How do I get that first post-college job?
June 21, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I just graduated college in May with an English degree and a 3.7 GPA. I am looking for my first job. I'm looking for tips on cover letters, resumes, letters of inquiry, and perhaps fields I've overlooked. I haven't even landed an interview in my hunt so far so I'm ready to ramp this up to get some results. Extra information about my experience, my fields of interest, etc. in the paragraphs to follow.

I'm interested in the fields of copywriting, marketing, non-profit support positions, public relations, and basically any admin work in an office that might actually somewhat use my skill set and degree. I'm also open to other suggestions--I have a broad range of things I'd be happy doing and I'm mostly interested in just "getting my foot in the door" somewhere in order to build my resume. I've already applied to about 20 different jobs in all the areas mentioned and haven't had so much as an interview. I know that is still a very small number in this economy, but I'm hoping for suggestions that will maximize my success. I have read so much conflicting information on cover letters, resumes, and letters of inquiry! I would love some advice from people who know what they're talking about from experience.

A little more information about my experience: I've worked at a library through the last two years of college (and I've been fortunate to keep that campus job through the summer if necessary, which is a huge help to support myself as I search). I have a lot of experience working with the public and computers there. I did a summer internship doing social media (mostly facebook) for a local non-profit during college. I also worked for an educational camp for three summers. I spent all of high school and a lot of middle school working for my dad's start-up so honestly a ton of my "admin" experience is from then, but I don't know if it's appropriate for me to mention in a cover letter? I type 75 WPM and I'm awesome with all kinds of computer programs (all Microsoft Office suite, photoshop, basic HTML and web-design skills, etc) since my dad has had a tech company pretty much my whole life and I had my first computer when I was about 8 or so.

Lastly, I'm searching in the greater Boston area, southern NH, and seacoast NH if you have any local tips.

I know some people might suggest that I just take what I can for now and not focus so intently on a "real" job. I.e. waitressing, etc. A lot of my friends are doing that and I don't have a problem with it, but I am hoping to go back to graduate school at some point and therefore I *really* want to have some professional experience on my resume before doing so.

Anyway I hope that's enough information to help you give me some practical tips. What is the best way to set up a resume when you're just starting out? What kind of cover letters are successful to get employers to give someone young and new a chance? What kind of things could I say if writing a letter to a company I'd love to work for that isn't actively hiring a position I'm qualified to do? I think if I could get this part right, an interview would be an area where I could shine.
posted by araisingirl to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you are not working with your alma mater's career services department? This is what they are paid to do for you. I'm sure people will have advice for you, but career services will have connections and people who can sit down and work with you on all this stuff.
posted by vincele at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2010

Have a friend read and proof your copies of stuff before you mail them. My old supervisor said she'd toss a resume if she found a typo on the first page. I know money is important but if you're not having any luck with the "I'd love to but I need more experience" thing, ask about paid internships or do informational interviews. I totally wasn't qualified to do my current job until after I graduated but I was hired as an intern with keeping the job on the condition I finish my degree. Good luck!
posted by ShadePlant at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2010

I read a lot of resumes at work, what with working at a temp agency. This may seems obvious, especially if you're an English major, but for the love of god:

Make sure every verb tense on your resume matches.
posted by griphus at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2010

As a fellow English major, I know that finding a job in copywriting or something similar can be tricky. Just before I graduated, I sent this query letter to basically everyone I could find by googling 'editing' in my city. I received back a lot of helpful advice, and, amazingly, a part-time job for a small editing company, which then led to my current job of business writing.

Don't be afraid to ask professionals in the field for advice - most people are pretty friendly in wanting to help recent graduates, and you never know what could come from something as simple as an email!

Good luck! Here's my letter:

Dear ---,

First, I'm not looking for a job. My name is ---, and while I am a soon-to-be graduate from --- University, I am more interested in gaining information from you than I am in hounding you for a position in your company.

I was hoping that you could give me any information at all about how to get a position in copy editing, a field which I have been interested in for quite a while. What types of training/education does a person in your position need, and are there any tips you could offer someone just beginning his or her life 'after school'?

Thank you so much for your time and for any help you could give me. I really appreciate it!
posted by blake137 at 8:28 AM on June 21, 2010 [10 favorites]

Have you exhausted the opportunities of working through everybody you know, and everybody your parents know? In this economy, I imagine the competition for entry level jobs is brutal. Anything you can do to work connections to jump to the lead of the line (so to speak) is going to be a huge advantage. For all you know, your parent's insurance agent lives next door to somebody that could hire you. Blake137's idea of asking for info, not jobs is good too. See if you can buy a coffee for a few people in your field. Once they make that personal connection with you they are much more likely to offer up help.
posted by COD at 8:57 AM on June 21, 2010

The resume game has always seemed like a ton of work for a very little payback. That is, you can spend hours upon hours tweaking or rewriting your resume for every position you apply for, only to be met with rejection. The argument goes that it will make the difference in that ONE job that you ultimately land, so its worth it in the long run. But still, it seems like a lot of wasted effort to me, and I've always spent far more time working the human angle.

I've landed only full-time job via cold internet submission. Every other full-time job I've had I've landed because of personal contacts in the company. So, while your resume should be watertight in terms of grammar, punctuation, etc., I believe your energies should go toward networking, or lacking networking opportunities, cold calling.

