Planning Your Full-Time Job Search

The job search process can be exciting and stressful. This guide will help you plan your search, reduce stress and frame your expectations. We encourage you to make an appointment with a career adviser to get support with this regardless of where you are in the process, particularly if you are feeling confused or overwhelmed.

As you begin your search, please keep the following in mind: 

  • Your goal is to reach a decision that is consistent with: who you are; what you value; and your logistical and practical needs. It is likely that many roles could be great next steps to help you grow personally and professionally. 
  • Princeton seniors and alumni secure jobs in many different ways during various timeframes. 
  • Most successful searches require that you be actively involved throughout the process, looking for and applying to roles and seeking out and connecting with relevant people over time. 
  • You should expect to thoughtfully apply to many roles before securing the offer you accept.
  • The job search can be mentally draining, and may require multiple strategy shifts, but planning and seeking help early can alleviate stress.
  • Your first job after college may align well with some of the things you want in a longer-term role, but probably not all of them. You can use what you learn from this role to seek out future professional opportunities in a variety of directions when the time is right. 

Step 1: Identify search priorities

Take Time to Reflect

Before you start applying, reflect on what you are looking for. This will help you save time in the long run, ensure your next steps align with what you actually find interesting and are likely to secure, and will prepare you to stand out as a qualified candidate. Consider the following questions and write down your answers so you can revisit them as your search progresses.

Your strengths, skills, values and interests

  • Which career fields am I curious about?
  • What interests, values and causes motivate me?
  • What tasks or projects am I both good at doing and also enjoy? Consider independent work, academics, extracurriculars, jobs/internships, and other experiences.
  • What have I learned about myself through my successes and setbacks during my time at Princeton?
  • How might my academic, extracurricular and/or work experience connect to potential roles? Have I ever wanted to continue an academic project or further explore an academic passion? Has any extracurricular or work experience been so interesting or fun that I would want to do similar work as a full-time job?
  • How do I want to learn or grow over the next few years? Would gaining a particular type of experience or building a particular skill help me better explore or prepare for longer-term academic and/or career possibilities that I’m considering? 

Your logistical and practical considerations

  • Am I looking for a role that would begin immediately after graduation, or do I want to take some transitional time, relocate, fulfill a summer work commitment first, etc? How flexible is this timeline? 
  • What types of working environments do I see myself at over the next couple of years after graduation? Which attributes are most important to me in a working environment? 
  • Which geographic location(s) do I most prefer? How flexible are my geographic preferences? Are there geographic considerations to know about based on my international student status? 
  • Am I aware of salary ranges and typical working hours in the roles that interest me? Do they align with what I need and/or desire? 
  • Am I considering pursuing graduate study of some type in the next few years? If so, how might that relate to post-graduation job possibilities? If you are considering graduate school, consult the PDF iconGraduate School Guide for more information.
  • What other personal or practical priorities come to mind when I consider applying for jobs?

Consider Roles Alumni Commonly Pursue after Graduation

A full-time job is one of several forms of post-graduation work that Princeton alumni pursue after graduation. Work-related possibilities include:

  • Full-time paid work: This can be roles in a variety of settings. Some employers also offer diversity recruitment programs, which aim to address gaps in the workforce. 
  • Programs for recent graduates or work-based fellowships: These are short-term, exploratory opportunities for recent graduates providing a different perspective and experience before you consider longer-range career possibilities. These may be part of rotational or leadership development programs, which give participants in-depth experience by rotating through multiple roles and functional areas within an organization as part of a structured program. They could also be paid or unpaid. See Programs for Recent Graduates for more details and examples. 
  • Post-grad internships: Some professional roles require related internships to build experience before securing a more permanent full-time role. In other cases, post-grad internships can be a way to gain relevant experience while you discover whether the organization and role are a good match for you. 
  • Freelancing, part-time or temporary work: This is a common way to build experience and earn money in creative or other fields that require building a portfolio and references. Some alumni put multiple projects together to secure income and others do small projects along with a different full-time role to build experience. 
  • Professional athletics: If you plan to play your sport post-grad, and then pursue a different direction or different work, there is support for you during your transition with our alumni career adviser.

These all provide an opportunity to learn more about your goals as you consider future career possibilities. Also, some students decide to take time off before pursuing any type of work for a variety of reasons. 

Step 2: Explore options 

Discover Career Fields and Roles that Align with Your Interests 

Consider these two questions:

  • Which career fields interest you? 
  • What entry-level roles within those fields interest you?

