College graduation is just around the corner, which means it’s almost speech season. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good graduation speech and all the platitudes that come along with it, but very few of them help you transition from full-time student to full-fledged adult in the working world.
In fact, it’s hard to find good, actionable advice in general on how to get a job after you graduate. The opportunities ahead seem both endless and elusive, making it incredibly challenging to identify and build a career path you love. You just want someone to give it to you straight: How can you actually find a job?
We want to help. At HubSpot, we’re lucky enough to interview and hire a lot of recent graduates, so I’ve rounded up some advice below based on interviews, applications, and feedback we hear from hiring managers, recruiters, and job candidates alike.
So whether you’re putting your cap and gown on in a few weeks, graduated last year and are in a job you don’t love, or frankly are just sick of your parents asking what’s new on the career front, below are actionable tips to help you create, refine, or revitalize your job hunt — sans any platitudes or cheesy quotes.
Don’t try to boil the ocean.
I asked a recent college graduate how many applications he submitted to companies each week as part of his job search. His response (perfect in its honesty) was, “As many as I need to get my parents off my back.”
In spite of its hilarity, this type of approach isn’t strategic (and is typically unsuccessful). I refer to this strategy as trying to boil the ocean — it’s virtually impossible and incredibly frustrating. It’s hard to stick out from the pack of other applicants when you’re trying to be all things to all people. Plus, you can’t properly research and follow up with hundreds of job applications. Instead, I recommend doing enough homework to reasonably target 10-12 companies.
There is definitely a balance between quantity and quality in the job search, but you get diminishing returns when you’re applying daily to hundreds of positions. You’re much more likely to make spelling mistakes, misstate goals or interests, or miss a scheduled phone screen if you’re trying to juggle too many balls. Instead of boiling the ocean, invest the time to target a few key opportunities and roles — your calendar and your future employer will thank you for it.
Talk to 10 people about their jobs.
So how do you actually narrow your job search down from “I’ll do anything” to “Here’s why I would be a great sales rep at X specific company?”
I recommend starting with the “phone a friend” option. Most recent graduates think of a job in terms of its job description, but the reality of work can differ significantly from the rhetoric. Regardless of the field you choose, you are going to spend a lot of time at work, so it’s worth investing the time beforehand to understand what roles will actually be like after you secure the job. A 30-minute well-organized and orchestrated phone interview can help you achieve this goal.
Not sure where to start? Ask a friend who graduated recently, a neighbor from your hometown, or check in with your career services office to ask for some input. If your immediate network isn’t a great resource, get to work on LinkedIn — identify individuals with job titles that interest you and ask if they would be open to a quick conversation (more on that below).
For this step in the process, resist the urge to pick senior people — selecting people at or close to entry level jobs gives you a much more realistic sense of what your day would be like and what skills you would need to succeed. Moreover, this step can help you significantly refine your search and align your applications accordingly, so save your targeted emails to senior leaders until after you have clear context on the types of roles you’re most interested in pursuing.
Don’t waste their time (or yours) by asking silly questions. Instead, focus on asking questions about what their average day looks like:
- What do they work on?
- Are they mostly working alone at a computer or in meetings with other people?
- How (if at all) do they interact with their boss?
- What’s the culture at their organization like?
- What do they like about it and what do they wish they could change?
- What’s the most important skill to succeed in the job they have, and why?
These types of questions are specific and give you a real sense for what it’s like to actually do a given job.
This sounds incredibly obvious, but the reality is that most job seekers spend more time talking than they do listening. Active listening can be the single most effective tool in identifying the right company and role for your skill set.
Have you asked your professors and advisors if they know alumni working at companies where you could be a good fit? Have you asked your previous employers (even for your summer lifeguarding job) for feedback on what you’re best at and what you can do better? The answers to these questions should help inform your job search, but you need to actively listen to make their advice actionable.
