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youngandthrifty.ca explains what you need to do to get a career after graduation from college or university. How to get a job after graduation, how to get a job after university, how to get a job!

This is a post by Teacher Man from My University Money.  My awesome staff writer who has graduated from college more recently than me.  Enjoy!

Finding a career after graduation

If you were lucky (or smart enough) to choose a career path that was in demand while you were going through post-secondary education, then congratulations, you’re transition into the working world will be made a whole lot easier.  For those of us who chose to become “well-rounded” students and take courses of study that had a less-defined labour market (ie: we’re not really directly qualified for anything) the journey can be a little more interesting.  In my specific case I was in the position of being qualified for a very specific job (high school humanities teacher) that is not even remotely in demand.

Those Who Can’t Dig… Teach

Here is a great case study for post-post-secondary schooling.  I graduated with a B.A. and a Bachelor of Education (after 150 very long credit hours).  Several of my friends graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a major in Geological Sciences (B.Sc, G.Sc) (120 credit hours) and so I was privy to their after school plans.  I spent my whole last year in a fairly constant state of worry as more and more information and vague gossip about the job market poured into our tower of academia.  To put it mildly, the outlook was not good, specifically for someone like myself who is not bilingual, and has shied away from the sciences.  I studiously prepared for the shark tank of job market I was about to be released into (more on that later) and generally took nothing for granted.  My buddies on the other hand spent their whole last semester being wined and dined by big wigs from various mining companies.  Apparently this whole taking stuff out of the ground thing is pretty lucrative!  For them, finding a career or job after university was about choosing the path they wanted to start down within their industry.  Their options allowed them to pick the company that best fit their preferences.  It did not matter what school they attended or if they did online degree schools and colleges with less prestige.  As you might imagine, this was definitely different from my experience.

Wait, I Can’t Drop This and Take It Again Next Year?

The transition from being a student, to being a prospective employee was a humbling and scary for me.  I had interviewed for several summer jobs over the years, but my core identity revolved around me being a student and the subsequent structure that was a part of that life.  I knew that every fall school would commence, every spring it would let out, and in between, the exam and test dates were usually pretty similar year-in and year-out.  I figured out how to “play the game” that is post-secondary schooling, and once you have a pretty good grasp of how to achieve success in that arena, it is a pretty straight forward “rinse-and-repeat” process.  While the light at the end of the tunnel looks great when you’re striving to get there, when you’re suddenly thrown into it, everyone reacts differently.  For me, the loss of immediate control was very disorienting.  No longer was my success in my hands.  In school, I knew that if I followed a certain criteria set I would be rewarded.  This whole notion of trying to appeal to people (school principals and superintendents) that I had no connection to was not a good feeling for me.

That Shiny Diploma/Degree On Your Wall Isn’t That Unique

I soon learned that luck and “connections” play a far greater part in the job search game than anyone lets on.  I used to think that the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” was ridiculous.  I mean, everyone would go through the process of hiring the most qualified candidate for the job right?  WRONG!  What I found in my fairly extensive foray into the jobs market was that having a personal connection in as many places as possible is absolutely essential.  It is actually quite scary how little your actual merits have to do with getting a job.  This is true to an absolutely extreme degree in the teaching profession, but I talked to plenty of people in HR positions and various administrative roles in other industries in preparation for trying to lock down a job, and they strongly confirmed these findings.  I cannot overstate how important it is to make a conscious effort to NETWORK ALL THE TIME if you believe you may be entering the job market ever again.

The Short List Is Your Target

The reason that networking is far more important than being brilliant is basically tied to the fact that we as human beings are lazy.  The administrators and HR people that are often responsible for hiring someone will take the same path of least resistance that the vast majority of people take in their jobs everyday (especially if they work for the government).  If someone close to them, or someone that they know recommends you, your resume goes straight to the top of a short list.  I am absolutely convinced that simply getting your name on as many of these short lists as possible is the key to a job quest.  This reality was slammed home repeatedly as I routinely saw less qualified candidates hired to positions where they had an Uncle, or a family friend within the organization vouch for them.  In most cases, these people were fine individuals, and would probably perform at a roughly average level once in the job, and no one will ever think about how or why they were hired ever again.  Most administrators are not looking to hire “the best” person that applies, they are looking to efficiently (re: little effort) hire someone that will not come back to haunt them, and someone that thinks like they do (so they will enjoy interacting with them).