If you aren’t sure, start by reading about common alumni career fields in Career Compass and view roles that Princeton graduates have recently pursued to generate some ideas.

Research Fields and Roles 

Learn more about areas that most interest you using these strategies: 

  • Consult FirstHand guides and our recruitment timelines to learn more about what the recruitment process looks like, when it occurs and what it takes to transition to the field. Each career field recruits in different ways at different times. Some fields recruit many months in advance — in fact, some finance, technology, and business recruiters turn to summer interns to fill most of their full-time openings. Other fields recruit when a position opens up. 
  • Search Handshake and other posting sites relevant to the career field and roles that interest you to find examples of entry-level roles. See the "How do I find roles?" question in the FAQs below for more details. 
  • Find entry-level position titles that interest you and align with your experience. Identify and save keyword searches related to these titles or other relevant skills. 

Identify Roles that Interest You Most

Determine if these entry-level roles are mostly what you are seeking by: 

  • Reading entry-level job descriptions for roles that interest you and see whether you have and can demonstrate the required skills and experience.
  • Conducting online research to determine whether people who recently secured similar roles have experience and education aligned with the job descriptions or whether they are generally overqualified.
  • Confirming that you are interested in the work itself, the environment and the team culture based on the job description. If you are not very motivated to apply, it might be helpful to reflect further or re-orient instead of applying right away. 
  • Connecting with recent alumni in the fields that interest you to identify a better target. See our Five-Step Guide to Networking to get started. 

If this process doesn’t result in finding several entry-level roles, we encourage you to make an appointment with a career adviser to more comprehensively explore role possibilities. 

Step 3: Search for roles, adjusting your strategies as needed

Plan Your Search

Recruitment practices and timelines vary from organization to organization, so track timeframes and application deadlines. This Search Tracker Template includes the essentials you’ll need to get started, including noting search sites and keywords, your submitted applications and relevant networking conversations. 

Consider multiple options, even if you are also simultaneously pursuing one dream employer, opportunity or industry. Find possibilities by using a combination of these strategies: 

  • Research entry-level position titles which relate to similar themes or build similar expertise — these may be in multiple work settings and career fields 
  • Attend events and set up conversations with alumni and employers in the organizations and career fields that interest you
  • Search through postings that are available through programs, relevant job boards and (where applicable) post-graduate opportunities available to Princeton alumni 

For example, a student who is interested in sustainability and has done environmental research in an academic setting could search and apply for roles including the following:

  • Search for program assistant roles at environmental organizations or ​environmental educator roles in museum settings
  • Research assistant roles relating to environmental topics in governmental or higher education settings
  • Apply for the High Meadows Fellowship through Princeton
  • Identify and speak with alumni who work in settings that promote sustainability to learn about their experiences and their advice for the search

You can make an appointment with a career adviser to help allocate your time and reflect together about how to adjust your plan based on patterns that you are noticing on the search tracker.

Prepare Your Materials

Many seniors find it helpful to set aside large blocks of time to prepare for a job search using the steps outlined below. If hiring for your target roles has already begun, prioritize the first two steps below and revisit the others later.

Develop your resume and cover letter

Create and/or update your resume and cover letter to reflect your skills, professional interests and recent research projects including thesis research and independent work. Make sure you have prominently positioned the accomplishments that you are most proud of and would most want to speak about in an interview.

Your applications should be thoughtful, with a resume and cover letter tailored to the specific positions and organizations. See our resume guide and cover letter guide for more information.

Update your online presence

Update your LinkedIn profile. Review LinkedIn’s student guides and resources for tips. Consider showcasing your work on a website or creating a simple portfolio using Google Slides if you are applying to roles that would find technical or artistic samples helpful.

Prepare to network

It’s common for students to hear they should network but not understand what it means or how valuable it can be. Networking is an important component of any job or internship search.

Conversations with alumni and other professionals can help you learn about their career paths, get inside knowledge about an industry or organization for your search, and provide ideas and advice about finding an opportunity. See our Five-Step Guide to Networking to learn what networking is and how to do it.

Prepare for interviews

Many times, Princeton students don’t set aside enough time to consider their personal narrative and strongest examples to share, and may not research the organization, role and interviewer sufficiently before an interview.

We recommend that you begin preparing before receiving your first interview invitation. Find resources for general and specific types of interviews on our Guides page.

You can schedule an appointment with a career adviser to help you practice and prepare for interviews. Some employers offer preparation assistance, which you should always accept if the offer is provided. 

