Finishing college is a huge accomplishment, and it’s met with many rewards: a graduation ceremony, parties, gifts and a fancy piece of paper with your name on it. Finally out in the real world, the world is your oyster, its possibilities endless. However, after the “graduation high” begins to fade away, you’re left with a sobering realization: It’s time to start applying for jobs.
And this can be a tough nut to crack. Adulting is not as easy as our parents made it look, after all. For some graduates, this will be their very first job, ever. For most, it’ll be their first professional position in their field of study.
Regardless of where you fall, worry not. If you’re unsure of how to navigate the ever-intimidating professional world, here are the essential do’s and don’ts of applying for jobs.
Do: Write a cover letter
A cover letter is the hiring team’s first glimpse at the applicant. So, a good one should say everything that a resume can’t. Talk about who you are and why your experience fits the company — and don’t be afraid to recite the job posting qualifications verbatim. The resume provides the facts; the cover letter gives them context.
Many articles will try to assert that cover letters aren’t in fashion anymore. Employers don’t read them, they say, so why write them? This what’s-the-point attitude might seem attractive, but it’s misguided. Yes, it’s true that many giant corporations don’t have time to read every single comma in every single cover letter they receive from applicants. That shouldn’t stop you from writing one. The worst-case scenario is that your cover letter is skipped; the best-case scenario involves the company finding something extremely attractive in your letter that gets you to the interview room. What’s the harm?
In addition, large companies might not care as much about the cover letter, but smaller ones do. An in-depth analysis from Ladders found that 65% and 55% of small and medium-sized corporations, respectively, like to see a cover letter on applications.
Don’t: Put your resume in the wrong order
As with many aspects of applying for jobs, there is an order to things when it comes to designing your resume.
Most resumes will have two main sections: work experience and education. First of all, within each section, list experiences in reverse chronological order. Employers want to see what you’ve been currently doing, first. Second, mind the order in which you list education and experience. If this is will be your first job (or if your work experience is irrelevant to the position), then list your education first. However, if you do have related experience, do not put your school at the top. This format makes it seem like you’ve been in the field for awhile (even if you’re fresh out of college), and that looks attractive to employers.
Above all, you want to highlight your best qualifications and give your resume a strong start.
Do: Ask questions during the interview
You always want to come prepared with a few questions. For one, it shows the company that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the position. Even more, this is your opportunity to play interviewer for a moment. Your question could give you insight into company culture or perhaps reveal an aspect of the job that would make or break your desire to work there.
In general, it’s better to ask questions that seem more personal, like, “What do you see as being the biggest challenge for me based on my work experience?” Even better, ask questions that show you’ve done your research.
Don’t: Ask about salary during the interview
While you should ask questions during the interview, “How much will I make?” shouldn’t be one of them. Robert Half suggests a few guidelines in navigating the discussion on salary — first being: Don’t ask about money in the initial interview. It makes it seem like money is your sole motivator before the hiring manager has had a chance to assess you. “Before starting a dialogue about your salary expectations, you need to display suitability for the role,” they explain.
If the hiring manager brings it up in the interview, however, feel free to take the bait. Just be sure not to come in too hot with an initial figure.
Do: Send a follow-up email
Once the initial meet-and-greet is over, remember to send a follow-up. Even after the interview, you’re still technically applying for the job, so make yourself stand out! You’ll want to do this the same day as the interview, if possible. This keeps you fresh on the brain of the hiring manager, and also simply adds a layer of professionalism.
A good follow-up email thanks the hiring manager for their time, invites them to get back to you and perhaps brings up a memorable part of the interview. Other points to include might be a question you forgot to ask or a suggestion to meet again.
Don’t: Accept the job offer right away
You’ve nailed the interview, got a message from the company and have been offered the job. Whether it’s over the phone or via email, do not accept right away. It might seem counterintuitive, but it will pay off.
To start, it gives you time to think it over. Especially if this is when the salary offer comes, you’ll want to take at least a day or two to make sure it fits your needs. Of course, you can always come back with a counter-offer, as well.
Second, while it may seem catty, waiting to accept makes you seem like you are playing hard to get, which is a good thing. They already want you, so it’s not like they’ll rescind their offer. Rather, if you ask for the weekend to consider, they’ll respect you even more once you accept because it appears more calculated and less impulsive.
Do: Be persistent!
Applying for jobs is a marathon, not a sprint. You probably won’t nab the first job you apply to. However, every application, cover letter and interview are all part of the learning experience. Keep applying and practicing your skills. And, with these tips, a job offer might come sooner than you think.