Moreover, when you’re talking to potential employers or alumni in careers you’re interested in pursuing, take good notes. I’d recommend creating a Google doc with the name of the person you’re talking with, the company he or she works for, key takeaways from the call, and next steps. It’s easy to think you’ll remember the titles of jobs she recommends or the person in his office you should reach out to follow up, but life often gets in the way. So take good notes, have clear follow-ups, and carve out time after every informational conversation to thank the person who gave you his or her time.
Identify three job tracks and create a playbook for each one.
Hopefully your phone calls and interviews help you identify a few roles that really interest you while eliminating a few potential career paths that aren’t a fit for your skills or background.
Armed with this knowledge, visit the career site for a few of the companies in your designed geography that offer the roles you’re seeking, and take note of the specific skills the position demands. Many applicants skip this step entirely, but it’s imperative to understand what the hiring managers are seeking and what experience is most relevant to the career paths you’re targeting.
My colleague, Mike Redbord, VP of Support at HubSpot and a gentleman who interviews more HubSpotters annually than anyone else I know, says it best: “Understand what potential + skill look like, together, and seek hiring managers who get it.”
Recognizing that the best hiring managers can screen for potential and skill, you need to craft a compelling narrative for why you are positioned to succeed in a role. Does that mean you need to check every single box? Absolutely not, but you do need a compelling story for why you are uniquely suited to the position.
Far too many people send the same resume for multiple positions that require very different skills and experiences, so my recommendation is to fill in the blanks of this sentence before you start on a resume or cover letter: “I would be a great (_______________) because I have _________, ________, and _______ skills as evidenced by my work with ___________ and _____________.” This may seem elementary, but when you’re in the thick of a job search it’s easy to get lazy and ship the same materials to everyone. Creating a clear, concise summary of why you are positioned to succeed in a given role is a great foundation for the materials you’ll create next before applying.
Craft your story.
Don’t think about editing and shipping a boring, stale resume — think of your application materials as chapters of the story you’re telling to a potential employer. Far too many people think of their cover letter as re-stating everything on their resume. In reality, the cover letter should draw a direct and obvious line between the job description you’re applying for and the experience illustrated on your resume. And every piece of material you submit should be consistent with the narrative you created above, demonstrating how your experience and potential will make you thrive in the demands of the job.
I use the word story here intentionally — far too many people treat creating their resume, cover letter, and any other necessarily application materials as a chore to be completed or a checklist to be generated. In reality, recruiters and hiring managers scan through hundreds if not thousands of resumes on a weekly basis: Make their lives easier (and more interesting) by creating a truly compelling narrative on your interest in the role. Telling a great story doesn’t mean filling every square inch of space on a page. In fact, the best resumes and cover letters use spacing, italics, and bold text to make the materials more readily digestible and enjoyable to read for the hiring manager.
When it comes to crafting your narrative for applications, don’t underestimate the role of activities outside of work: You don’t need a formal internship or summer job to show that you’re interested in and capable of blogging, or a seasoned job in sales to show that you’re passionate about engaging people.
Did you blog for your college admissions office to help recruit incoming students? You should include that experience if you’re applying for a marketing, recruiting, or human resources position.
Did you use iMovie to create videos for your university’s theater program? Learn enough code to launch a website for your parents’ restaurant? If you’re applying for any role in technical support, design, or engineering, incorporate it.
Far too many people underestimate the role activities outside the classroom can play in demonstrating your potential and drive, so don’t overlook these experiences when you’re crafting your story.
Most hiring managers will run a quick Google search before reaching out to you for a phone screen. So instead of wishing and hoping they miss that photo of you from a recent party on Facebook, Google yourself before you start applying for jobs and ask yourself what story your online presence tells. If it doesn’t align with the narrative you’re using in your job applications, invest the time and energy to change it. Your online presence should reflect your personal and professional interests, and with the proliferation of free publishing forums (from LinkedIn to Medium to About.me), you have no excuse not to put them to work on your behalf in the job search process.
