By Arnie Fertig

U.S. News, May 22, 2018 —

How to be savvy when you are looking for your first job after college.

With college debts at all-time highs and education loan payments about to start coming due, graduation season can be filled not only with a justifiable sense of accomplishment and high hopes but with a clear angst about how to get your first job and begin a meaningful career. Even though the Great Recession is behind us and our nation enjoys low unemployment rates, you still need to be smart about how you enter the full-time workforce.

There are different approaches for getting your first job out of school. (moodboard/Getty Images)

Here are some insights and tips to keep in mind in this season of possibilities:

Are you searching for just a job, or the start of a professional career? It may be either you still don’t know what you want to do when you grow up, or that you feel so desperate to get a job that you’ll be prone to taking a buckshot approach. Still, it is likely to be a mistake with long-term consequences if you just apply to anything and everything without thinking ahead.

Recognize that whenever you apply for your second job, you are likely to be asked questions like: Why did you take your first job? What did you learn from your first job? What value did you provide to your employer? What added value will this enable you to provide to your second employer? It’s important to always be thinking ahead to the next step in your career.

Consider what you want to learn in your first job. Look for job opportunities that will teach you the things you know you will need to learn and help you acquire the necessary experiences expected for the next job in your career ladder.

It might be, therefore, a great idea not only to look at jobs you want now, but at second-level jobs toward which you will aspire in a few years. Learn what prerequisites employers have for those positions. Then, go about the intelligent task of finding those companies and positions that will set you up now to get the crack at the jobs you seek in the longer term.

Your future is an open book and you need to be careful about the story you are composing about yourself. What does the first job you take say about you as a person, and about the associations you are making?

Like it or not, if you join a top-tier firm, the fact that they hire you says something about you. And if you join a firm with a poor reputation or no reputation at all, it can hurt your job prospects later on.

There’s an old adage which suggests that nothing you possess can ever outweigh the value of your good name, your reputation. Everything you do from now on builds your reputation, and you should be sure to curate the kinds of associations and relationships that will be of long-term benefit to you.

Just asking people for favors is begging, not networking. Even though you are just starting on your professional journey, you already know lots of people in multiple networks: your family, friends, college classmates and professors, members of clubs or organizations you’ve participated in, your Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections, members of your church, synagogue or mosque and more. Most colleges have alumni networks you can now access to help you find employment, as well.

It isn’t your networking partners’ responsibility to figure out your career for you, to tell you what to do or set you up for jobs. People in your network will likely be more than willing to help you, but not if they simply feel that you are taking advantage of them and their connections. Remember they are putting their own reputations on the line whenever they tell one of their contacts that they should consider you for a position!

Understand that networking is about building and enriching relationships, not begging for favors. When you take the time to learn about other people and their needs, and you offer to help them whenever you have the opportunity to do so, they’ll be much more eager to put themselves out for you.

And, remember, when you do get around to asking for help, be specific about ways someone can help you, tailoring your “ask” to their capabilities and likely willingness to be of assistance.

Find out what people can know about you already. Check yourself out on multiple search engines. Clean up your Facebook page, and consider that no matter what your privacy settings, anything that is online can likely be found by an enterprising background checker. Get rid of all those pictures that can bring your character into question.

Give each job application the time it deserves. Applying shouldn’t be a numbers game, and when it is, it almost always favors the employer rather than you. That means you need to take the time to tailor a cover letter for each position. Explain a bit about what you know about the company and the role for which you are applying.

Don’t just claim that you are uniquely qualified, or really want the job, but show how your background matches what they are looking for, and why you would like the opportunity to begin your career not just any place, but at that company in particular.

Happy hunting!