Looking For Your First Job After Graduation? Here’s What You Can Do

fresh grad job search

Graduating can be scary. For most of your life, you may have just followed a predetermined path: primary school, secondary school, university.

This may be the first time you’re making a major life decision on your own. There’s no course timetable to follow and no grades to tell you that you’re doing a good job.

Add to that the fact that the global economy is stalling with countries revising their growth rates down and even the fear of recession looming. As a fresh graduate, you also need to face the stigma that employers have of your level of experience and skillset. According to a Malaysian Federation of Employers survey, only 52% of firms will consider hiring a fresh graduate.

But don’t be discouraged. Here are eight things you can do to get your first job.

1. Hone your skills and build a portfolio

If you’ve just graduated, you may have found yourself with a chunk of free time. Use that time to work on skills that are relevant to the roles you’re looking for. With sites like edX, Coursera and Khan Academy, it’s never been easier to learn online.

And while online courses are great, you’d also need to show prospective employers that you’ve been honing these skills. Create a portfolio of your work – this could be a blog, GitHub profile or Behance portfolio. Just make it something can be referred to as an example of your work.

2. Learn to write a resume

Resumes are often the first point of contact between you and a potential employer. If you don’t get past this stage, you may not get another chance to impress them.

There’s a lot of advice out there on writing great resumes, so take the time to comb through online resources. Here are a few basic tips you’ll come across:

  • Use a resume template. Don’t know how to start? Look up a template or download one. It helps you decide what information to include, and how to organize it.
  • Tailor to the job. As a new graduate, you may be tempted to inflate your resume with a long list of experiences from part-time jobs, co-curricular activities or volunteer work. While they can be helpful to include, make sure you only use what is relevant to the job you are applying for. Consider how you can tie in your experience to key phrases in a job advertisement’s description – this could mean crafting a unique resume for each job you apply for.
  • Proofread (more than once). If your resume is riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, an employer may write you off. Get a friend to look over your resume or run it through a grammar-checking app like Grammarly.

3. Prepare for interviews

Even a great resume can’t save a bad interview. As with resumes, there are lots of resources online on how to prepare for an interview. Here are a few tips:

  • Research the role and company. This helps you determine if you are suitable for the role (and vice versa). It also helps you prepare interview answers that align with what the employer is looking for.
  • Prepare answers. You can’t predict every question your interviewer will ask, but preparing answers for common interview questions (do you have a career plan, why you want this role, what are your salary expectations, etc.) can go a long way.
  • Get ready to ask. Asking questions about the role or company (what the working hours are like, how many people are on the team) shows employers that you are interested. And while the prospective employer is interviewing you to see if you are a good fit, you should also take this time to find out if this position or company is a good fit for you.
  • Do a mock interview. Get a friend to help you practice interview questions and answers. This helps you build confidence for the real thing. A friend can also help you point out mistakes or awkwardness that you might not have caught yourself.

4. Get on a schedule

Job searching can be overwhelming. You may feel like you’re constantly under pressure to be doing something during your job hunt.

It’s easier to set a schedule so you know what you must do on any given day. For example, set a day to research potential employees, and another to submit job applications. Record the specifics of each application by listing down the company details, position title, as well as how and when you applied for the role. This helps you keep track of when you’d need to follow up on your applications.

Here’s an example:

Review listings on job search portalsResearch potential companiesWrite applicationsReview applications and send them outFollow up on past applications

5. You may have to accept a lower paying job

During an economic downturn, some industries may experience lower profits. Businesses may not be paying new hires the same wages as they did before the recession. That said, you should still search online to find out what the average starting salaries for this role are so you have an estimate of a fair salary range.

There’s another caveat – a lower starting salary can lead to lower lifetime earnings if you do not negotiate your salary. So when you’re more experienced, consider negotiating a salary raise or switching jobs for a higher salary. According to Michael Page’s Salary Guide, Malaysians can expect an average salary increase of 10% to 25% when switching jobs.

6. Explore similar roles

Your dream job may not be available right now. That’s okay – if you know which field you want to work in, you could consider applying for a different role in the same field. For example, if you’re keen on finding a copywriting role but you haven’t been able to land one, consider responding to that job ad for a social media specialist.

While it’s not the exact role you’ve set out for, it can help you gain transferable skills. And who knows? Keeping an open mind helps you explore other career options that you may end up enjoying more.

Still not sure what kind of jobs you want to apply for? The 80,000 Hours site is a great resource that can help you narrow down potential options to a shortlist, and how you can explore these options. The site focuses on finding fulfilling careers with positive social impact.

7. Make use of government initiatives

If you’re having trouble finding a job, there are a few government initiatives you can take advantage of:

Let’s Learn DigitalFree access to almost 3800 courses including professional certification courses via Coursera (usually costs US$399 a year).Malaysians who are unemployedMDEC
#KisahSiswaGet access to personalised coaching sessionsMalaysian undergraduate or Malaysian fresh graduate (employed for less than two years upon graduating)TalentCorp
MyASEAN InternshipInternships with top employers in various ASEAN countriesHigh-achieving youth currently studying or graduated within the last six monthsTalentCorp

8. Learn to budget

Okay, this one doesn’t actually help you get your first job, but it’s something you’ll need to do as you start earning your first paycheque. Learning to budget in your early 20s can greatly impact your finances down the line. Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  • Build an emergency fund. Build up an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of living expenses. This helps you cover any emergency expenses (without having to rely on your parents). It’s also useful if you want to change jobs later on – you’ll have a bit of a cushion to fall back on while you’re on your job search.
  • Get insured. If you’re no longer eligible for coverage under your parents’ insurance policies, you’ll need to get your own. To start off, it’s important to get medical insurance coverage (which is more affordable the younger you are). You can consider other insurance policies later on.
  • Follow a budgeting system. A popular system is the 50-30-20 budget – that means allocating 50% of your salary on needs, 30% on wants and 20% on savings. Then, consider how you can invest those savings. As a new graduate, you may not have many financial obligations yet – so if you can afford to save even more, that could accelerate your journey to financial independence.

Graduating during a recession won’t be easy – but you’ll have to keep going at it. Take the time to develop new skills or interests. Find ways to keep learning, even if you’ve gotten a less-than-ideal job. Today’s economic hardships can become valuable learning experiences that will help you shape your career for the better. Good luck out there!

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