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Julia Smith ’18

One of the most common questions I get from students is: “How did you get your first job?”

It makes sense to ask — the task is daunting. You may have landed a summer internship, but landing a full-time position is uncharted territory for most undergrads. When I was a senior at Hamilton, I frequently asked the same question in informational interviews. I was desperate to know what the “secret” was to landing a job — particularly one at a well-known, well-respected company. 

As I’m sure many of you have figured out, there is no magic three-step process to getting that first role. In fact, all of my connections had completely different paths to getting there; and until you’ve actually made it to the end of the process, it can feel incredibly overwhelming and seemingly impossible. I certainly had a few breakdowns in my Babbitt single: Should I have pursued different internships? Will employers be turned off by my major? What if I never get a job?

Before you spiral, I’ve written down a few tips and affirmations to help you get through this (because you will):

  1. You do not need to be the first (or even among the first) of your friends to get a job. Life is not a race. You will get there when you get there. It’s important to set goals for yourself, but you need to be realistic. Different industries have different timelines. Your friends in finance and consulting will likely know what they are doing before senior year even starts. That’s great for them! But, if your goal is to work in marketing, you likely won’t land a job until after you graduate, and that’s perfectly OK.
  2. Networking is your best friend. If any part of this process seems foreign to you, that’s how it’s supposed to feel. You’ve most likely never worked a full-time corporate job before—and that’s where networking comes in. Networking is not just transactional. This is the time to ask questions about the industries that you potentially want to enter. Especially now that COVID has limited internship opportunities, networking is one of the best ways to get insider information about the types of jobs you want to apply for and give you the tools to nail future interviews. It can also help you grasp the skills you need to work on before applying. You don’t need to know everything about an industry to have an informational interview, but I do suggest coming up with good questions before you get on the phone with someone.
  3. It’s never too late to network, but if you can, start early. I started networking in January of my senior year and it made it much easier to reconnect with people once I was ready to actually apply for jobs. If you just graduated and are thinking “*%&! I didn’t do that,” don’t panic. Just start now!
  4. If you get an interview, but don’t land the job, don’t beat yourself up over it. There are a ton of reasons why you might not be a company’s top choice, but they are rarely personal. Getting an interview is the hardest part and it means you are qualified for the role. Plus, every interview is great practice, so treat it that way and try not to let it discourage you.
  5. Confidence is key. The way you present yourself goes a long way. Before you walk into an interview, remind yourself what you bring to the table and do NOT sell yourself short. Did you learn a valuable skill at an internship or in one of your Hamilton classes? Yes? Be confident about it. You have accomplished more than you think. It’s important to show someone that you are comfortable talking about your skills. That doesn’t mean you should be arrogant, but you need to have conviction when speaking.

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