How to Find Your First Job

By Logan Bright Modified on May 13, 2024

Consider your goals, do your research, and get hired!

Two unemployed robots plead for help and advice in finding their first job out of high school.

If you're looking to earn your first entry-level position and get into the world of work, you've got a lot on your plate. Take this guide slowly, each step in its time. When you've worked through it, you'll be ready to apply to companies big and small.

Finding a job

Before you start browsing job listings, take a few minutes to do some thinking.

Consider your goals

Always consider your goals, both short-term and long-term. Here are a few questions to muse upon — you'll think of others.

  • What do you want to accomplish right now?
  • Where are you heading in the future?
  • What sort of job or internship would help you reach your goals?
  • How long can you afford to search for a job?

Don't skip this step and apply to a dozen recently-posted, random jobs. Save yourself the time and hassle, and apply for jobs that fit your aspirations and interests. Of course, your short-term goal might simply to be to "earn money," which is understandable. You may be able to find a role to cover this, then turn your attention to your longer-term aspirations.

Choose your tools

Consider the tools you'll use. Will you check out job boards directly? Intermediaries like The federal government's online job bank? Speak with your guidance counsellor or career services professional?

Letting people in your life know you're job hunting can be helpful, too. Many jobs are never publicly advertised at all: roles are filled by networking. Make it known you're searching, and someone you know may have just the right opportunity.

Choose your target jobs

When choosing a position, try not to be too literal. Think outside the box: if you want to be a computer programmer, you could start as a counsellor for a kid's coding camp, which would not only help sharpen your tech skills, but your leadership and community involvement, too.

Depending on your goals, you may consider pursuing an internship: a temporary position where your goal is to learn the ropes. (Many internships are paid, but not all, so be careful and ask questions.)

You may have to reach out to companies directly if they don't have a formal internship program in place. If you're brave, ask to shadow someone whose work might appeal to you.

Prepare your documents — and yourself

This is where the real work begins. To do it right, you've got a lot of reading, writing, and revising ahead.

1: Research

First, you need to learn as much as possible about the companies you're interested in. Recruiters and hiring managers want candidates to be informed. The more you know about the organization — its goals, values and culture — as well as the role itself, including expectations and responsibilities, the better off you'll be.

Check out official Twitter pages, news websites, and sites like Glassdoor to learn more about the company you want to work for. When the time comes for your interview, you'll be well equipped to ask good, relevant questions.

2: Writing

You've probably heard a lot about the importance of your cover letter and resumé. It's all true! The way you market yourself is a big part of the hiring process. Keep your resumé and cover letter consistent in look, feel, and content.

3: Your resumé

We often think of having "a" resumé, but this idea is outdated. Today, successful job seekers need a resumé for each job they apply for. That is, you need a "base" resumé that you custom tailor for each position you're after.

When tailoring, start first with the job description itself. It's chock-full of valuable keywords you'll want to steal. Remember, most resumés aren't read by a human, they're read by a computer as part of an "applicant tracking system." This means a robot scans your resumé for relevant keywords that match the job description. If a human does read your resumé, you have, on average, six seconds of their attention, so you'd best hit the mark.

This isn't to say you should copy the job description onto your resumé wholesale — but pay attention to the recurring themes and ideas, and especially, the verbs (or action words). Try to reflect as many of keywords as you can in your own work to maximize your chances of getting noticed — but don't sacrifice clarity and end up with a word salad.

Things to include on your resumé:

  • technical skills
  • your "soft" skills
  • awards or special recognition
  • certifications
  • volunteer work
  • your social media or blog (careful with this one!)

Though you may not have direct experience, think about how your skills could translate to the workplace.

5: Your cover letter

Your cover letter is much like your resumé: it should be clear, concise, and tailored to the particular position you're seeking. It should be consistent with your resumé in tone and content, but you should also share your personality. Tell your story, and connect it to the role you want to win.

Generally, companies hire based on two broad principles:

  • Experience and competence in the job itself
  • "Fit" with the company's culture and values

Without experience, you may have to rely a little more on "fit," so make it count. Share who you are in your cover letter, but more importantly, make clear what you bring to the table. You've done a bunch of research, so prove it: show why you're a great fit for this particular job, and back it up with evidence.

An unemployed robot pleads for help and advice in finding its first job out of high school.

Get organized

Now that you've got an excellent cover letter and resumé combo, you're ready to flood the airwaves! Well, almost.

Scheduling your searches

You've got a calendar in your phone, so put it to use. Finding a job is a lot like finding scholarships: you have to put in the time, consistently and regularly. Give yourself a couple hours each week to search for jobs, tailor your resumé and cover letter, and follow up with employers. These tasks can be exhausting, but stick with it.

Tracking your results

If you're really serious, you can create a job tracker spreadsheet: a simple tool to help you stay on top of each application. Consider these data points to keep an eye on:

  • Company name
  • Contact details of recruiter or hiring manager
  • Date you applied
  • Deadlines and interviews
  • Date you followed up
  • The job's current status, and notes about how things went

Asking for help

When trying something new, it never hurts to ask for help. Reach out to your guidance counsellor at school, ask friends and family what they recommend, or consider help from the pros with sites like eLoft Careers, who offer resources, advice, and one-on-one sessions to take your job hunt further.

If you're in college or university, check out your career services office for advice and workshops on job hunting.

Start applying

Despite all your efforts so far, don't get too hung up on a particular job listing. You've made a lot of custom documents, and you only need one job, so spread the love around. Apply to as many jobs as you can handle.

Once you've applied to all the companies you've researched and prepped for, well, start researching new ones! Some organizations are very quick to respond, while others are more leisurely — and some won't respond at all. So keep your options open. Chances are your first position won't be your "dream job", after all.

Get interviewed

Preparing for and performing well in a job interview is a whole topic of its own, but if you've been doing your homework diligently, you're already in good shape.

Typically, interviewers already know about your skills, experiences, and qualifications — they've read your resumé, after all. The interview is more about that most ephemeral quality: "fit." So let your personality shine through!

You can demonstrate your fit through your bearing, presentation, and preparation. Be ready not only for the classics (like "what's your greatest weakness?") but curveball questions as well. Interviewers want to see you think on your feet, but preparation is the key to success.

You should have some questions of your own, too. Inevitably, at the end of your interview, you'll be asked if you have any questions. Don't be caught unprepared. Have around three solid, substantive questions about the role, the company, or your interviewer's experiences. You should have plenty of material to draw upon thanks to your research. Being tuned in like this shows you're serious about the opportunity.

Remember to send a respectful follow-up email about a week after your interview, thanking the interviewers for their time. You can end with something like, "I look forward to discussing this opportunity further," to show you're still interested.

Three little robots line up with a larger robot holding a 'Jobs' sign. Each of the wee bots is excited to be employed!

Get working

And that's it! You've done your interview, and you've sent a respectful follow-up (right??). From here on, things are out of your hands. Keep track of each application so you don't miss anything important, but turn your attention to the future: new horizons, and new jobs you can research and apply for. You may find it — well, if not fun, at least engaging.

Just remember, all your efforts will pay off, if indirectly, so keep at it and don't give up. Good luck!

Still not sure of next steps? Check out the SchoolFinder Career Quiz for a fun way to get matched directly with a field that fits you — and find the schools and programs you need to get there.

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