How To Get Your First Job

By Devon Feuer
Sep. 25, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Finding your first job can be challenging and sound like a daunting task. Crafting the perfect resume and cover letter, knowing what a hiring manager is looking for, preparing for an interview, and creating a great social media presence can be difficult.

All that may sound difficult, but it is worth it. Your first job is a rewarding experience and helps leave a lasting impact on your career path later on.

In this article we will go over the steps to help you find the right job for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Before looking for a job you should figure out what your career goals are, create a portfolio, and stay organized with the jobs you apply to.

  • You should take into consideration the company size, location, and your values when looking for a company to work for.

  • When creating your resume you should tailor it with keywords from the job description to help highlight your hard skills and qualifications.

How To Get Your First Job

What to Do First

With something as overwhelming as finding a job, the first step is often the hardest. There are several steps to take before you begin searching the web for job openings. Here are a few things you can do before you start applying.

  1. Career goals. Where do you want to be in five, ten years from now? You can scroll through industries at Zippia and look at different career paths that you can take. Just choose an industry, select a job title, and click on career paths on the top of the page. This tool is also a great way to find what industry you are interested in.

  2. Create a portfolio. Many jobs in design-focused fields, require you to have a collection of your previous work and past projects. Portfolios may include writing samples or artwork that you have done in the past. Portfolios are not just for jobs that involve design. Here are tips for creating a professional portfolio.

  3. Organization. It is crucial to stay organized while applying to dozens of jobs. Here are three things you can do to help:

    • This process can be time-consuming, so setting aside a few hours each day or week is essential. Designate time to look for jobs, work on your resume, reach out to references, and draft a general cover letter.

    • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of the jobs you applied to, their contact information, responses, scheduled interviews, and other deadlines. You can also have a tab for thank you notes so that you will not forget to send them after the interview.

    • Don’t apply to everything you see. Companies often have “easy apply” buttons where you can apply by submitting your resume. While this is easy, it is a sure-fire way to become disorganized and overwhelmed.

  4. Plan ahead. Get an internship in a similar field to what you want to do. You can intern during the summers if you are in school. Some deadlines for summer internships are in December, so remember to apply early. Internships often lead to being hired full time, so if you cannot find a job at first, an internship is a great step.

  5. Professional photograph. Have a professional headshot. You do not need to hire a professional photographer to take one for you. You can use a personal cell phone or camera. Wear professional clothing, have a good background, and good lighting.

  6. References. Find three to four references that can attest to your work ethic and character. Meet with them in person and talk to them about what jobs you are interested in. You should always keep them in the loop with your job search so that they are not caught off guard when an employer contacts them about you.

  7. Use school resources. If you are a student, use your university’s career center. Many have individuals who will go over your resume and cover letter, practice interviewing with you, and help you with other aspects of the job finding process.

Finding A Job

Zippia has an incredible job search tool that allows you to select from things like the kind of job you want, the company you want to work for, your highest level of education, and your college major. You can even specify that you are only looking for entry-level positions. Here are four additional filters that you can choose from:

  1. Company size. Do you want to work at a small, medium, or large company. All of these have their pros and cons. Read about working at a startup, the benefits of working for a big company, and differences between the two.

  2. Job title. While some people know what they want to do, others are not sure. Research industries that interest you and job titles within that industry that you might be interested in. If you are still unsure, you can leave this section blank, and Zippia will suggest titles that match your skills and interests.

  3. Where you want to work. Choosing where to work can be difficult. You have to answer questions like: do you stay where your family is or go where your friends are? One important thing to take into account is the price of living where you are moving.

    An annual salary of $75,000 will take you significantly farther in Dayton, Ohio, than in San Francisco, California. Here are the ten best states and the ten worst states in America for jobs.

  4. What is important to you. Think about what matters most to you. Do you want a job that offers healthcare benefits, has a good work-life balance, offers free food and gym memberships, or has retirement plans? Zippia allows you to choose which matter most to you and matches you to jobs that provide those benefits.

Cover Letter

Many employers request a cover letter. Even if the job says that it is optional, you should submit one. There are actionable cover letter tips that will help you land your first job and mistakes that you should avoid. Here are seven steps that you can take while writing a cover letter:

  1. Describe yourself. Begin your cover letter by introducing yourself and telling the employer who you are. Express your interest in the position and tell them how you heard about the job. Try and keep this section around four to five sentences.

  2. Outline your skills. Go over the job posting and see what skills the employer is looking for. Use this section to briefly explain the skills and attributes you have that make you the perfect candidate. Explain how you acquired these and provide examples of how you have demonstrated them.

  3. Why you. In this section, flesh out examples from your past that shows you are right for the position. This is your chance to go into a little more detail than you did in the previous section and highlight your attributes that would make you a perfect fit for the position.

  4. End with confidence. Explain in a sentence why you would be a fantastic fit for the position. Next, thank the hiring manager for taking the time to read through your application.

    Finally, write that you are looking forward to being in touch, would welcome the chance for an interview. Here are a few examples of how to close your cover letter.

