Solving the Senior Dilemma: When to Start Applying for Post-grad Jobs

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As the spring semester picks up, seniors are starting to realize that this is the last semester of their college career. Though we may mourn the end of wearing pajamas on a weekday or being able to waltz into a dining hall for a midnight snack, it’s time to start making a game plan for, erm, the rest of our lives. Some people have been lucky enough to secure employment already and while the vast majority of students look upon them with contempt, if you haven’t started looking, you’re not quite assed out yet.

Career exploration and academic advisors at UW-Madison suggest starting with the infamous resume. Of course this is an obvious part of the process, but Ida Balderama, Assistant Director and Academic Mentor for the POSSE Program, stated that it often gets taken for granted. “You need to take your time and make sure to go over it with an advisor who really knows you because we’re often really bad at pointing out our own strengths; it’s great to have someone there to do that for you.” In addition to this, she states that though a resume can change depending on the kind of positions you’re applying to, it should function to highlight the skills you want to bring to the table.

The next essential step is to start reaching out to people and networking before you even apply. “Students often experience applying to companies via the Internet and not hearing anything back. However, when you build foundational relationships with people who already work at the company, it is easier to be sure that your information was passed along,” Amy Shannon, cross-college advisor, said. She agreed that although we think of the job application process as filling out applications and sending them with our fingers crossed, the real application process starts with getting yourself out there. “People want to make a connection with you and if you are someone who they can see themselves spending time with, they’ll advocate for you or pass your information along.”

As a student advisor, Baldarama also said that finding and letting your references know where you’re applying and why is an essential piece to the puzzle. “I’m not going to know what aspects about you and your experience to emphasize if I don’t know what you’re applying for,” Baldarama said. In a few words, you want to get your ducks in a row. This means meeting with advisors to look over and revise your cover letter, looking into a variety of employment opportunities in various fields, and visiting the websites of the companies you want to work for, which takes time.

Some students who are going into certain fields will have the opportunity to visit job fairs at their schools and find a job there as early as mid-October. However, though it varies, career advisor Rebecca Bradbury said, “when you’re applying for positions that companies post, there is generally an eight-week process to fill a position. You don’t want to start applying too early and be unavailable when they need you because you’re in school, so I would recommend starting in the March to April time frame.”

This, of course, is not standard across the board. For various fields, the application process is different. Some companies, especially those in engineering fields, want to know if you have certain skills or abilities. You can often get hired by simply proving that you have those skills. “For other companies, however, they want to know how you approach creative processes and if current employees would want to spend all day with you, which can take a little longer,” Shannon said. Even with this advice from our career experts, it is always essential to talk to an advisor in your field to get better acquainted with the approach you should take to gaining employment.

For students looking to apply for positions out-of-state or internationally, Bradburry recommends waiting until you can get your feet on the ground so that the search will be a little easier. Still, “companies are getting more flexible. If they want you for a position and you are not in the area, they’ll Skype or call you, but you need to make them interested with the materials you send in,” Shannon said. This drives the point that a good resume and cover letter are the beginning of a successful job search.

Basically, it all boils down to this: Network, network, network (6-12 months in advance), get your shit (resume, cover letter, portfolio) together (6 months in advance), make sure you and your references are prepared (2 months in advance) and, of course, send those applications out (2 months in advance of expected employment).

Maya is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Communication Arts and African-American Studies. She’s obsessed with all things Vogue and is unhealthily attached to her home, New York City.

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