Resume Tips Blah Blah Blah

There are umpteen different “Resume Tips” articles out there to get your resume noticed, and I definitely recommend reading every one of them, but keep in mind that there are a lot of people reading those same tips.  If I could do it over again, I would simply pay a hundred dollars and get a professional resume person from oDesk or eLance or another freelance site to do my resume for me.  A great resume is another way to get on that short list; however, if you simply send your cover letter and resume, you are now one of a hundred, or one of a thousand.  No matter how cool you are, and how cutting-edge your resume is, there is a large chance that it will be thrown out or disregarded simply because of sheer volume, or because it looks too much like the one before it.  It’s nothing personal, it’s just how the world works.  Most people making these decisions don’t really care who they hire, and due to recent efficiency cut backs, they probably have much more pressing issues to deal with.

Interview Tips Etc.

Once you’re on short lists, your life gets a little easier.  It’s motivating to go to interviews even if you don’t get the job.  You gain valuable experience every time you go sit down with someone.  Again, there are hundreds of articles on how to impress people in interviews.  These are fine, but keep in mind that everyone is reading these.  The best advice I was given was by a friend of mine who does hiring for a political party.  He has read quite a bit of material on management, hiring, etc.  His revelation was that, “People don’t hire the most impressive candidate, they hire the person that they believe will be competent, low-maintenance, will make their life easier, and who thinks like they do.”  This will likely change your mindset going into prospective interviews.  For me, I did a lot of research on the individuals who would likely be interviewing me, as well as the overall company.  This allowed me to have some insight into how to generate a seemingly “random” personal connection.  I’ve since found out that this was the key to landing my current job.

Shake Hands and Kiss Babies

The advice I give to people who are about to hit the job market is to spend most of their energy meeting and schmoozing new people.  This is cliché, but there is a reason for that.  The better known you are, the more short lists you get on, and the more “at bats” you will receive.  The more times you step up to the plate the better your chances of hitting a homerun.  I honestly believe it’s that simple.  If you’re willing to go work in places that are less desirable, you get way more plate appearances.  If you have a B.A. degree and are willing to expand your horizons and apply for a wide variety of jobs, you get to see more pitches.  Most people spend way too much time trying to bat 1.000 (for those of you that aren’t sports geeks, most all-stars hit around .300) and not enough time networking and throwing their resume out there as much as possible.  Also, don’t scoff at entry level positions.  It is far easier to rise once you’re in an industry and building those connections (as well as job experience) than it is to get a great position from “the outside.”

I guess the whole moral of the story is to go into Geology and skip the drama, or have a parent that works for Goldman Sachs.  If you can’t check these qualifications off, remember that people and personal networks are far more important than ink on a resume, the perfect shiny portfolio, or what tie you wear to the interview.

Readers, how did you get your first ‘real’ job after college or university? I would love to hear it!

Article comments


Still working on the college thing! When I started out, I was going into business. When my class entered, it was a sure fire thing. By the time they all graduated (2009,) the entire landscape had changed. You never know if what’s in demand now will be four years from now. Exhibit B: All those graphic design majors out there that were told it was the best art field and people were hiring left and right. I think they found the advice to be misleading.

young says:

@femmefrugality- Agree- sometimes jobs and career demand can be very cyclical. Engineers will always be in demand though, it seems. All my engineering friends have had no difficulty finding jobs.

