first job, finding your first job
JOB HUNT / 22 March 2017
Why You'll Need More Than a Diploma to Land Your First Job
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Michael Barry
Editor-In-Chief at
Boston, MA

Competition is good. 

Three words that have helped shape America. The same combination of words makes getting a job offer as difficult in 2017 for recent grads as it has ever been.  The job market is competitive for all ages, in all disciplines. As a result, more qualified employees are interviewing for entry-level jobs. What does that mean for entry-level applicants coming straight from Frisbee on the quad?  It’s pretty simple. If you walk into an interview with just your newly printed diploma and a smile you’ll likely walk out with them as well.

For new grads the task at hand has become having more to offer than just a diploma – the same diploma 1.8 million twenty-somethings will walk away with this year. The planning stages for how to market yourself during college for the job market after college should happen in advance, but if it hasn’t happened yet, now is as good a time as ever to start making and following a plan. 

Your first action plan: 

Get Real World Experience

One of the most overlooked opportunities for college students is the internship. In addition to letting you test-drive a career and get your foot in the door of a company, internships provide real world experience. During interviews, you’ll be poked and prodded with questions to determine how you might fit in with an organization. The ability to show with tangible examples that you already have fit in with an organization outside the classroom will help tremendously.

So start now. Search out internships offered in partnership with your school, find organizations that have internship programs, and even look at relevant work-study jobs. Job shadowing is even a start. Don’t be afraid to not get paid for your work. You’re building something much more important than a minimum wage salary. You’re constructing a real world resume and skills.

Sell Yourself Beyond Your Resume

Get your personal anecdotes ready. Resumes are created to get you through the interview door. Oftentimes, that’s about all they’re good for. In some interviews, you’ll be asked questions based on your resume, but in general, the interview will follow a setup that is standard to the company you’ve applied to. 

The most powerful aspect of the interview is the opportunity it affords you to sell yourself. This is where top candidates shine and many of the unprepared falter. Questions about tough bosses, difficult situations, and your biggest flaws and accomplishments will be asked. They’re generally cut from the same interview question cloth and get similar answers from less skilled interviewees. 

Your job is to prepare and practice short personal anecdotes from your coursework, internships, and work experience. These stories will tell the tale of the employee you want to be viewed as. Too many entry-level interviews include the inexperienced telling the experienced about all of their abilities. The good candidate won’t tell anyone what they're good at. They'll show it with applicable skills presented in tactile, real world experience. 

This part of the interview will leave hiring managers with the impression that you can slide into the position and the company with relative ease and help accomplish things immediately. It depicts a capable young person who can pick up information and use it correctly. It makes you the capable millennial candidate rather than the participation trophy one so many Gen-Xers complain about.

Do Your Research

Part of being capable is in doing the appropriate legwork. As a result, the best candidates are often prepared candidates. Preparation during the interview leads employers to believe similar work will be done in the job itself. Likewise, if you’re unprepared during an interview, a time when you should be most prepared, you’ll likely bring that same attitude to the job.

Set yourself apart from other applicants by having a working knowledge of the sector you’re applying to and the company itself. Know recent trends and have valid questions about the future. When an interviewer asks if you have any questions for him you’ll wow him with one or two relevant ones based on your research. The conversation that ensues after you ask a pertinent, topical question will have him under the impression that he’s talking to a seasoned pro, rather than an entry-level graduate. This process of setting yourself apart from your peers is far too important to overlook.

Be The Passionate Candidate

Another way to set yourself apart is in how you view the work you’ll be doing. Resumes are by nature unexciting. Human resources and hiring managers see so many over the course of a job opening that they all start to look the same. When you do get called in to interview, don’t think they’ll be drooling over your resume. Some will not have seen it at all, others for only a few seconds. When you’re asked a question about your internship or why you want to work for their company, be ready to answer, but make that answer come from a passionate candidate. 

Being a good candidate is just that, good. The impassioned candidate has worked his whole life to get into this world. He’s studied hard and worked internships and sacrificed to get where he is. He chose to apply to this company because of what they stand for and how he can make a difference working for them. Employees who care about their work are less likely to be lackluster, to take shortcuts and to leave for greener pastures. If you do it right, hiring managers will already start to picture you on their teams during the interview. And that’s exactly where you hope to be.

Bonus Points for Practice

Interview skills, like any other skillset, are developed through practice. Most first interviews don’t go well. Applicants are nervous, talk too much, fumble over their words, and act uninspired, unprepared, or entitled. The best way to have an important interview not be the last is to get experience beforehand. Informational interviews can help in that department.

Seek out staff in the field you’ll be entering and contact them, asking for the chance to set up an informational interview. You’ll dress up and head into their offices as you would on an interview. You’ll speak with them about their fields and how they got started. They’ll ask you questions about yourself and you’ll try out your anecdotes and show your passion. There won’t be a job on the line and you won’t have that added pressure, but you’ll gain the necessary experience and start the process of networking.

A Little Luck Helps Too

This advice might seem as though it focuses on the interview process, and to some degree it does. But the beauty of interviews is that there are only so many avenues for them to take. Proper preparation will have you ready for all aspects of the process. The important part between now and then is to follow a plan, and practice again and again. And hope for just a little luck when decision makers make important decisions regarding you.

Michael Barry is the Editor-In-Chief at Currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, he received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. Check him out at

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