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How to Get Hired After College

It’s a question nearly every employer is asked by job applicants:  “What do you look for when making hiring decisions?

In one word:  Experience.

To a recent college graduate, that might sound unfair.  After all, how can you build experience until you land a job, and how can you land a job if you don’t have the experience required to get it in the first place?

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

The answer:  Start now and take advantage of the countless opportunities available for you to gain experience and build relationships.

I’ve interviewed and hired scores of applicants over the years for positions ranging from entry-level to senior leaders.  Here’s how it typically looks in my industry…

By the time resumes reach my in-box, they’ve already been through a corporate review process to verify applicants meet the minimum qualifications for the position, and someone from HR has probably done a phone screen.  That makes my job easier, but it makes it much harder for individual applicants to stand out in the crowd.  I never even see the resumes that don’t make it through the first review gate.

What I Look for in a Resume

What I often receive is a stack of resumes that look very similar to each other on the surface:  every applicant has a degree (many have—or are working on—advanced degrees) and most have certifications or special training that’s specific to their area of expertise.  I typically skim through the education and certification/training sections to see if there’s anything especially relevant, but my primary review lingers on the experience section.  I want to know where they’ve worked, how long they were there, what they did, and which tools they used.  It’s all about experience for me.

College itself is an experience—and a really valuable one too—but I want to see candidates who’ve been doing things that make them ready for work.

What Your Experience Tells Me

  • That retail job at the mall tells me you know how to be on time and how to work with a diverse group of people
  • That summer internship with the engineering firm downtown tells me you’ve been exposed to the business world, including the sometimes challenging task of sitting in a windowless cubicle for 8 hours a day
  • That volunteer role you filled to build housing for the homeless tells me you’re willing to do physical tasks and get your hands dirty
  • That job in the computer lab tells me you can do more than one thing at a time and that you’re not afraid of technical challenges
  • That CSER work you did at the CASAS office shows me you’re familiar with the software we use every day
  • That military duty/ROTC program tells me you’re an incredibly hard worker who can lead others and follow instructions
  • That job you had as a campus tour guide tells me you’re a confident public speaker who likes to interact with people

The list of experience-based examples goes on and on and can convince a potential employer that you’re the right person for the job.  Even though nearly every employer expects to train newly hired personnel for some aspect of the position, when all other factors are equal, the applicant who comes with the most experience almost always gets the job offer.  Start building your experiences today!

Your GPA

Here’s something that might surprise you (and tweak professors all across campus):  I don’t really care about your GPA.  In fact, in my nearly 30-year career no one has ever asked me about my GPA. Also, I’ve never asked anyone about theirs (in an interview or otherwise).  Honestly, no one in my industry cares that you graduated Magna Cum Laude, and most of my really successful friends agree:  C-students rule the world!  You’re way better off coming into an interview with 3 lines of really relevant experience than you are with a single line that showcases an impressive GPA.  If push comes to shove, spend more time building relevant experience than you spend trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

Interview Tips

Here are a few other tips for landing the job once you make it to the interview stage:

  • Dress for success. Even if you’re applying for a job as a construction worker, dress to impress.
  • Arrive early. I’ve never hired anyone who was late.
  • Bring copies of your resume, business cards, examples of your work, a pen, and some paper. I’ve never hired anyone who showed up empty-handed.
  • Listen carefully, take notes, and prepare your own questions. I always ask applicants if they have any questions about the position or the company. I’ve never hired anyone who didn’t come with a well-thought-out list of questions.  Be inquisitive.
  • Expect questions that start like this: “Tell me about a time when you had to… (insert workplace challenge).”  I’ve seen many otherwise qualified applicants fall apart when they were asked to give specific examples about various challenges they’ve faced and how they handled them.  Be prepared.
  • Ask for feedback. Most hiring managers are coaches at heart.  Being coachable is often more valuable than being qualified.  Attitude is essential.
  • Get the contact information for everyone you meeting during the interview process. Send a thank you note (hand-written, if you can).  This simple gesture is often enough to tip the decision in your favor.

Lastly, relax, be yourself, and have fun with the whole process.  The Lord has a perfect plan for your life, and that plan includes your vocation.  Celebrate your successes, and learn from the things that don’t go the way you hoped.  Even rejection can be a blessing, and every experience has value.  Show up every day and don’t be a spectator in you own life.

Be the champion you were made to be.


Written By Guest Writer:

Nicholas Elijah Mann

Fortune 100 Department of Defense Contractor