feels so thankful her path led her there.

“I adore my coworkers and genuinely look forward to coming to work and getting to do what I love every day,” she says. “There are two things you need to land a job: patience and resilience. After being rejected at least 30 times, I was disappointed but I never gave up. I always knew that, if I waited for my time, I would get what I deserved. I would’ve taken any job offered to me, but luckily the first one given to me is better than what I could have imagined. One day I think I’ll make it to the bright lights of New York City but, for now, I’m content with living with my family for a bit in my hometown. It’s not as bad as it seems!”

3. She interned during school.

“After graduating from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, I landed my first reporter job in a small town in upstate, New York,” says Liz Jeneault, the vice president of marketing for product review website Faveable.

“I actually landed that gig by sending the station’s news director and assistant news director my video highlight reel from college and by also mentioning how I had already interned with their company before. I had interned at NY1 while studying at NYU, so I made sure to make note of that on my application.

“I did have to go through a couple of rounds of interviews before I was hired by what was then called Your News Now. But I do think that having interned with another station within the same company helped get me hired. The news director and assistant news director seemed pretty excited about my application from the start. I began working my first reporter job in September of 2013, after having graduated in May.”

4. She asked at the end of an internship.

“I interned every semester throughout college in order to gain a glimpse into different areas of the fashion industry,” says Florence Shin, co-founder of Covry. “My last senior internship was at a boutique PR firm. I treated it like a real job, volunteered for projects and educated myself on the clients we worked with. Near the end of my internship, I asked if they were hiring, and I got my first job out of college!”

5. She networked.

“I used a variety of strategies to find my first job out of school,” says Carly Fauth, director of marketing and outreach at Money Crashers.

“I investigated the career center at my university before I graduated to look for potential opportunities. Then, I began an extensive networking strategy, which included both online and offline endeavors. For one, I started a LinkedIn profile, and I also looked for jobs through other social media sites. I even used the website Meetup to look for meetings of professionals in the industry I wanted to join to look for in-person networking opportunities. And I tried to network in everything I did, whether it was casually mentioning things in emails to friends or even standing in line at the bank if I saw a potential opportunity.

“From there, I developed a list of companies that I really wanted to work for, and I targeted them, either through applying online or seeing if any alumni from my college currently worked there. Then, I reached out to them as appropriate. And a general job search effort was also launched using typical job boards, such as Indeed. Eventually, I did land my first position in advertising, which came about through the success of a variety of the strategies I implemented.”

6. She showed up for opportunities.

“The summer before I graduated from college, I had been an intern at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” says Hilary Young. “Shortly after I graduated that following May, I was contacted by my old intern supervisor who wanted me to come interview for The Colbert Report, which was just starting up. I wasn’t sure which position they wanted me to interview for, but when I showed up, I was told I would be interviewing with Colbert himself — to be his assistant! I was hired the next day, and spent 2.5 years working as Stephen Colbert’s assistant on the show. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life!”

7. She contacted a hiring manager.

“I landed my first role by cold contacting a hiring authority and impressing her with my story, my studies and my tenacity,” says Lisa Dorenfest. “My first job search started in the middle of a deep recession. Jobs were scarce. I had a sociology degree but no idea what I wanted to do with it. I considered going straight into a masters program, but wanted to earn some money and gain experience outside of academia before doing so.”

She continues, “As one who was taught to view ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities,’ I began my job search with more study, using Richard Bolles’ book What Color is Your Parachute as my text for a course on career development. I learned about résumés, identifying job vacancies, networking and interviewing techniques. But, mostly, I learned about myself and what industries and roles might be suitable for someone with my interests in world cultures, organizational dynamics and communications, etc.”

She then networked with a few family friends who helped her shape possible career ideas, but did not personally know anyone working in hotel sales, the field where she’d finally find employment.

“I created a list of the sales heads in every hotel in Chicago,” she says. “I sent a note to each requesting informational interviews and followed up with a phone call a week later. Some wouldn’t take my calls, a few made introductions to more junior members as a starting place to network and one gave me that informational interview… and, eventually, a job. I used the same technique to land subsequent roles in a different industry.”

8. She worked hard.

“In college, I provided workshops to high school students on the weekend in the month of February for a college preparation program,” says Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, of Soulstice Consultancy. “I had no idea that the adults in the room were watching. My mentor on campus was instrumental in making that introduction to the program staff (having mentors is critical as well). I was offered a job as an assistant director with that program right after I graduated from college because of that experience. Volunteering and mentors make a difference.”

9. She wrote a letter.

“I graduated college with a Master’s Degree in broadcast communications and a personal passion for soap operas,” says Alina Adams. “E! Entertainment had a weekly talk show about soaps called, Pure Soap. Watching it, I saw where they could use someone like me on staff. I wrote them a letter, detailing exactly everything I could do for them. They brought me in for a week-long try-out, and then they hired me full time. This was in 1994, and I’ve been working in either writing or television production ever since.”

10. She communicated with a friend.

“My job search out of school was nearly pre-internet days,” says Lisa Street Rogers of Fast Lane Digital. “Then, there weren’t a lot of options or, at least, it didn’t feel like there were. As it turns out, my first job I got through a friend. I’d just moved to Seattle with a friend of mine, and the people we stayed with were friends of hers. But there was one person I connected with and she happened to work at a company that was still in its infancy. She was the manager of accounting and needed someone to handle accounts payable. She took a chance on me and it paid off. Though I’m not an accountant or really much of a math person, I got a crash course in early accounting software, and I learned I could do more than I thought I could. That knowledge gave me the courage to try other things and eventually led me to focus on my passion.”

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A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.

Tell Us What You Think

How did you find your first job out of school? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.


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