For example, let’s say you are interested in applying to Wistia, an online video hosting platform and one of our neighbor companies here in Boston. How could you convey a passion for video if you’re not an editor, producer, or director? You could share remarkable videos you see online as a consumer, blog about how video marketing can influence the sales process, incorporate your previous experience with video on your LinkedIn profile, or tweet articles covering recent brand video launches, among other things.
There are countless articles about how to avoid major social media missteps (like your college frat party photos or misspellings on your LinkedIn profile), but too few focus on what you can proactively do to ensure a quick Google search and your official application tell the same story about your talents and goals. Be honest about what your current digital footprint says about your candidacy, and then invest some time and energy to change it from a liability to an asset before you start sending your resume out.
Before you hit submit, triple-check everything for spelling, syntax, and grammar. I’m terrible at editing myself, so I often ask my sister for help given her super powers in editing. Everyone knows someone with a particularly good eye for catching mistakes — pay them in lunch or coffee to help you do a final check of your materials before you ship them. We’re all human, and everyone is juggling a lot of priorities day to day, so don’t let a spelling or grammatical mistake be the reason you don’t land a job.
Also, be sure that you have the right details in the right applications. Create separate folders on your computer for each company so that you don’t proudly state how excited you are to work at Company X when your application is for Company Y.
Once you hit submit, you’re not done yet. I recommend creating a Google spreadsheet with tabs for each of the job types you’re applying for, along with the name of the company you applied to, the date you applied, a link to the job on the careers site (so you can reference it easily if asked down the line), as well as the name of the hiring manager or recruiter if available.
This quick exercise makes follow-up a breeze. If you haven’t heard back within a week, sending an email to your contact to politely check in and ask if there is anything you can do to support your candidacy is a great way to show interest without being overbearing.
Logging everything (including return phone calls, informational screens, and rejection emails alike) in one document will also minimize embarrassing gaffes such as applying for multiple positions at the same company or missing a scheduled informational interview. Plus, having a centralized location means it’ll be much easier for you to react if something unexpected comes up, such as if a hiring manager calls you to discuss the role in depth.
Respect the process.
Far too many candidates underestimate the importance of the entire recruiting process in landing an interview or job. A recruiter calling you to role-play what it’s like to work on our services team? That’s part of the job audition. The emails the hiring manager sends you with details on what to expect in the interview? Your response and timeliness are part of the interview process as well. Treat every element of the entire candidate experience like a formal interview. If you’re taking a phone call from the company, find a quiet place to talk, answer the phone appropriately, and thank the hiring manager or recruiting coordinator for making the time to connect with you.
Part of respecting the process is really doing your homework. I mentioned the pre-research phase of homework already, but once you’ve received an indication of interest from the company (whether in the form of an email or phone call asking for more information or a phone interview), the real hard work begins. Here’s a checklist to consider when you’re doing your research:
- Can you describe, clearly and concisely, what the company does to make money and the problem they are solving in the market?
- Have you visited their leadership page to understand the backgrounds of people running the company and how the organization is organized?
- Did you check out interview questions along with recent candidate experience reviews on Glassdoor to check out what people are saying about the company so you can ask better questions when you meet with current employees?
- Can you reference any recent news the company announced on its company news page, investor relations site, or blog?
- Have you followed the company on one or more social media channels so you can see how the organization positions itself in the market?
- If you’re lucky enough to get an interview, have you checked out the LinkedIn profiles of everyone you’re meeting with so you know their role and tenure at the company?
It’s important to treat every interaction with the company and its hiring team with the highest degree of professionalism and consideration. Visiting a company’s website on the train en route to the interview does not constitute research. If you expect an organization to invest in you, invest two hours to properly understand its products, people, and value proposition so you can tailor your approach and responses accordingly.
Pass the receptionist test with flying colors.
Everyone is capable of kissing up to C-level executives for 20 minutes, but the people we actually want working for our team show considerate behavior to all of their teammates. No one wants to work with a jerk, and if you’re rude or dismissive of the person who greets you upon arrival for an interview, chances are you’re not the type of person I want to be in the trenches with on a daily basis. Plus, receptionists usually have the ear of top executives, so if you underestimate them, it could cost you.
