Finding a Job After College – 4 Tips

Question: I’m a 23-year-old somewhat recent graduate (2009) from U.C. Berkeley, majored in Cognitive Science. I have spent the last two years working in various jobs, but I wouldn’t say I have started a career yet. The longest I have had a job was for eight months, immediately after I graduated. This position was a food service position at a fairly famous Oakland restaurant called ‘Bakesale Betty’. Since leaving ‘BSB’, I have backpacked through Central and South America for three months, worked in a high tech manufacturing facility for two months, obtained an EMT certification, and worked as an EMT for two months.

I explain my lack of career focus partially in not knowing entirely what I want to do, and partially in a reluctance to committing, or even thinking too hard about a career. In essence, I felt personally underdeveloped, and that a full-time career would stifle opportunities for that expansion. Over the last couple years, I have seen and experienced many things I had been curious about, and have matured. I feel a strong urge, now, to focus and leverage my abilities toward building something meaningful and lasting, and developing a career. I want to contribute to something important and be acknowledged for it, as an adult.

Unfortunately, I am having a really hard time finding a career opportunity, and I feel like my inconsistent work history has a bit to do with it. I would like to hear your perspective on this matter. So far, I include my most relevant work experiences (whatever can fit) on my resume, without dates. If I get an interview, I elaborate on the jobs I’ve held, and try to talk about what I’ve learned, but I find it difficult to convincingly incorporate the part where I say, “Oh, I didn’t quite know what I was doing, then, BUT NOW, I know, and I’m here to stay”. Also, I was hoping you would have some pointers on how to explain the important points of my lengthy personal history without sounding overly self indulgent. I’m sorry for the long email. You must be very busy, and may not have time to read the whole thing.  I’ll wrap everything up in brief right here:

  1. thank you so much for your excellent website!
  2. I graduated 2 years ago, but my work history is very inconsistent and full of holes, because I lacked direction. What is the best way to convincingly distance myself from that uncertainty and assure an employer that I have matured and am a serious candidate?
  3. A good proportion of entry level positions are in sales. I can do sales, but I don’t want to stay in sales. Are these positions worth pursuing to get in the door?
Tom, thanks for reaching out.  Given how many people may have similar questions as you about finding a job after college, I wrote a post to respond to your questions – Can’t Find a Job After College – 6 Ideas.   Take a look and here is my advice just for you.  Your best chance at getting a job given your background is the following in this order
  1. Through networking and/or work for free or less pay to get in the door.  This is the best way to show you are focused now and dedicated.
  2. While networking, you need to define your career path  – what 3 to 5 careers interest you and why and it would be best to apply to companies whose product you are passionate about  and know why you care about them
  3. Important to focus on the present. Your email makes me think 90% of your energy is focusing on how to explain what you did the last two years.  have a good story and move on, other wise, all you come across is someone who is stuck explaining his past – the more your explain the less likely I will hire you no matter what you say.
  4. Last idea – put two years of experience in one umbrella.  This is a risk.  You have to test it out to see if it works.   There is no definitive pros and cons unfortunately other than the ones you know already. You gotta go with your gut.  If you apply to 100 jobs, test 50 of them with 10 different headings and see which one works.  What headings should say is something you gotta come up with.  There are no answers from a HR perspective.   Job search is work.  those who are willing to work at it, will get the best results
My best advice is to figure out which 3 or 5 job types you want and why and then spend at least 50% of your time doing networking with alumni, friends, family to get warm introductions and opportunity to start at entry level.  Then your resume will have a chance.  Otherwise, even with the idea I had for the resume, your chance of a cold read from HR is not great (sorry to say).  Last piece of advice, whatever your story is for the last 2 years, keep it short and definitive.  Over-explaining does not help your case.  You can try “The economy was bad so I decided to take 18 months off to travel and mature.  Now the economy is recovering, I am ready to work.”    If someone doesn’t like that, they won’t hire you no matter how much more your will explain.   another option to try on your resume is leave the last two years out all together.  Good luck!


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