Landing That First Job

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 4.5 million college graduates in the United States. Evidently, that's a lot of people. Let's make an assumption that most of these people are also in the job market. From sheer numbers, it is clear that job hunting is an extremely competitive landscape. To land the first full-time job is one the most fulfilling yet frustrating experiences in life. Although I am happily enjoying my work right now, I faced a long uphill battle to get to where I am today. I hope to shed some light on job searching tips and provide some motivation for those who need it.

A critical mindset to have is that job hunting is a numbers game. This mean that even if you are an extremely qualified candidate, you will still need to submit many applications regardless. Looking at some data online, for every job, there were on average 250 potential applicants, culminating in only a single job offer. So, don't be discouraged -- part of this process is just luck!

To clear up any confusion, however, I want to emphasize that this does not mean to send in half-baked resumes and cover letters, hoping one will stick. Every job that you apply to should be done with due diligence. Spend the extra few minutes to customize your approach on why you are interested in this particular company and position. This strategy may be less effective for larger companies but crucial for mid-size to small startups. Especially when getting an initial interview (usually with the HR or hiring manager), you should know basic information about the company and what the job position entails.

My experience is pertinent to those looking for a job in the tech industry. It took me 200 applications before landing my first full time job; of these 200, many were automatic rejections -- companies nowadays use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS), meaning that the computer scans your resume prior to having a human read it. Amusing aside: I applied to a fairly well-known company back in May 2018; in January 2019, I received a generic rejection email, meaning the response time was 8 months! It is not uncommon to either be ignored completely or get an significantly delayed response. A rule of thumb is to keep your resume simple; fancy graphics or format will only confuse the ATS and cause it to throw your resume in the trash without any further consideration. Furthermore, I am a fan of the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to eloquently and concisely describe your work experience and/or projects. It is widely known that recruiters only spend a few seconds scanning each resume so having a structured response is critical for your application to be further considered.

For each job application, I recorded all of the relevant details in a spreadsheet and updated it if I heard any response from the company. During the job searching process--I encourage you to do the same--I strived to have 20 live applications at any one time. If I did not hear anything for 2 weeks, then the application was considered “dead". This encourages me to consistently apply to jobs and always have something in the pipeline for interviews and/or coding challenges. Whenever I had an interview, I would make sure to comment on what went well, but more importantly, what I could have improved on. This allows me to learn from my mistakes instead of recycling the same errors in subsequent interviews.

Whenever possible, use LinkedIn as a resource. If the company you are applying for has a connection, whether it's a close friend or simply an alumni, do not hesitate to reach out. Referrals are a two-way street benefiting both parties -- they guarantee your resume will be looked at, and can potentially result in a job offer; on the other hand, the person giving the referral will receive a juicy bonus paycheck if you are accepted.

Regarding cover letters, even if it is optional, make sure to submit one anyway. It is typical for companies to perform a simple filter on those who submitted a cover letter to narrow down the candidate pool. Thinking from the perspective of the company, it is practical to hire candidates who put the extra time and effort when applying for the job.

I hope that I was able to provide some useful guidance in the difficult job searching process. All I can say is to keep pushing because a job will land eventually, whether it takes days, weeks, months, or even a whole year!


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