Dedicate Regular Time to Your Search 

Although your time commitment will vary over the course of a search, many seniors find it helpful to dedicate regular time to the search process. Here are some of the things you might do during that time. 

Search for roles

Look for newly posted roles by visiting multiple relevant sites and using the keywords you gathered.

You will want to do this on a weekly basis during the peak of recruiting for the roles that interest you since some roles may only be posted for a short time. See the "How do I find roles?" question in the FAQs for ideas.

Apply for roles

Familiarize yourself with Princeton’s Community Standards for Recruiting if you might apply for roles on Handshake. Review and customize your cover letter and resume for each role.

If you encounter questions about salary expectations on the application, try to indicate that salary is negotiable if you are able to write that rather than specifying a dollar amount or range. If they require more, see the "Should I negotiate my salary?" question in the FAQ, or make an appointment with an adviser, come to drop-ins or email if you have an urgent question about salary negotiation. 

Save position descriptions

After applying for a role, save the position description so you can refer to it later if you are invited to interview. Organizations frequently remove descriptions after the deadline passes.

Secure professional references

Some applications require you to include the name and contact information of several references early on in the process. Choose people who know you well and can speak to strengths you would bring to a professional environment.

Note whether you will need written recommendations from your references or whether your references will receive a call or email from a potential employer. If references are a component of your applications, plan to set aside time to share more about the types of roles to which you are applying and to confirm that each person would be willing to serve as a reference. 

Complete exercises or projects

Some organizations ask supplementary questions in an online application or require exercises or projects. Others may ask you to take assessments such as Pymetrics, which measure skills the organization considers to be important for success in the role such as judgment or ability to be flexible.

If you do receive these, note your impressions of the assessment and how you answered because it is likely that organizations will ask you to share your reflections or explain your approach to a project if you receive an interview. 

Follow through

As you continue in each hiring process, allocate time to write thank you notes to anyone you interact with during the process, whether it’s for a formal interview or informal conversation.

At the end of each interview, ask when you are likely to hear an update. If you haven’t heard back from an organization within the timeframe they specified after a conversation or communication, consider writing your main contact a kind email to indicate your continued interest in the position.

Be mindful that employers have different processes and that typically students expect more immediate responses than might be feasible for employers to provide. Hold off on contacting them again if you have inquired recently and do not have new updates to share with them.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Job Search Process

How should I present myself as an applicant and interviewee?

Present yourself as someone who is ready to take on the responsibilities of professional employment. Phone, online and in-person interactions with employers and everyone you interact with during your search should always be professional and timely. 

Remember to:

  • Use full sentences and proper capitalization and punctuation when communicating with employers.
  • Use the mode of communication that the employer is using - for example, if they are communicating with you via email, do not give them a phone call or send them a text message instead. 
  • Check and reply to email every business day while you are actively searching and applying for roles.
  • Follow any formal guidance or informal cues given to you by an employer relating to how to address them by name and interview attire, and If in doubt always err on the side of being more formal.

Approach interactions with prospective employers with your strengths and relevant experience in mind. Before you submit materials or speak with employers, think about what you can offer to each role and organization.

Prepare several accomplishment stories to share with employers, so both your conversations and application materials reinforce the key messages you want to convey about yourself as a candidate.

Many applicants are concerned about weaknesses or not having internship experiences, or second-guess how they used their time during unusual circumstances due to COVID-19. Share your story and the choices you made proudly through all of your application materials while still acknowledging that you are eager to continue to learn and grow as a young professional. 

If you are wondering about other considerations relating to presenting yourself as a candidate, such as figuring out how and when to disclose that you have a disability and may need accommodations in an interview process, make an appointment with an adviser who can work with you to determine strategies for your situation.

How do I find roles?

Where you look depends on the types of opportunities you are seeking, but it is important to keep your search broad. Some organization types post on Handshake and/or participate in the Campus Recruiting Program, but many other organizations do not. Be sure to also consult other sources in addition to Handshake for your searches. 

Here is some general advice to help you find opportunities, although we are glad to work with you to develop a more specific search strategy.

Search multiple posting sites and individual organizations' sites

Check your email, customize Handshake and attend events

  • Watch for weekly emails from us on Sunday evenings during the academic year and periodically throughout the week highlighting timely opportunities and events.
  • Fill out your Handshake profile and the Career Interests section to start to receive personalized recommendations for positions, events and resources
  • Attend Center for Career Development programs and events that interest you including career fairs, coffee chats and employer information sessions. Browse upcoming events in Handshake.