Two anecdotes:

1) My fiance got her college internship by looking at a directory of actuaries in her city and calling every single one. A retired actuary she called met with her, decided he liked her, called up his cronies, and found her the internship. The bosses at her internship then found her a full-time job upon graduation.

2) I landed my first job through a temp agency. It was a two-day contact stuffing envelopes, but was sufficient enough time to impress the company. So they kept me on another two days. Then two weeks. Then offered me a job as an editorial assistant. Six months after that I was a full-blown editor. I switched careers after that job, but it set me in motion.... And in Seattle at least, temp agencies is how many people break into the high tech sector.

Both anecdotes are meant to illustrate how important the human touch is. Meet people and impress them - that's the ticket.
posted by kables at 9:04 AM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was recently laid off a year into my first post-college job. It took me five months, but I found something. Here's what worked for me:

- I made sure to put a TON of time and effort into my resume. While your resume won't get you the job, it might cause you to NOT get an interview. I had my college, coworkers, employers, a career placement firm (free to us when we were laid off) all take a look at it. I always tend to err on the side of not writing too much - put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes. What would you think if your resume came across your desk? As for what to put on the resume, I made sure to put my relevant experience and skills first. As an engineer, people tend to care more about what you can do than what you learned in school. Also, I didn't do much to tailor it to each employer, but my search was pretty focused. YMMV.

- For cover letters, I kind of have a general idea of what I want to say in it, but I write it by hand each time. Make sure the reader knows you're talking about the specific job/company. None of this generic "I am very interested in a position at your company". I also tried to keep it short and sweet.

- Networking. This was by far the most important. It really is all about who you know these days. If you don't already have one, a LinkedIn profile can be great in finding common connections. Anytime I applied for a job, I searched my LI network to see if anyone I knew was connected with someone at the company. Hiring managers tend to be much more interested if their resume came from someone they know, rather than from the internet. This got me more interviews than anything else.

Side note: have you considered technical writing? Greater Boston / Northern MA / southern NH is a tech goldmine. I'm an engineer so I can't really say much beyond that.
posted by Tu13es at 9:17 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

What kind of volunteering are you doing right now?
posted by brainwane at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2010

I graduated with a BA in English in 2007. The recession hadn't hit yet, but finding a job was still a major pain in the neck, especially with my degree. I went on a few interviews through a recruiter, but nothing panned out. My now father-in-law literally sent an email to everyone he knew, singing my praises and asking if anyone knew of anything for me. Not long after, I got a call to come into a business and help prepare for a lawsuit by completing an extremely tedious, time-consuming task. One week later, I had a permanent, full-time job.

So, what I'm trying to say here is, use any connections available to you, whether they're yours, your parents', your friends' parents', etc. From my short experience in the working world, "who you know" is way more important than "what you know" when it comes to getting hired. It may be sad, but it's often true.
posted by litnerd at 11:08 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

ugh I need to second what litnerd said. I also graduated in 2007 with a BA in English. I waited tables for a bit, then went to a temp agency and eventually got a full time job as a "sales assistant" basically faxing and emailing all day. It was dull, boring work for little pay. I moved to live with my boyfriend and waited tables again until my dad gave me some insider info about a woman he works with who was retiring. I applied to that job with my dad as a reference and got it. It's in customer service.

So my advise to you is if you are looking for office work - go register at every temp agency around, apply for entry level sales and customer service jobs. These are the types of jobs you are most likely to get (sorry if I'm crushing your dream here). Have relatives and friends keep their feelers out for openings for you to apply to. If you can, go out and canvas office buildings,, dropping off resumes in person. I have never ever ever gotten a single interview from a job I applied to on line and I apply to 5 jobs a week online. To me its like playing the lottery - one day I'll have to hit and get an interiew, right?

If you are looking for the quickest way to make money - wait tables or bartend. I made more money doing that than any other job I have had, including my current job (but I need health benefits now).

Keep plugging away at your job search. Teh employment situation out there is really as bad as people are saying it is. Looking for a job is now a full time job in itself. A shot is the dark guess is that you'll need to send out hundreds of resumes before you get a job offer.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

A little over a year ago, I posted this question. Less than a month and a half later, I was working for a small nonprofit in my field, which still kind of surprises me. So yes to networking. I'd say my getting this job was 40 percent because of my qualifications and 60 percent because a family friend sits on the board and knew I was looking for a job.

When I actually got working, I realized that a lot of my efforts prior to that were more or less a complete waste of time. I actually ended up meeting people who had gotten some of the jobs I had applied for. Even though, in my own head, I seemed awesomely qualified for those positions, the people that got them had my education, but also 10+ years experience.

And once you get the job, it doesn't stop there. Think ahead. Do a little extra - a couple of extra hours a week can do a lot for future job prospects and keep you productive. I volunteer for a lot of committee work and my list of contacts has grown exponentially in just a little over a year. If nothing seems to be working, you should be volunteering. People are way more likely to be your ticket to a job, not a piece of paper.

Twenty job applications is a drop in the bucket. On the up side, it sounds like you have great skills and already have a long list of contacts. Go get 'em!
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2010

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