Leigh says:

I worked hard throughout university and did multiple internships, working at some large companies and some small ones.. Those internships were great networking opportunities and I even got a job offer at the end of my last internship, so I didn’t interview anywhere. I definitely know there was some luck involved (timing, the field I chose), but I also worked hard to get my good grades, which helped to land the various internships.

young says:

@Leigh- Yeah, work experience (in your field) is soooo key during your college education. I was lucky and got hired on at the end of my internship as well. Are you still working with the same company at your last internship or did you move on to another one?

Leigh says:

Agreed! When I look at the resumes of college seniors, I just shake my head at the ones with no internships.

I’m still working with the same company as my last internship. It’s a pretty big company, so it’s quite easy to change groups/teams without leaving the company and I think I’ll stay here for quite a few more years.

young says:

@Leigh- Awesome! Glad to hear you’ve found a company you love working for. Some degrees don’t have internships embedded in their programs though. At the college where I went, some programs had “Co-ops” and you could apply for these programs, but sometimes it was difficult to get in to the co-op program.

Anya says:

I’ve been working since I was 16 and never had a period of unemployment, so my transition was very different. When I finished my BA in history, I went directly to grad school to study accounting and I immediately started working my first 9-5 job. The job was awful – 60 mile round trip commute, $13/hour, terrible health benefits, typical conservative cube farm, and no time off – and I never considered it a “real” job. I quit this job after my first two semesters at grad schools to pursue an internship and took on substitute teaching part time. After a few months when the internship ended, I landed my first real accounting job just by sending in my resume. A year later, I finished grad school, and 1.5 years after that, I landed my second accounting job just by placing a phone call to the Controller. Last October, I landed another job, this time, with the help of a head hunter, but I received a counter-offer from my current job and accepted it. Basically, I’ve been successful at finding employment without connections (unless you count the head hunter). Now that I have some, I feel a lot better about my situation if I ever found myself unemployed. There’s been a shake up at my current job so I’m thinking about starting the job hunt again. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy for me. Of all the resumes that I’ve sent out, I’ve only had a few call backs but those have landed in offers so I guess I’m pretty presentable. At this point in my life, I definitely have no desire to work in accounting for the next 40 years. I’m not a 9-5 office type. Over the past couple of years, I’ve considered getting into teaching, but with the economy the way it is, it’s a bad time. My plan is to meet some financial goals and hopefully a few years down the line I can revisit the idea. I’d have to take a large pay cut which is why I want to get to a good place financially. I was at the same salary just a year ago so I know that it’s doable for me and hubby. And with the time off, we’d be able to travel more extensively than we have in the past 6 years.

young says:

@Anya- Wow you sound super duper lucky to have all this opportunity knocking down your door, and you also sound like you have what employers want in a candidate! Sometimes having second careers or change in career choices later in life makes you an even more well-rounded individual for the second career. Just think, with all your life experience you would make a great teacher. Life is truly what we make of it 🙂

CF says:

I definitely agree that it’s about “who you know”. After my first degree, I beat out two other more qualified candidates because my mentor and current boss was friends with a manager in the health institution where I was applying.

The department which I was applying to worked closely with this manager and she was asked for her opinion on the potential hires. Even though she didn’t know me personally and one of the other candidates was a current employee, she gave me a glowing recommendation and assured the department head that I was the best person for the job. And lo and behold, I got the job! I was definitely not as qualified as the other people, but I do believe I was the best fit in terms of personality and work culture – I think the recommendation helps with that.

I’m finishing up my second degree now and I’m definitely finding it harder to get a job because I have fewer connections in my new field of study. However, I’ve been able to get many, many interviews simply by having a good, well written resume and cover letter. I think it’s also important to be honest in your cover letter especially. I try to include a personal anecdote that relates to the job and indicates why I’m interested in *that* particular company. From the number of interviews and second interviews I’ve had, it seems to be paying off. And just today – I received a call from one of the hiring managers indicating that they were interested in making me an offer – fingers crossed! 🙂

Congratulations on your success so far, I’ll wish you good luck, but it doesn’t seem like you much need it!

young says:

@CF- Congratulations!! I hope you get an offer! I am really enjoying reading all your stories. I agree that it is more who you know than what you look like on paper. Connections are key…

My BF has had an interesting career path. He has had some connections but I think he presents very well on his resume and in his interviews. He has had a different job since he’s been working, practically, and he’s proof that staying at one company might not be the best way to “move up” in the ranks.