Connect with people you already know and expand your network

  • People who are working within an organization or field that interests you can share more information about their typical hiring timelines and about common entry-level job titles.
  • Think broadly about who to connect with as you search, including faculty and staff at Princeton who are familiar with your strengths and interests, and people you may have researched or interviewed for your independent work. Consult our Five-Step Guide to Networking for more details.
What if I am feeling discouraged or not getting any interviews or offers?

You are not alone if you are feeling discouraged or frustrated. A job search can be mentally draining and may also require multiple shifts in your strategy. Employers often take days or weeks to review applications and follow up with candidates so it can feel confusing and frustrating to wait to receive feedback about your status.  

You may want to broaden your job search to include options you did not initially think of, and to consider editing or re-framing your materials based on what those organizations and roles might be seeking. The job search process requires you to go outside your comfort zone, and we can help you navigate that and discuss the effectiveness of your application materials and interview strategy.

Talking to someone about how you feel and developing both coping and search strategies can be helpful. You can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) for broader, confidential support and/or a career adviser for career strategy support. Both CPS and career advising are dedicated resources that welcome conversation about these topics. Alumni can continue to meet with career advisers so there is no need to feel rushed.  

When I do get an offer, how do I decide whether or not to accept it?

Deciding on an offer requires balancing multiple factors. It is common to have to make a decision with incomplete information about some aspects of the role or organization, and without knowing about any other possible offers you may receive. Remember - you can take multiple roles and paths throughout the next few years to gain the skills and experience you need to reach your longer-term goals. 

Revisit your reflections and search priorities to see if the offer matches the factors about a position matter to you. As you make a decision, consider both alignment with the priorities and your emotional response to your decision. It’s OK to trust your gut, pause and be curious before accepting an offer if the next step you are considering doesn't feel right. 

As you evaluate offers and make a decision, consider: 

  • Financial feasibility: Do you know the salary range and cost of living in the geographic area(s) you will work in? Is this financially feasible for you? If not, what could make it feasible?
  • Work-life balance: Do the work or research hours that are typical for this type of role or graduate program — both time of day and total hours per day and week — align with what you are looking for?
  • Geography: Does the location you would work in align with what you are seeking or need to consider? Are there geographic considerations to know about based on your international student status? Research what the commute time and cost would be.
  • Fit: As you consider your identity and values, would the workplace culture or educational environment allow you to bring your authentic self to work every day? Would you like and respect your potential colleagues or peers? Would you feel liked and respected by them? If you aren’t sure yet, what questions do you need to ask your potential supervisor and what additional research do you need to do to find out? 
  • Future steps: Could spending a few years in this role lead to other roles or admission to graduate programs that would be interesting to you that might help you build more skills and experience? If you aren’t sure, it can be helpful to look at the types of roles people commonly pursue after this one. You don’t have to know exactly what this role could lead to -- and it can be better to leave things a bit open-ended to allow for learning and growth -- but it is best to ensure that your new role will allow you to connect with and learn from interesting people and to develop professional skills.

You can coordinate a time to ask the organization any remaining questions, or ask to speak with the supervisor, peers or other employees who might be able to answer specific questions about their experience once you have received the formal offer in writing.

You can make an appointment with a career adviser to talk through your career decision-making process, or help you communicate with employer partners if relevant. 

It’s OK to change course, although it’s much easier to do this before you accept an offer. If you do decline an offer, do so in a timely, gracious and professional manner since you may reconnect with this contact or employer in some capacity in the future. If you found this position through the Campus Recruiting Program, ensure your response follows the Community Standards for Recruiting.

Should I negotiate a job offer?

It depends. Negotiations can be about more than just salary, including:

  • Decision date
  • Start date
  • Job responsibilities
  • Office location and remote work
  • Bonuses (sign-on, performance)
  • Relocation package
  • Benefits (e.g., tuition assistance and vacation days)
  • Time until the first performance review
  • Immigration support

Consider the following factors as you decide whether to negotiate:

  • Opportunities in different industries or in organizations of different types/sizes can have very different salary ranges and benefits. For example, a salary for a teaching role would not typically equate to a salary for a finance role.
  • As you consider whether it may make sense to negotiate your salary before accepting an offer, refer to sites like Payscale, and Glassdoor. Be aware that competitive organizations typically offer a set package that is identical for all new hires to maintain equity. 
  • You may also find it helpful to consult the Evaluating Offers Checklist worksheet, use a cost of living calculator and review the benefits package 
  • If the salary is a concern for you and you aren’t sure how to evaluate it or whether to negotiate, consult with a career adviser.