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How to Land Your First Career Job Out of School

For some students — especially those studying things like pre-med or engineering — a career path typically has very logical next steps.

But for others, it can take a little more legwork to translate that degree, whether it’s a masters or undergraduate, into employment that leads to a fulfilling career.

“What you learn in school is rarely what you do in work. You don’t really become a philosopher if you studied philosophy,” says Kristen Hamilton, CEO of Koru, a platform that combines job-training technology with real-life boot camps for college students and recent graduates.

She says the gap between education and employment is widening in today’s job market as employers are searching for innovators, rather than simply workers.

The good news is that many college graduates have all the skills they need to be successful — but the trick is packaging them in the right way to potential employers.

We wanted to know more about how to translate college smarts into ‘innovator’ smarts to land a great job after graduation. We asked Kristen to share some of the insights from Koru’s training program.

Women standing behind graffiti wall

You only need to be 51% certain of direction.

Kristen says for recent college graduates, the very first step of the job-seeking process has nothing to do with sending resumes. It’s all about discovery. That means researching different fields and asking questions like “What’s a day in the life like on the job?” Then, once you have answered some of those questions, commit to a direction.

“Just get to 51% certain you want to pursue a path,” she says. Why? The goal is to start working in a position that helps get on you on a career path, which you can always change.

She notes that more than half of new college grads are under- or unemployed, which not only delays getting into a career–it also means extending student loans or not being able to refinance at a lower rate.

“It’s really expensive to go to school and not earn enough to pay back that debt.”

“It’s really expensive to go to school and not earn enough to pay back that debt,” she says. “That’s the job-seeker challenge.”

Be strategic about grad school plans.

Graduate school can be a great idea — if you know why you are going. Kristen says undergraduates too often say “I am going to go to grad school” as a fallback plan because they don’t know what their other choices are.

However, she offers a reality check on graduate school and how that degree enhances job and earnings prospects.

“Unless you’re going to a top business school, it’s hard to differentiate [yourself] if you get an MBA,” she says. “You’re still not getting real-life experience in an applied context. That’s one of the challenges with grad school.”

Don’t get hung up on your degree.

Take a quick look through job titles and you’ll see that very few have ones that correlate with the name of a major or concentration.

A sticking point for recent graduates, Kristen says, is staying overly focused on what they have studied for their degree. For example, just because you studied psychology doesn’t mean you’ll work in psychology.

“Again, that’s a challenge with graduate school. A lot of master’s degrees are not connected directly to your work,” Kristen says.

Be a signal in the noise.

If you have had the experience of sending off a resume — maybe dozens of resumes — and then getting no response, here’s some reassurance: It’s not you. Automated job boards are an abyss.

“There is no shortage of candidates,” says Kristen, “but there is a resume black hole. Employers get so many applications and they don’t have a signal for quality. They can’t really draw out the best candidates and they all start looking the same.”

For job seekers, that means finding new ways to make contact — whether that’s through networking or job-placement services, find more sophisticated ways to showcase the things you learned in school.

“It’s actually not companies who give people jobs, it’s people, networks, and connections,” says Kristen.

Translate your school experience into employer speak.

The last — and perhaps the most important — thing job seekers can do to translate school life into workplace vocabulary. That means if you were a captain of a team sport you need to package that experience into skills that mean something in the workplace. Show, for example, how you engaged your team around a rule change or another challenge.

“It’s not useful to just show that you were captain of the lacrosse team,” says Kristen. “Show how you were able to engage different parties, collaborate, be part of the team, have ownership, or use data to make a decision.”

“From the employer point of view, you need to perform from day one,” she says.

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Earnest is a technology company using software automation, smart design, and exceptional service to restore trust in the lending industry and help clients take control of their finances.