I remember the day I graduated college very clearly: I woke up, got into my getup, looked in the mirror, and thought, “What next?”
Sure, I had worked in a few paid internships related to the field I wanted to pursue. I had even successfully pitched my first piece to an online publication. But I hadn’t nailed down that critical first full-time role, and I could feel the pressure.
Even if you performed well in college, you may wonder how to get your first job. You may think you’ve done all the right things: You’ve completed a research project, held down a summer internship, worked two part-time editing jobs while in school, or met a few key people in your field. But the entry-level job market can be byzantine and anxiety-inducing nonetheless.
1 Don’t Take Rejection Personally
I remember my first job rejection email very clearly. I completed an edit test for an entry-level copy editor position at a major publication, and I was feeling confident in my answers. The next day, the copy chief emailed me to let me know that they had rejected my application. I was devastated. I went over my test several times, trying to discover the mistakes I had made. I couldn’t find a single one.
Since that rejection, I’ve received hundreds more—from jobs, from freelance gigs, from people I’ve wanted to partner with on creative projects. But I don’t remember the details. Instead, I respond to the rejection email politely, I reflect on the experience to see if there’s something to learn, and I move on.
If you’re breaking into a crowded field, you may also be rejected several times. Don’t panic. This is normal. You can always ask for feedback on your application, and sometimes, the recruiter will be kind enough to let you know about an error or misstep that you can learn from. But even if they don’t, you can let the “no” roll off your back. You’ll find the right one.
2 Just Keep Applying
I eventually found freelance gigs in my chosen field: I wrote a few things, managed social media a few places, and taught English at night. But even when I had a comfortable list of clients, I kept applying, kept pitching, kept going.
And at some point, it got exhausting. I was tired, I had been rejected by many people I respected, and I didn’t want to keep hustling.
Even if your job search is more traditional, there will always be a point when you wonder when it will be over. Maybe you had a great phone interview and received a rejection. Maybe you spent hours on your cover letter and you never heard back. Maybe you just had a really bad day of searching for jobs. You can’t control how employers will respond, but you can control how much effort you put into your search. Push through, and eventually you’ll land that first role that can launch your career.
3 Have a System and Stick to It
As I applied to and managed several opportunities as a freelancer, I had to keep them all straight. And even if you’re searching for one full-time role, the cover letters, position names, cities, and contact info will pile up. Stay organized. For some roles, you may have several phone interviews, onsite interviews, plus the materials or portfolio you compiled to apply for the role. You need to keep all of these organized so you can focus your mental energy on acing interviews.
Luckily, you’re not alone! Thousands of recent grads go through this process every year. There are also dozens of excellent resources you can use to start your search. I’ve linked a few below. So happy hunting, and keep applying!
The Guide to Getting Your First Job
Recent Grad? Here’s How to Approach Your Job Search
15 Things No One Tells You About Your First Job
7 Noteworthy Tips for Your First Week at a New Job