How to make yourself the best candidate for your first-ever job [Part 1]

Tips to consider and traps to avoid

Young lady and young man in an interview over coffee
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels.

As a young adult, there were 2 moments in my life when I felt particularly lost and slightly overwhelmed: when I had to decide what degree I wanted to study at University level and when I had to search for my first job.


In both cases, you often have a strong sense that this will be a decisive moment in your life: Whatever you choose, will determine your entire life from then onward. Today I know that's really not the truth but that serves of little help when you have to go through such crucial moments for the first time. And no matter how many people might surround you, you will most surely feel rather lonely.


So, here are some ideas/tips/suggestions if you are (about to) face that dreading period of looking for your first job. [By the way, these will work for your next job too!]


Begin with the end in mind

Once you feel it's time to find your first job (whether because you chose that timing or are ‘feeling forced’ to do it), make sure you know what are your (end) goals for wanting a job or career in the first place. Why do you even want to get a job? Now, yes, this may sound dauting if you are just starting [‘How on Earth can I even answer that?!!’]. Yet, beginning with the end in mind will help you make important (professional) decisions and keep you on the right track!


Your first job will NOT determine your whole future! You may fear it will, but it definitely will not. I have now started at least 3 different careers; some could have called it failures, but I have enjoyed each of them and I have always 'excelled' (and stayed for more than 5-6 years in it) before deciding to move on to the next one. You can change later on too!


The reason we accept (or choose, if you are lucky) our first job is not (yet or always) too directly related to our ultimate life goals and dreams. At that point in life (usually in your early or mid-20s), your main priorities and concerns are very different from the ones you'll have 10-20-30 years down the line. And that's perfectly OK! Often we get a first job because we want to start having some financial independence, because we want to try new experiences, go abroad, prove that we can do it, put in practice and develop skills we really like, learn with the best masters on a topic we are passionate about, just explore our options, etc. and any combination of these; yet, we all have potential to excel in different areas. Whatever reasons are 'driving you', try to be aware of them at the conscious level. That way, you can 'take the driving seat' ;) and make sure that, from the beginning, your professional path is aligned with your life ambitions. 


Trap to avoid: Not knowing your 'Why'.


Tip: If starting with the end in mind still feels too scary, then try to at least 'jump' a year or 2 down the road. Imagine, in 1 year time, what would have made it the perfect first job?! What would be different by then? Write down your list!


Note: If your first job was already a while ago but you are looking for your next one (whether actively job hunting or passively being alert to new vacancies and opportunities), you can do a similar exercise. If you were looking back, 1 year from now, what would make that a perfect (next) job for you? What would have to have changed by then? Use your answers to decide which job offers will put you in the right direction :)

Focus and narrow down to aim smarter

Source: skitterphoto, at Pexels.
Source: skitterphoto, at Pexels.

When you are looking for a job, you should beware of wasting, not only your time, but especially your mental & emotional energy. Too many jobseekers, especially first-timers, believe that the best way to find a job is to start sending as many CVs as possible, as quickly as possible. Yes, you will most likely need a CV at some point, but this should be neither your first action, nor should you send them out indiscriminately (which is often call 'CV spamming mode'). More on CV’s in future issues...  


For now, spend some time truly understanding what type of job or career you would like to have and make sure you only apply to the vacancies that are best aligned with your longer-term goals (remember last week's tip!). Then, find the overlap between your desired career criteria and your existing skills & strengths. Your first job is not going to be your ideal job (let's face it!) but it should offer you a sense of progress towards your chosen destination. You can narrow down which roles or positions, organisational cultures, maybe even geographical areas or working languages would send you off in the right direction. In a sense, define as closely as possible your ‘job hunting ground’ ;) This will help you select which vacancies you should consider as well as help you manage your energy and motivation as you go along (more on this also in future issues). In short:

  1. Make a list of the characteristics your ideal first (or next) job should have. Reflect also on the minimum you would accept (if any). Use this free template to guide you.
  2. Identify your unique set of skills and strengths (for example, list your past experiences with this template or find out what your Character Strengths are).
  3. Find the careers and job vacancies where these overlap!

You can always work with a Coach to get some support in clarifying your strengths and what jobs would best fit your profile.


Trap to avoid: ‘Shooting everywhere’, without a specified target.

Have a plan and routine that align with your peak times...

Job searching is pretty much like having a full-time job; it’s definitely not a hobby. To make sure you are managing your energy properly, you need to structure your time and have a routine that helps you, including matching your tasks with your likely mood/motivation and productivity level!


Start by defining which tasks are important or even essential to perform, how often they occur and any applicable deadlines for them. Then make sure you actually schedule them throughout your week (use this voucher to get a free template Schedule), bearing in mind the times of the day/week when you tend to ‘peak’, such as being more and less creative or productive. For example, don’t schedule writing motivation letters for time slots when you know you’ll likely be feeling 'mentally tired'. 

... and don't forget your ‘must do’ list

Most job-seekers, especially first-timers, know you will need to regularly spend time checking what new vacancies have been published and possibly applying to them, but often forget (or even actively try to avoid) networking.


Indeed, you will likely need to regularly check what new vacancies have been published (some job websites will allow you to create notifications with your preferred search criteria), whether they really match what you are looking for, adjusting your CV and cover letter for every vacancy you decide to apply, send it, and follow-up on replies (if there was a deadline for feedback, don’t email before then but feel free to contact within 1-2 days afterwards if you have not yet heard back; in any case, even if you got a rejection, try to learn more from that situation, namely what could you have done differently/better if anything).


However, networking is crucial!



Check more on this tip and others in my next article (coming soon).

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Natália Leal  |  Coach & Trainer

Empowering You to Successfully Navigate Your Life & Career Transitions


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Certified Professional Life Coach