Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
I've been a fresh graduate once, and back then the world felt like it had a gazillion opportunities lying in wait as I drafted my resume for the first time.
When you've just graduated college, it's easy to feel somewhat starry-eyed and view the world as your proverbial oyster. After all, the amount of time, money, and effort you've dedicated should be worth something, right?
But things aren't always what they seem. Seeing "We're Hiring" on countless online job boards can give you a false perception that you can land any job you like without much competition or resistance. This view is clearly wrong, and it can lead you to a tough fall.
And I've fallen many times, long and hard. Job-seeking wore me down every single time—and especially when it was the very first time. And I wondered, why wasn't I taught by my college professors on how finding a job and getting hired works in the real world?
Here are four things I wish someone had told me when I was a fresh graduate.
1. You're Not That Special
These days, every employer wants a fresh graduate with some work experience. There are now too many low-paying, entry-level jobs that seem to demand multiple years of experience in particular skills or tools. What’s the point of calling these jobs entry-level, anyway?
When I graduated college in 2014, like most of my classmates, I had zero work experience. I was trapped inside this idea that just because I now held an engineering degree (which took five years, as opposed to the usual four for other courses), I was in possession of an infinity stone that I could use to my advantage. I thought I could just snap my fingers, and a job offer would materialize right in front of me.
That was pretty naïve of me. The prestige of my school's name and reputation was far from being adequate. I should have applied some statistical analysis, which would have rid me of all of my complacency.
There were 30 of us graduating with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering that year from my university. Add the students from the other engineering courses, and you’d get a total of 70 engineering graduates. Assuming there was the same number of graduates from the other well-known university in my city, that number would be 140. And from my region alone, there were a total of 17 universities that had comparable size and prestige to my school, so from 140, you’d now get 1,200 fresh engineering graduates (just from that region) ready to take on jobs that summer.
I was going to be competing with 1,200 other fresh graduates from my region alone for a job—this should have been my thinking instead of thinking that I was somehow special. There were 1,200 other students with similar degrees to mine, so what made me stand out from the rest?
I realize now that there are ways that you can make yourself stand out. It’s not just about being better than someone at something; it’s also about fit. It’s not just about graduating with honors, either. What skills or fields you’re deeply interested in matter a lot.
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2. Don't Be Too Desperate (Be a Little Picky)
My first job was completely unrelated to my degree. It was a call center job, and I realize now that the reason I even took it was that I didn’t have any patience at all when applying for jobs. At the same time, I hadn’t acquired any taste for jobs that I wanted to do. I was still a month into my first formal job search, and when I came across a tarp that advertised the monthly salary (which seemed good enough), I was hooked enough to walk into one of their recruitment centers. There, I was sitting at an airport bench, queueing with other applicants whose ages ranged from college-ish to old enough to be a young grandma.
I lasted only a month at that first job, and I never list that job on any of my resumes. But do I regret ever taking that job? Not really. I may not have been picky about taking that job, but I’m glad I went through that process.
I’m glad I got to experience different types of employers in all my job searches, and the first employer I ever had came across as very controlling. You had most if not all of your idle time decided for you, you had to maintain a good call score (or else you’d have to explain in writing why your scores were low,) and you couldn’t really say no to all of the changes in your work schedule. Those are all red flags.
If you’re still starting out and haven’t landed any job, you must remain somewhat picky. Don’t say yes to the first job offer that comes your way without taking into account the work conditions you’d be subjected to (if you have any way of knowing). My mistake was to jump right in because I was desperate to find my first job. One month of waiting and applying might seem quite long to the unemployed, but it’s not really that long. These periods of time are often forgotten in the grand scheme of things.
3. Learn How to Deal With Rejection by Experiencing It
When I was in the first job-hunting phase of my life, I didn’t yet know how to deal with rejection. This is a very important thing when you are looking for work. I’ve already had four different job-hunting phases in my life, and all four were different, but rejection was definitely a common theme. I don’t remember the number of times I was rejected during my first job hunt, but I do remember that I filled out 10 different job applications before I landed the job I’ve now for the last two years.
My first job search was the most optimistic one because I simply had no baseline of what the job application process was like. Back then, walk-ins to companies for which you had no idea whether they were hiring or not was still considered noble and cool, but these days, online applications are almost exclusively the only decent and practical way to apply for a job.
I remember applying to work for a sugar processing plant that was fifteen miles from home. I was dressed in white long sleeves, a black tie, slacks, and leather shoes. The initial interview was with one of the young HR reps they had, and I was breezing through the questions until he asked, "How long do you plan to stay with the company?" With all my naivete, I answered, "about one year," and with that, his tone completely changed and he sped me up to endorse me to one of the technical interviewers.
I didn’t yet know at the time that because of my stupid answer I was definitely not going to get the job, but I had a few hints when the engineers who interviewed me next were just throwing around jokes and not really asking anything serious. My first rejection didn’t seem painful because I didn’t realize right away that I was being rejected, but I found it valuable nonetheless because I had to experience it at some point.
4. Your First Job Isn't Your Last—Seek Out Other Opportunities
Starting and building your own network was something I had absolutely no clue about. I didn’t even see its value when I was a fresh graduate. But now, having attended seminars and webinars with different people with different backgrounds from different companies, I realize just how important building your own network is.
The new reality of the labor industry is that tenure at a company is no longer what it used to be. Company loyalty is now just a buzzword they throw at you to make you stay longer without really giving you a full understanding of the compensation and benefits you deserve. It’s a norm for the parents of my generation’s workers to have had only one employer for their whole career. These parents would frown upon planning to leave a job and not "sticking it out."
Unfortunately, the principles they held no longer ring true for my generation. Looking out for new opportunities, growing, learning new skills, and trying out new industries is the new normal. That is why it's so important to network. As a fresh graduate, try to meet different people from different backgrounds. Don’t confine yourself to your own profession or your own industry, and don’t think that you’ll get comfortable with your current job as-is. your job is replaceable, you are replaceable, and sometimes even your industry is replaceable.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.