Treat everyone you interact with at the company as though they are your interviewer. People don’t want to work with anyone who can’t make time for general pleasantries. Pro tip: Keep up that behavior long after the interview is over — it’s good for your career, your life, and of course, your karma.
This isn’t a one-off trend: Companies like Zappos rely on the employee driving the company bus or the security guard greeting people for regular input on candidates. In fact, when the co-founder of Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal, appeared on The Growth Show, he said their entire organization took a page from Zappos in screening heavily for empathy and humility in the hiring process. As Blumenthal correctly pointed out, you spend most of your waking life with coworkers, so hiring people who are jerks just creates “culture debt” — a huge price that your organization has to repay for years to come.
Best in class companies want best in class employees, and people often think that’s a reflection of your GPA, your title as your past employer, or your ability to complete a skills assessment for the role in question. While all of those criteria are important factors, you also have to demonstrate that you’d actually be someone that team members would enjoy working with during your tenure with the organization. So be nice and gracious to everyone you meet: It will pay off for many years to come.
Know how to accept and negotiate an offer.
If you make it through the interview experience and are lucky enough to be offered a job, don’t botch your hard work at the one-yard line.
Instead, start off by thanking the company for the offer and asking clarifying questions to better understand the role you’re being offered, the team you’ll be joining, and the salary and benefits associated with the job. Typically, you’ll receive a call from a hiring manager or recruiter with this information, and then ask for the offer to be sent in writing. I generally recommend that people profusely thank their interviewer, then ask for a day to review the offer in detail and return with any questions you may have. Doing so ensures they know you are interested and gives you time to pour over the materials in depth to formulate good questions to ask of your potential employer.
For an entry-level position, you have to strike a balance between negotiating a fair deal and being a high-maintenance hire. I recommend formulating a list of your questions then reviewing the materials a second time to ensure that the answers aren’t contained in the information they sent for you. You want to ask questions that are thoughtful, insightful, and reflect what matters most to you. In other words, if your base salary is the most important factor in your job decision, invest most of your time on the phone asking clarifying questions — not on how much vacation time you will have.
Bonus tip: Once you have a job, check your entitlement at the door.
Your first few jobs out of college should provide you with ample opportunities to grow personally and professionally — but part of that growth process involves paying your dues. At HubSpot, our CMO cleans up the kitchen if people leave a mess. On a business trip together, our CEO waited in line for coffee so I could finish up a conference call. Our CTO does his own presentations, schedule, and travel. There is no room at our company or on our teams for people who aren’t willing to be shockingly helpful (our CTO and co-founder’s term) with even the most menial tasks.
Companies need incredible, brilliant, insightful people who will be future leaders in the organization, but they also need people willing to do hard work, especially when it’s inconvenient, unglamorous, or tedious. So if you’re asked to help out with a challenging task, take notes at a meeting with a leading exec, or help an intern with a project, don’t ask why or who will get the credit — your reaction speaks volumes about your willingness to be a team player, and sends a strong message to people about what it’s like to be in the trenches with you.
Herb Brooks, a legendary hockey coach, said something I remind myself of often: “Risk something or forever sit with your dreams.” When you’re just starting out in your career, it’s easy to get frustrated and be complacent in your job search. The hard truth is that no matter where you went to school, no one is going to hand you your dream job with a bow on it at your desired salary in your desired location working for the perfect manager with the perfect team. Landing a job in any profession requires patience, competency, commitment, flexibility, and follow-up — and these skills aren’t always required to graduate with your degree.
My pitch to you is that there is no better time than the present to pursue the job and career track you love, but it’s not going to fall in your lap. Follow the guide above to narrow your search, target your prospects, and prepare yourself for the application and interview process. It’s an investment of time and energy well worth making — one that will pay dividends for your entire career.