First Job vs. Next Job

Last week I was asked to talk about my book (Start Your Career: 5 Steps to the Right Job after College) with a group of graduate students, many of whom already had found their first “right job after college.” My challenge was to find a way to share advice about the job search process with two groups who were interested in very different processes: One group sought the first job, the other hoped to climb the career ladder and make it to the next rung. I began my presentation by talking about the differences, but also showing how much of the process remains the same. For the next few posts, I’m going to share with you some of my ideas about the differences in navigating the job search at varying points in your career. Since I’ve spent the last two months talking about employer expectations, I’ll start this new series by comparing what employers will expect from a new college graduate (undergrad or master’s level) with what they’ll expect from someone who’s already working within their chosen field. Keep in mind, however, that the general traits that have been the focus of this blog for the past few weeks are going to be relevant for everyone.

When students apply for their first full-time job after college, there are two specific areas that are going to be of prime importance. The first is education, and there are several aspects to education that are critical. What was your major and your GPA? What courses have you taken relevant to the position? Where did you go to school? Does that school have a credible reputation within your field? When students apply for jobs in the same geographic area where they went to school, it may be important to talk about specific professors with whom you studied who may be known to your potential employers.

In addition to specific coursework, the employers will expect you to have been involved in extracurricular activities. As I’ve discussed several times in the past, campus organizations provide opportunities to demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and time management skills.

Ideally you will have done one or more internships before graduation, and internships create the bridge from the academic world to the workplace. Employers are going to want to know that you’ve had experience, either through internships, co-ops, or relevant part-time (or summer) jobs.

The second major area that will be important is your knowledge of the organization and insights regarding how you can contribute to it. This is where you demonstrate research skills, attention to detail (by showing that you have read the job description carefully and can connect with the position), and familiarity with the field in general and the organization in particular. From the point of view of a potential employer, there’s really no excuse for not knowing a great deal about any organization where you apply for a job. Unless you’re applying for a job as a covert operative, or with a crime syndicate, there won’t be many employers that don’t have a website to give you a wealth of information, but you should also do information interviews prior to applying for a position (assuming there’s time). (See my book’s Tip 6 Conduct information interviews and Appendix A: Formulating questions for the information interview for more advice on how to pursue information interviews.)

For those who are looking for the next job in their career, knowledge of the organization is equally important. Whether you’re moving to a new organization or trying to climb within the one where you’re currently working, you need to convince the hiring manager that you understand how you’ll fit in and what you’ll be able to contribute. Beyond that, however, your relevant work experience is going to be of primary importance. You need to be able to describe

  • Specific accomplishments in your current position that are relevant to the needs of the organization
  • Quantifiable achievements, such as increasing social media followers by 30%, revising 20 pages on the corporate website, or managing a team of ten co-workers to complete a large project
  • Particular skills, typically involving any specialized technology or software, but also including the “softer” skills such as writing, research, analysis, and so forth

An additional difference in employer expectations for experienced workers is that, if this is not your first job in your career field, you’ll need to explain why you want to make a move. If you’re changing employers, you must justify your rationale for wanting to leave without saying anything negative about that current/former employer. If you’re looking to move up within the company, you should explain why the timing is right for you to make this move.