CF says:

Thank you for the well wishes. 🙂

young says:

@CF- You’re welcome! I tried to comment on your blog but couldn’t 🙁 And sometimes I try to click on your link through twitter, but it doesn’t link properly 🙁

your points are all on point. I especially like the one about “your shiny degree” not being that unique. I think there was a universal perception among me and my friends that once we got our fancy degrees from elite schools, we’d stand out as smart and great candidates. Maybe it helped a little, but most of the time I was just tired of hearing myself and my friends complain about how surprised we were that our fancy degrees didn’t immediately land us a great paying job at an awesome company. Uhmmm, it takes more than that.

Also, what you said about employer’s laziness? so true. as a job seeker we probably picture a dedicated person or team that review our resumes, who have a lot of experiences in doing this and can spot a great candidate if we just get the application right. But in my company alone there’s been a few instances where the manager just called up somebody they knew for the job – not the person with the most impressive resume or even the best experience, but someone they knew and therefore did not have to do an indepth interview with and could start right away. It pays to be in people’s good books. Connections are everything.

Thanks for the affirmation… I think… I kinda wish I was just alone in my cynicism.

young says:

@My money, my life- You said it, sister! I’ve had my manager ask me my thoughts on potential candidates (I knew them from other places) and I sometimes hesitate in giving my honest opinion (only if they suck)… but it’s important. How you present yourself, what others think of you. If you come off as lazy, no one will hire you.

Modest Money says:

I had a bit of a problem getting my first job after college. I was just too intimidated by all the people who did better than me in college. Also I was worried that the companies actually wanted someone with previous experience. Due to that way of thinking, I wasn’t confident in my approach and my personal skills. Thinking back I should’ve been focusing on my strengths and not my shortcomings. As for connections, I have noticed a lot of people getting hired because they know somebody. I later used that to my advantage and twice went back to work for a previous employer because they already knew they could trust me.

It actually astounds me how little our respective merits have to do with landing jobs. Using connections to get noticed, and then making a personal connection with someone is how the vast majority of deals get done in the world I’ve seen.

young says:

@MUM- networking, networking, networking! 🙂

young says:

@MM- I think I felt the same way too. Even when I first started in my job I didn’t feel comfortable. But now people call me a social butterfly lol- I like to make connections by asking someone I’ve met if they know so-and-so. I’m always networking, even though I may not realize it. Hopefully it pays in the future!

Joe says:

Search early, search often. Learn something really well; don’t be a generalist — they already have a garbage can full of generalist resumes. But don’t focus on what makes YOU unique — focus on how YOUR unique traits will make your company more profitable or make your boss’ life easier. Specialization doesn’t mean you can’t branch out, but once you’re in a permanent position, enjoying benefits, earning a pension, saving money, you’ll be in a far better position to do so.

I like the idea of focusing on providing something that will make your boss’ life easier. Now that I’m in the workforce, I see how much the reality of human interaction and basic human desires usually trump anything else.

young says:

@Joe- Thanks for the wonderful advice- you said it so succinctly and eloquently. 🙂

Julie @ Freedom 48 says:

It’s such a big transition – it’s outright scary. You’re right about getting into the student rhythm and always having a “light at the end of the tunnel” with end of semesters or summer vacation. Now, not only is there not “end in sight” kind of light… but rather than looking forward to summer vacation we have to count down the number of YEARS to retirement.

