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How to Get a Job (that Uses your Degree) Right After Graduating College

The whole point of going to college is to gain access to more money and better jobs. Then why are so many young adults scrambling to find jobs after they graduate? I’m sure you know at least one person who earned some degree and is currently working at a job that has nothing to do with what they studied. Or maybe, that’s you. No shade to anyone, but it kind of sucks to not being able to do what you desire. I don’t know how to fix this problem at large…but I do have some advice that may help you get a job you want right out of college.

Don’t believe me? Let me prove it. I just graduated in Fall of 2022, before I even graduated, I already had a career move lined up. Upon graduation, I would be able to apply for any position with the department of the interior (US Fish & Wildlife, National Park Service, NOAA, Bureau of Land Management, etc.) without competition. I was told that this hiring process may take a few months, but that wasn’t a problem because I got hired for another position in a professor’s ecology lab at my alma mater! Even before November was up, I knew that following graduation I would be employed and using my degree in both of my prospective positions.

(A little background: I graduated with a degree in biology, with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary studies. Basically, I like animals, nature, and conserving both of those things. So any job that is somewhere in that realm is a win for me).

So how did I do it?

I can’t guarantee that if you take all of these steps you’ll have the same outcome as me, but you definitely won’t be at a loss. I’m not very familiar with all of the majors, but I can share what I know about being a life science major. Here is what worked for me:

  • I did well in class

This should be a no-brainer, but I will go into it anyways. Trying your best in class is a sure fire way to have good grades, which is an important factor for almost every other thing you may want to do in your academic career. Having good grades is beneficial for getting letters of recommendation, getting internship & job positions, winning scholarships, and getting into any future graduate schools.

Throughout my 4.5 years, I made sure that I asked questions whenever I was confused on a topic and attended tutoring or office hours whenever it was necessary. I did my best to set aside all distractions so that I could put my full attention on my schooling.

  • I connected with a few of my professors

During my freshman year, connecting with professors seemed like such a scary thing to do. I had no idea what to even talk to them about, or how to set up a meeting. But once I realized that my professors were human just like me, it became so much easier for me to approach them. (You can literally email any professor and ask if you could set up an informational interview or a meeting to just ask them some career questions; they’re usually happy to do it).

I had three professors that I really felt drawn to, and I was intentional about picking their brains. I asked one of the professors to be my Faculty Advisor for my undergraduate research. I started bugging him during my sophomore year after I took one of his classes, and since then, he has written countless letters of recommendation for me–including the ones that landed me a job. I am still currently helping him with an educational wildlife project.

I’ve scheduled meetings with the other two professors a few times and asked them questions about how they got into their career field, how they overcame challenges, and other random things like “what is your favorite clothing brand for doing field work?”

Getting to know 2-3 professors on a deeper level is crucial for getting letters of recommendation…and in case no one has told you, almost every job, internship, or school will ask you for letters of rec as part of the application process. You don’t have to be a suck up and fake being interested in professors just for them to do you this favor; if you haven’t met any professors you might like to connect with more, go on your school’s website and look up professors that are working in research that you are actually interested in.

  • I got help from my school’s career services to perfect my resume

During my sophomore year, I scheduled an appointment with my school’s career services, and they helped me organize my existing resume and also form an easy to follow template that would make it easy to add information in the future. The people responsible for hiring have a lot of resumes to look through, which means that they are often looking for key words or important bits of information to jump out at them. If all of the interesting information about yourself is buried deep inside your resume, you might end up in the trash pile. Don’t make them work for it, give them what they want to hear. Make your resume irresistible.

  • I utilized LinkedIn and Handshake

I am sure we all have a LinkedIn account, or have the college equivalent “Handshake.” These platforms are gold mines for open positions, and I suggest you utilize them.

Sometimes when I was avoiding homework, I would update these professional platforms by changing my profile picture, making my bio sound more intriguing, or adding experience I recently gained. By keeping my profiles up to date, whenever I saw an interesting position, I could immediately send in my application materials without wasting any extra time.

In January of 2022, I applied for a BUNCH of internship opportunities on Handshake. I searched for positions related to animals, conservation, and the environment in any capacity. I applied for local, remote, and out of state positions; after COVID, I was desperate to get experience doing anything. Handshake was where I saw the posting for the US Fish and Wildlife internship “Directorate Fellows Program.” I applied, got emailed about an interview a few months later, and then found out that I got the job!

  • I stayed in the know by joining newsletters

I was (and still am) obsessed with checking my email. I joined the mailing lists of different groups related to my career interests and always made sure to read any newsletters they sent out. They often included news about scholarships, recent research, new course offerings, upcoming networking events, freebies, and job opportunities. It was in the newsletter for students of “Ecology and Evolutionary Studies” that I found the listing for my current job. A professor/researcher at my school was looking for someone either still in school or recently graduated to be a communications technician (he basically needed someone to help summarize the results of his plant research and put it in a shorter, more aesthetically pleasing format so that government organizations and other relevant groups could look over the information and make necessary changes).

I saw that the position was a blend of ecology research and communications (graphic design and digital media) and thought I had the perfect experience.

After a few weeks, I got an email to set up an interview, and was offered the job on site. I later found out that one of the major reasons that I got the position over other qualified candidates was specifically because of my internship with USFWS. The professor liked that I had already worked with a federal agency, which would make it easier for me to interact with the different government agencies while in this position.

  • I set aside time to practice my hobbies

Both my internship and my current job were/are based on combining life science with communication and digital media–both things I would not have been qualified for, had I not worked on my hobby of graphic design. Maybe your hobby isn’t graphic design, but I am sure that there is something you love to do that could possibly make the difference between you getting the job or not. If you know of any certifications or skills necessary for the positions you want, then make sure you set aside time to get that experience. Do all that you can to make yourself a candidate that is perfect for the job.

  • Internship

I will promote internships til the day I die because this was by-far the biggest thing that helped me get hired right after graduation…but I would not have been able to be part of this internship without doing all of the things I listed above.

My official position was “Digital Media Specialist,” which meant that I acted as a graphic designer, videographer, and photographer for a USFWS fish hatchery; in addition to that, I also helped translate some of my projects into spanish (a skill improved upon by my study abroad experience in Sophomore year).

Through the course of 12 weeks, I was able to gain more skills relevant to my desired field, and made 50+ new connections with peers, federal employees, and outside organizations. That alone would have made the internship worth it, but this particular internship offered a “direct hiring authority,” which says that I will be able to apply for any open position within the Department of the Interior without competition from people applying without the hiring authority…for all intensive purposes, this is a guaranteed job…as long as I accept a position within the next two years.

Currently, I am still waiting for my final transcripts to come in so that my application materials will be complete. Then I will be applying for jobs I am interested in with USFWS, but for now, I am working that communications position I mentioned. Both of these opportunities would not have been possible without being able to participate in that internship. And like I said, the internship would have never happened without my diligence in the other areas of my life.

At the end of the day, every single experience, opportunity, and person you meet could make all the difference for you and your future career. Diversify yourself. Say yes to new opportunities; gain more skills; meet new people; and check your email!

Best of luck to you!




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