The answers to the following six common questions of many early-career professionals can help guide you on your way:
“I don’t meet all the requirements in the job description. Should I apply anyway?”
Yes. Few applicants can tick all the required and preferred boxes in a job post. Besides, a perfect fit is somewhat of a myth, and not all the requirements have equal weight. If you have at least 75 percent of the qualifications, go for it.
At the same time, don’t apply for jobs that are poorly aligned with your major, work history, or skill set. For example, if you’re just a year out of college, don’t waste time applying for management roles. You have a long career ahead of you, so take your time and work your way up.
“Should my resume mention my GPA, college awards, class projects, and internships?”
At some point in your career, grades and school activities give way to a longer work history and skills section. But now may not be the time to drop college-related content. If these elements help your resume stand out, include them. Focus on details that would be relevant to hiring managers, such as your project successes and proficiency in key software like Excel. Employers are keen to hire workers with hard-to-teach soft skills, so mention how an internship or class project honed your presentation abilities, sense of teamwork, and capacity for leadership.
“I want to take my career in a different direction. How should I go about doing that?”
It’s common for early-career professionals to try on several roles before settling into something they like. To successfully move into another field requires two things: researching and networking. Talk to everyone you know who does what you want to do next. This includes reaching out to family members, former roommates, college advisers, the career center at your college, and your alumni association. Informational interviews are a great way to get smart about alternative career paths. Also build up your LinkedIn connections so you can find out whether anyone in your circle can help you make the leap.
“My experience is a bit thin for the job I want. What should I do?”
You should apply anyway, especially if there’s significant overlap with what you can do and what the employer is looking for. Carefully read the job posting to see where there might be wiggle room. Let’s say a company wants to hire a marketing specialist with two to three years of experience, but you have only one. They may overlook your short work history if you can compensate for that with mad technical skills, solid business acumen, and innovative thinking—all of which you should mention in your cover letter.
It goes without saying that you should never exaggerate or lie on job applications. It may be tempting to pad your resume when the experience section is thin, but you could seriously damage your reputation and career if you do and are found out.
“The large firm I want to work for just turned me down. Should I keep trying to get a job there?”
Yes and no. If you’ve gotten as far as the interview stage, that means hiring managers saw potential in you. You could follow up with a note, thanking them for their time and asking to be considered for future opportunities. Many employers keep a file of promising applicants, and it’s not unheard of for managers to contact people years after they applied for a role. Also, you could always try again after you’ve gained more experience in the workforce.
However, don’t pin your career on a few big-name employers. In fact, according to a recent Robert Half report on working happy, job satisfaction is inversely correlated with company size. So aim for well-known companies, but don’t overlook startups or small businesses. These are often the best places to gain a wide variety of skills.
“The salary I’ve been offered seems low. Do I have any room to negotiate?”
Yes. The compensation you receive early in your career is a good indicator of future earnings, so it literally pays to negotiate. To find out what you’re worth, do your research. The 2017 Robert Half Salary Guides are excellent resources for starting wages and hiring trends. The associated Salary Calculator customizes the pay range for your city and experience level, as well as the job title.
The start of a new career is exciting, and now is a good time to enter the professional job market. Employers are eager to hire fresh talent with innovative ideas, so get out there, be bold, and land that promising new job.