  5. Be different. A hiring manager is going to read hundreds of cover letters with similar formats: this is my name, I am organized, hardworking, and perfect for your company.

    To set you apart from your competition, think of words that other candidates will not use. You can search for synonyms for words like creative, and instead use innovative, inventive, or ingenious.

    Also, avoid common sentences like, thank you for taking the time to read my resume. Change it up and write; I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss my experience and the value I can offer your company.

  6. Keep it short. Your cover letter does not have to be an entire page. Remember, quality over quantity. You should only include information that is important and will enhance your application. Make sure that your cover letter is not just a summary of your resume.

  7. Know who you are talking to. Addressing a cover letter correctly can be challenging, especially when you do not know who the hiring manager is. If the company you are applying to is small enough, and they only have one recruiter or hiring manager, address them personally.

    This will set you apart from other candidates and show that you took the time to do the research and find out who will be reading your cover letter and resume.

Resume Keywords

99% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS), according to Jobscan. If you are applying to a mid to large-sized company, your resume is probably going to go through an ATS, which is software that companies use to eliminate candidates.

If your resume does not include one of the search terms that the company is looking for, or formatted incorrectly, the employer will throw out your resume no matter how qualified you are.

  1. Find keywords. Companies look for different keywords. Jobscan has an ATS Tip feature within their resume match report where you can enter the company you are applying to and the job application URL and receive advice on how to tailor your resume to the job posting.

  2. Hard skills. Comb through the job description for hard skills that appear numerous times or early on and include those in your resume. If the words customer service appears multiple times, try to weave that into your resume. Do not lie because a hiring manager will probably find out.

  3. Job titles. Try and have the job title somewhere on your resume. If you are applying to be a software engineer and studied that in college, make sure to include “software engineer” somewhere on your resume.

  4. Use long-form and acronyms. Make sure that you write both versions of the words. Doing this will increase your chances of having the right keywords in your resume. For example, write Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), User Experience Design (UX Design), and Bachelor of Arts (BA).

  5. Visual design. Do not get carried away with creating a fancy, aesthetically pleasing resume. Prioritize the content of your resume over the design. There are some exceptions to this. For example, if you are applying to a smaller company or a job that is design focused. Here are a few tips to get your resume through ATS:

    • Use standard headings. Ornate, untraditional heading can lead to problems when an ATS is importing your resume.

    • Do not use tables, columns, headers, or footers in your resume. These often do not import correctly.

    • Use standard resume sections and don’t get creative. Do not write “where I have been” instead of “work experience” or “my greatest strengths” instead of “skills.”

If you are still unsure how to write an ATS-friendly resume, We have a guide on writing an ATS-friendly resume.

Catch a Hiring Manager’s Eye

Most interviewers spend 6 seconds going over your resume. That is not a lot of time to make a lasting impression. Here are seven things you can do so that your resume does not get tossed out within the first few seconds.

  1. Front-loaded statements. Starting your sentence with the results of your action makes it stand out.

    Writing, “I increased membership by 30% by developing a new social outreach strategy to target students at our University” is much stronger than writing, “I reached out to students at our University and increased membership by 30%.”

  2. Have different resumes. Do not send the same resume to every job that you are applying to. Go through job descriptions and tailor your resume to each specific position.

  3. Make your skills pop out. Don’t make someone search hard for the relevant skills that you have. Have concrete examples of how you used that skill to succeed. Numbers and stats often pop out to those reading your resume. Once you get their attention, they might take a deeper dive into your resume.

  4. Metrics sell. Use numbers that quantify what you did. Writing, “in 3 months, I increased their social media following by 1 million users,” is much stronger than writing, “I increased their social media following.”

  5. Organization. Organize and format your resume well so that it is easy to read. Have important information and skills that they are looking for at the top of your resume so that they stand out when a hiring manager is skimming it. Provide concrete examples of how you used those skills as well.

  6. Relevant information. Eliminate things from your resume that have nothing to do with the job you are applying to. The hiring manager does not care that you were captain of your yearbook club in high school if your applying for a software engineering job.

  7. More information. Read this great article that outlines how to create a resume that stands out among the competition.

Preparing for an interview

Preparing for an interview in advance is extremely important. There are several steps that you should take before you start interviewing with companies. Go over the job posting several times, plan out what you are going to wear, research the company, practice interview questions, and decide on your target salary.

Zippia has a great article that outlines how to research a company, goes over possible interview questions, what to bring to an interview, salary expectations, general tips, and more.

Negotiating Salary

Negotiate a starting salary can be stressful. Here are five things that you can to ensure that you get the salary you want. Read this article for more information about salary negotiation. Be prepared to answer this question because it can come up in the interview.

  1. Competing offers. If you have a competing offer, use it. Tell the hiring manager that another company is offering you more, but you would rather work for them. Ask if there is any way that they can match the offer.

  2. Know your worth. Be confident. Men are more likely to negotiate than women for several reasons, including feeling more confident that they will get a pay increase. This divide is contributing to the gender pay gap. While women negotiating more alone will not fix this problem, it is a step in the right direction.

