How to Get Your First Job: A Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Getting your first job can be a confusing process. Here's a guide on how to navigate it.

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Whether you’re freshly graduated, still in school, or trying to launch a career in a new industry, finding and landing that first job is a major milestone. Here’s a step-by-step guide to navigating the job search.

How to get your first job with no experience

1. Do your research

Before you start applying to jobs, it’s a good idea to get a sense of what’s out there. What kind of job appeals to you? What industry are you drawn to? If you’re stuck, try making a list of areas and jobs you’re interested in. This can give you some clarity around what you want—and what you don’t want.

Once you have an idea of what kind of job you’d like, learn about it. Join some professional groups on LinkedIn and read through several job descriptions of the position. You’ll gradually build a sense of what skills are needed, and what recruiters are looking for.

If you’re still in school, talk to a career counselor about available opportunities they can connect you with. Ask about opportunities they’re aware of, and see if they can connect you with people who work in areas you’re interested in.

What if I don’t know what kind of job I want?

Don’t worry—it’s more normal than you think. You don’t have to narrow down your interests to just one job; picking several to keep on your radar is fine, especially as you’re just starting out. Don’t forget that your first job doesn’t have to be your dream job. If you find the work isn’t what you expected, you can always try something new. Often, the skills you learn doing one job will transfer to another.

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2. Build your resume

Applying to your first job will inevitably mean you won’t have a lot of professional experiences to list, if any at all. That’s fine. Hiring managers will know you’re just starting out. Here are a few tips to building out a resume for your first job:

  • Education: List the name of your school, your graduation year, and your GPA. You can call out any relevant courses you’ve taken in a section called “Relevant coursework.”

  • Extracurricular and volunteer activities: If you’ve been involved in any volunteer work, school clubs, or other activities in your community like Scouting, call these out. What did you help achieve? What skills did you use?

  • Skills: What technical or human skills do you have? Listing skills you consider your strengths can signal to an interviewer the kind of person that you are. Some you might consider include language abilities, computer skills, analytical skills, time management, and organization.

Read more on how to make a resume for your first job.

3. Apply

Once you have your resume ready, you can start applying to jobs. After you find a few you’re interested in, tailor your resume to the position as best as you can. You can do this by swapping out relevant courses, listing different activities, and emphasizing skills that fit best.

Keep an eye out for entry-level positions, including internships. A little research should give you an idea of what kinds of positions are typical entry-level in the field.

Some entry-level jobs say they want people with years of experience. Why’s that?

Some job descriptions might say they’re entry-level, but then turn around and say they require a few years of relevant experience. This is because job descriptions often list their “perfect” candidate, knowing that most applicants might not have everything they ask for. Don’t be afraid to apply to these listings if you have most of the other qualifications.

Don’t forget that “relevant experience” doesn’t have to mean a job. Coursework or experiences where you showed any of the qualifications requested can count. Be honest about what you bring, and convey your enthusiasm for the job. A willingness to learn and other transferable skills you bring to the table might make up for your experience level.

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4. Prepare for the interview

Preparing for an interview can help you do well on the day of, and calm your nerves. A few days before the interview, practice answering some common interview questions. It can help to write out several questions and jot down some notes on what you'd say. Try saying your answers out loud. You might also have a friend or family member play the role of the interviewer. Pick out the clothes you’ll wear ahead of time. 

Here are a few questions you might hear in your interview:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Why do you want to work for us?

  • What are your greatest strengths?

  • What makes you a good candidate for this position?

  • How would you deal with conflict?

Don’t forget to ask questions at the end. Do some research and prepare a few questions about the work or organization that you’d like to clarify, or are curious about. Feeling stuck? You can ask about the work culture, or what typical career progressions at the organization look like.

Should I ask about pay?

Talking about salary during an interview can be tricky, but it's also an undeniably important consideration in a job search. Many experts agree that it's best to avoid asking about pay during an initial interview; save your questions for when you're further along in the process. If and when you do decide to ask, consider asking for a compensation range, rather than a specific number.

Often, if a hiring manager is interested, they'll ask you about your compensation expectations. Do your research ahead of time on sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor to get a feel for typical rates in the field in your location. Then come to your interview with a realistic range: from the lowest amount you'd accept to your ideal rate. Save the negotiations for after you receive a job offer.

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5. Wait to hear back

You’re done with the interview—congrats! Regardless of how it went, interviews can be mentally challenging and deserve some recognition. 

It's a good practice to send a thank you email after your interview. Use this letter as an opportunity to reinforce your potential value to the company and enthusiasm for the role, as well as highlight any skills you may not have mentioned in the interview.

As you wait to hear back, it’s a good idea to apply to other jobs. It’s rare to get a job at the first place you apply to, and it’s better to open up more options for yourself.

You can also build up the skills you’ll need for the jobs you want as you wait. Whether it’s communication, computer programming, Microsoft Excel, Spanish, or data analysis, you’ll be able to find many different types of courses online. You can complete a professional certificate to learn in-demand skills.

What if I never hear back?

Sometimes you send in your application or finish an interview, and end up not hearing back at all. If your interviewer mentioned a timeline for next steps, use that as guidance for when to follow up. If, for example, the interviewer said that you could expect to hear back in two to three weeks, it's appropriate to follow up after the three-week mark. If you were not provided a timeline, follow up after five to eight business days.

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What is a good first job?

In your first job, you might be a waiter, a sales clerk, or computer programmer. Whether it’s a good job will depend on your needs and interests. Remember, first jobs don’t always have to be dream jobs. If it can help you learn about the industry you’re interested in, or the skills you need to move forward, that can be valuable, too.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to evaluate potential jobs:

  • Will this job teach me new skills?

  • Will this job help me meet people that are in the field I’m interested in?

  • Is this job in a field I’m interested in?

  • What hours will I have to work?

  • Will I be able to support myself?

  • Can I meet the physical requirements for this job?

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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