I’m fortunate, I still get that summer to some extent as a teacher. I guess the theory is love your job (or at least don’t hate it) and those years will pass faster right?

young says:

@MUM- so jealous. It will come in handy when you have kids and can spend the whole summer with them. 🙂 Or you could use the summer to schedule a year’s worth of blog posts in advance 😉

young says:

@Julie- You’ve articulated exactly what I’ve been feeling for the past 6-7 years!! Being is student is so awesome. No responsibilities except to get decent grades and think about summer vacation. I hope we can still look forward to vacation, though 🙂

I got my first job in one of the Big Four Professional Services firms. In my penultimate year of University I applied for a summer internship at each of the four firms. I got offered the placement from 3 and reached the assessment day in another. I accepted one of them, enjoyed the internship and was offered the job at the end of that summer, before starting my final year at University. My advise to others would be: do your research, stay calm in interviews, and have the confidence to trust in your own abilities.

Wow… that’s some impressive ambition! To go 3 for 4 on those industry leaders you must have had a pretty impressive resume?

young says:

@MMR- Great advice! And congrats on getting into the big 4! once you’re in, you’re golden!

It was exciting times going for interviews after college. I would get my hopes up at first, but then be told I couldn’t get the position. This happened 5 times before I finally landed something. It was well worth the effort to just keep trying.

I hear you. It was three times for me, and that was more than enough. I definitely found out that I don’t handle rejection very well.

Juan says:

Ya, I am going to be graduating soon and I have started to think about the whole need to get a job 😛 I’m trying to move down to South America so I am trying to get some small writing jobs lined up so that I will have some sort of a backup plan when I go down there. All and all, the prospect of graduating is a pretty scary one, but life is defined by its’ changes.

Hey Juan, have you checked out some freelance writing sites? They are great for networking if you have a decent portfolio of work ready to show potential clients.

young says:

@Juan- judging from your wisdom and maturity I had thought you already graduated. Congradulations! Where in south america? Sounds like a lot of excitement.

Michelle says:

I applied for schools before I graduated. I worked full-time all throughout college, and I would say that definitely made me seem more employable when I was looking for jobs.

young says:

@Michelle- Wow! Thanks for sharing your story. Did you go through college part time then?

Helly says:

“YOUR transition”, not “you’re” 😉
(sorry, couldn’t resist!)

For undergrad, mine was relatively straightforward: commissioned right into the Army (since they gave me a scholarship) afterward. That ended up providing some valuable experience, even if it wasn’t skill-set-specific.

For grad school, I took advantage of our campus’s career services center to engage with employers that were coming to campus to recruit soon-to-be graduates. Also networked: it’s useful to know people already working for target companies, who can put in a referral for you and at least help you get a foot in the door! In this case it wasn’t so much about schmoozing as getting in touch with people I already knew from school, but the same concept applies: it’s all about who you know! 🙂

No problem on the spelling error Helly. To be honest, I write probably around 8,000 words a week to throw online, so I’m fairly certain many of my articles will have some typos. I’m glad to hear that you realized “how the game is played” and have set up your network accordingly. I wish all students were as sharp as the ones on Y and T.

Jill says:

I just finished school and I am working my first ‘real’ job AFTER university, but this isn’t my first ‘real’ job. The reason I went to university was to land myself a good job. So I treated it that way. I was in a co-op program in undergrad and a master’s program with practicum requirements. That allowed me to earn money and graduate debt free, and by the time I finished school, I’d worked 5+ ‘real’ jobs already, gained skills and experience, published, and made many contacts along the way.
I don’t feel like I had to set myself on some arrow path to charge to this end either. I studied poli sci and then economics and then public health. I didn’t follow an education path that had recruiters waiting for me at the end, but I feel like I had a lot of opportunities along the way to ensure my own success when school ended…it’s not like you don’t know it’s coming…

This is why co-op programs are great. One could argue that almost every degree should have a program like this. As a student-teacher it was kind of like a co-op… except for the getting paid part. Congratulations on your foresight, enjoy reaping the rewards!

young says:

@Jill- Awesome story Jill! Thanks for sharing your tip on how to ensure success while in university. 🙂