  3. Negotiate. You should always negotiate your salary. You might feel uncomfortable doing so or intimidated, but try to find the courage. There are a few exceptions to this. For example, if you are working a job that pays minimum wage, you may not be able to negotiate.

  4. Take notes. While you are negotiating, make sure to take notes. You do not want to forget what you and the hiring manager discussed, the benefits that they mentioned, what they offered, etc.

  5. Tell the truth. Do not lie and say that another company offered you more money if they did not. Be honest about how much you made at previous job or internships if you are using that as leverage. The employer can find out how much you made by requesting a W-2 form or looking into how much that company pays its interns.

Thank-You Email

Writing a thank you note after your interview is important. Not only is it considerate, but it gives you another chance to remind the interviewer of how great you are and how you would be a perfect fit for the position. Read over these tips to learn more about writing a great thank you note.

  • Avoid common mistakes. Make sure to send a thank you note in time and to avoid sending a generic email. Learn more about common thank you letter mistakes to ensure that you send the perfect note.

  • Get contact information. Get your interviewer’s email address before the interview ends. If you forget to do this, you can often find their email online or write a hand-written note addressed to your interviewer and send it to the office.

  • Go over examples. It can be beneficial to read over sample thank you emails to model yours off of. Here are some great examples and tips on how to write the perfect thank you letter.

  • Take notes. Jot down notes during the interview and use them while writing a thank you note. Using these details will show the interviewer that you were paying attention and remember specifics.

  • Structure. Start your note by showing your appreciation for the interviewer taking the time to meet you. Next, write a sentence about how you are passionate about the role and are eager for the chance to work with them.

    Finally, brag about the company. For example, write, I was impressed by [__], the people I spoke with were [__], or the company’s culture was [__].

Don’t Sabotage Yourself

Finding your first job is challenging enough as is. Here are six things that you should avoid doing to make the process easier.

  1. Arrogance. It is ok to brag about yourself and your accomplishments during an interview. You are trying to sell yourself to the company. However, try and avoid sounding arrogant. For example, do not say, “no one will be better than me for this job,” or “I have never met someone as good at organizing as me.”

  2. Don’t bash your last job. Do not talk about how terrible your previous job was or how you hated your old boss. This negativity creates some red flags. Your interviewer might worry that you might do the same to them.

    It also gives you less leverage while negotiating because the interviewer knows you are desperate to leave your job. Note that in some specific cases, it is ok to talk about a bad or uncomfortable work environment.

  3. Inconsistency. Be consistent. Make sure that you say the same things in your resume, cover letter, and interview. If you are interviewing with multiple people, make sure to tell each the same thing.

  4. I want money. When an interviewer asks you why you want to work at their company, do not reply with, “because I want to make money.”

  5. Words to avoid. Try to use the words “um” and “like” as little as possible. Practice can help. When you know what you are going to say, you do not have to fill space with “like” and “um.” Another phrase that you should not use is “I don’t know.”

    Even if you are unsure of what the answer is, either take a moment to think about it or think through the answer out loud if it is a technical interview question.

  6. Having no questions. When asked if you have questions at the end of the interview, do not say no. Come up with questions before you go into the interview so that when an employer asks you, you have something prepared. Here are some questions that you can ask.

Social Media

Social media is becoming increasingly prevalent. Hiring managers may look for you online. Take note of the next few things about improving your social media presence.

  • Facebook. It is smart to set your Facebook to private. Think about going through it and make sure that all of your pictures and posts are appropriate. For example, do not have a status about how you got drunk with friends last Thursday.

  • LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn should be up to date with the same information that is in your resume. You can like pages you are interested in, comment on the posts, and join conversations that resonate with you. It would help if you also asked others for recommendations.

  • Twitter. Your bio on Twitter gives you a chance to explain who you are. Engage with tweets that show your interests and what you are passionate about.

  • Having a good online presence. Recruiters may google your name. Publishing articles online is easy and can boost your presence. You can also think about creating a personal or business-oriented blog or website.

    Among the many things that you can put on them are old projects, publications, and videos. For those going out for design-related jobs, it is also the chance to show your design aesthetic and capabilities.

Company Culture

Your dream job is not all about the title. You should consider the company’s culture. Here are some things to think about:

  • Diversity. Look at the company’s meet the team page or look at employees when you go into an interview. It is not a great sign if there are few to no women or people of color at the company.

  • Interview. Do not be afraid to ask about the company’s culture during the interview. You can also look around the office and see what the culture and the employees are like. Do not take everything an employee says at face value. Just because the company has a ping pong table does not mean they have a great culture.

  • Manager. Having a good manager can make a big difference. They keep you motivated, provide you with guidance, and are someone that you can learn a lot from. Having a bad manager can make your working environment worse and thus make you less productive.

  • Research. Look into what the company’s culture is. You can look at a company’s Facebook, Twitter, Website, and other social media.

  • Extra information. To find out more about how to decide if a company’s culture is right for you, read this article.

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Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.


Devon Feuer

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Topics: Get The Job, Guides