The class of 2017 is joining the workforce with some tough challenges but, according to researchers, with plenty of optimism. But no matter how lofty the speeches on this year’s commencement circuit may be, the reality is that lots of new grads will land in crappy entry-level jobs–if they’re lucky to find jobs at all.
That means competition for the good ones is going to be steep. So to find out what it takes to get a leg up, Fast Company asked a few recent grads at YouTube, Giphy, and SoundCloud for their advice.
Make Something You Can Show Off
Probably the most common resume-writing advice is to avoid describing your job duties and focus instead on something you actually accomplished. Not only is that wise counsel, it goes for your LinkedIn profile, too, and Niger Little-Poole and Mike Nolan are living proof that it works.
Both joined the GIF-sharing app Giphy less than a year ago, after recruiter Eric Goldfarb noticed on LinkedIn that both had done some interesting work. While interning at Mozilla, Nolan had built an in-browser video-editing tool that caught Goldfarb’s eye. Nolan, now a web engineer at Giphy, was proud of the project, and since it was open-source, he was able to share it on GitHub, then post the link on LinkedIn. “I really liked the project so I really wanted to tell people about it,” he says.
Little-Poole’s role as a data scientist at Giphy is his second job out of college, but he’s had even more success than Nolan using this approach. Little-Poole cites mutually up-to-date GitHub and LinkedIn accounts as a major reason he’s landed internships as well the data engineering job he held prior to joining Giphy. On LinkedIn, he lists the “tools I know how to use, programming languages, and I keep a lot of links to things I’ve worked on in the past.”
It’s a simple matter of giving employers something concrete to get interested about. Little-Poole says he’s already “seen that come up a lot of times on interviews. People ask very specifically because they can see it,” adding, “I really think it’s about having done something.”
He’s right. Writing for Fast Company earlier this month, Facebook’s head of people Lori Goler confirmed how important this is. “If you can show a hiring manager at Facebook something you yourself thought of, put together on your own, and then convinced other people to start using, you’ll stand a better chance of sticking out.”
Forget Your Credentials–Just Keep Learning
“I wasn’t a strong engineer when I started interning at Google. I had barely started coding the year that I applied,” says Angelica Inguanzo, now a user experience (UX) engineer at YouTube. But she was undaunted. “I just kept learning and developing my coding skills, and that’s what led me from a nontechnical internship to more technical projects and my current engineering position.”
Inguanzo says earning a spot in Google’s BOLD internship program was a crucial factor in eventually landing a full-time role, and she chalks that win up to a few things. First, she says, “I could talk for days about my passions,” which include the “intersection of art and technology,” and second, “I had experience in a range of areas because I was constantly challenging myself.”
It didn’t matter that she wasn’t the world’s best developer. Inguanzo’s first few college internships were in photography, videography, and film editing, where she also picked up some experience using Adobe products like Illustrator and Photoshop. But Inguanzo knows it wasn’t her technical credentials that put her over the top–it was her “soft skills,” especially her ability to stay flexible enough to learn on the fly.
“I always did more than I was asked,” she says. “I didn’t wait for anyone to tell me what needed to be done–I paid attention and looked for solutions.” One of her jobs as a Google intern was to analyze social media metrics, but Inguanzo took it a step further (right in line with Goler’s advice): “I went on to build a system that allowed my teammates to track their specific metrics easily.”
Lean Into Any Connection You Can Find
Dennis Lee joined the streaming platform SoundCloud as a marketing coordinator in October last year, and he suspects it had something to do with his interview habits.
“I think what got me through the door with my hiring manager was that I had previously worked at an agency that she worked with,” he says, “so there was that connection.” Dumb luck, sure, but Lee was savvy enough to lean into that on his interview. “We talked a lot about the projects I worked on while at the agency and compared our experiences in workflow with that agency versus how things were done at SoundCloud.”
This strategy isn’t always obvious. Job interviews often feel more one-sided than like actual conversations, and candidates may hesitate to turn the tables and ask a hiring manager about their own experiences. But not Lee, who looked for any point of overlap he could find.
“In my second interview, with her manager, I remember being able to really connect on how we had both lived in Berlin before.” Living in Berlin isn’t a job skill, but it was a great excuse to make a one-on-one connection: “He previously worked out of SoundCloud’s Berlin office, whereas I spent a semester studying abroad there. We talked mostly about the differences in lifestyle, people, and work culture in Berlin versus New York.”
Looking back, says, Lee, “it was just a personal connection that did the trick.”
Do What You Like, Quit What You Don’t
This graduation season, you’ll probably hear a lot of lame, unhelpful advice, like “follow your passion” or “own your own future.” When you just need a decent paycheck to start chipping away at your student loan debt, doing something you love might sound like a luxury, especially early in your career.
But Inguanzo thinks the bigger risk is getting “stuck somewhere that you’re not happy.” As she puts it, “Sometimes we may do work that we don’t realize we will love, or hate,” but that the only way to know for sure is to try. If something isn’t a good fit, quit it fast and move on.
This takes equal parts decisiveness and patience, Lee points out. If you’re not in a hurry to determine your lifelong career obsessions right after graduating, you’re freer to experiment–or even just hold out. “In my case it was just about being patient until the right thing presented itself,” he says. Adds Inguanzo, “The way I see it, if there’s no passion, there’s no point.”