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recent college graduates on finding their first professional job

College to Career: 5 real-life success stories from recent college grads

July 7, 2016

By Kelly Niles

Like many recent college grads, it took me a long time to land my first professional job. I didn’t want to take just any old job—I wanted one where I could apply the skills and knowledge I had worked to acquire.

I moved back home, returned to working my high school waitressing job and scoured online job boards daily to find the right position. It was a frustrating process. For example, jobs that require one to three years of experience for an entry-level position. (Do they not understand what entry-level means? How do I get experience when I can’t get my foot in a door?)

I did eventually find a great job—but it took 10 months. Now, after spending four years in the staffing industry, I see there was probably an easier way. At TEKsystems, one of the most meaningful and gratifying parts of our profession is helping young people start their careers off right.

Here are the stories of five recent college graduates who were able to launch their career with awesome jobs at top companies, almost right out of school. What made their experience different than mine, and from so many others who tackle the job hunt alone? Well, they weren’t alone. They worked with digital recruiters who had industry connections and expertise to match their skills, interests and talent with the right employers.

Mary Clifford – Grand Rapids, Michigan

recent college grad Mary Clifford

  • UX designer at Priority Health
  • Kendall College of Art & Design | Digital media, focus in interactive design
  • Recruiter: Brittany Klinkner

My classes finished in December 2015. I had an internship lined up working for a start-up in Grand Rapids, helping them with design work for email campaigns and website updates.

I was trying to finish my portfolio. At that time, it was a read-only PDF as opposed to an actual website, which is the preferred way for designers to show their work. That was setting me back in my job search.

Brittany reached out via LinkedIn asking if she could look at my portfolio. At the time, I was getting worried I might not find something. She came right in the nick of time—I was about to have to move back home with my folks! 

It was my first time being contacted by a recruiter. I didn’t know much about how contracting works before entering the contract world. It was a really fast process. Within a couple weeks or a month of her reaching out, I was placed at Priority Health.

Right now I’m doing quite a bit of user interface (UI) work—which is awesome because I love it. I support the senior user experience (UX) designer as we work toward rolling out a major site update. I definitely want to keep working in UX and UI. So far I’ve been focusing on UI design—and I’d like to keep doing that—but also want to expand my skills and knowledge of UX design, because I think that has a lot of potential for really awesome opportunities.

I stay in touch with Brittany all the time—probably too much! She’s been great. I’ve pretty much done nothing and she did everything. I really appreciate everything she’s done so far. It’s been a really awesome experience.

Alyssa Johnson – Seattle  

recent college grad Alyssa Johnson

  • Designer at Amazon
  • Seattle University | Strategic communications, digital design
  • Recruiter: Marinn Young

When Marinn reached out last summer I was working as a barista. I was about to start looking for a new job, so it was perfect timing. I had been out of school for a year, and had had short-term, really small gigs. I didn’t really feel that confident yet. In Seattle, a lot of jobs say you need a lot more experience than you actually do, so I didn’t apply to many of those jobs.

I came into the TEKsystems office to talk with Marinn. It was an informal interview, more like a screening to see if we were good fit for each other. We did a portfolio review and she asked questions about my thought process.

She tried to get to know me at first then she said there was a role that I would be a good fit for at Amazon. She sent my info and portfolio to Amazon, and they had me complete a design test to confirm I could do the work. I passed and then went in for an interview with my now boss. Two hours later, I got a call from Marinn saying I got the job. The whole process was really, really, really fast; took two weeks—max.  

I work for D1 Creative (formerly Amazon Creative Services) is Amazon’s internal creative agency. I create digital campaigns, so I design a lot of on-site ads or redesign store experiences. I have a very specific design style, a lot of illustration-based work. The coolest thing is being able to see things I created on the site. I designed these boxes that are sent to people when they make a baby registry, and they were featured on a Mother’s Day episode on Ellen. It was brief, but it was cool for me and cool for my family to see.

Courtney Ault – Cincinnati

recent college graduate Courtney Ault

  • Digital marketing specialist at Kroger
  • Bowling Green State University | Media business (bachelor’s)
  • University of Cincinnati | Marketing (master’s)
  • Recruiters: Lori Jerome, Bryan Sullivan

I started my job search after my honeymoon in September, and it was a lot of hunting. Job hunting is not easy at all! My husband had worked for TEKsystems in the past and encouraged me to reach out. One evening, I applied to a TEKsystems posting on CareerBuilder and the next day Brian called me and met me at Starbucks. By the end of the week I had the offer at Kroger.

During that Starbucks meeting, Brian and I went over everything, including my resume, which he gave me feedback on before we submitted it to Kroger. I felt really prepared going into the interview because I felt like I already knew a lot about the position. I felt like he wanted me to get the job as much as I wanted to—which was nice.

As part of Kroger’s digital marketing department, I support major programs through microsite development. I help choose the suppliers, help decide what the site is going to look like and ensure that everyone has what they need.

I like that Kroger is such a big company—it is cool and gratifying to be part of something of that scale and see my ideas out there. I’m in Cincinnati, but my dad in Las Vegas can see things that I’ve been a part of.  With this being my first marketing job, I’m learning things on a scale that I never thought I would.

Brian, Lori and I meet up for lunch every six or eight weeks. If I ever have any questions, I know they are a phone or email away. Since they have a couple people [from TEKsystems] in my department, we all go to lunch together, which has also helped me get to know the people I am working with.

Linsie Figueroa – Seattle

recent college grad Linsie Figueroa

  • Graphic designer at Amazon
  • Art Institute of Seattle | Graphic design
  • Recruiter: Marinn Young

I first met Marinn at the portfolio showcase at school [Art Institute of Seattle] where you show your work and discuss your process with potential clients. I wanted a position that would develop my resume in design, but I was busy. I was a single mother with a full-time job. I did take a few side design jobs but wanted a full-time position as a designer.

I called Marinn and she said there was an immediate opening for a position that suited my capabilities and design. They talked with me to make sure I was a good fit and qualified for the position. I did Amazon Creative Services’ (ACS) graphic design test and interviewed with the ACS manager. TEKsystems was there the whole time, cheering me on and made sure I had my laptop, dressed appropriately and had everything in order—plus coffee on the side! The whole process took less than a month.

I was contracted for six months, and then I was promoted and converted to a full-time designer at Amazon Prime. And even though I’m no longer a contractor, TEKsystems still comes to take me to lunch to see how I’m doing. It makes me feel like I’m not just a contractor, we’re friends.

I love the team [at Amazon]. I love that it’s what I was looking for. I’m an illustrator and I love how Amazon combines photography with other forms of design. So it works for me, it’s suited for what I can do. TEKsystems helped me find the job that I am capable of doing; basically the dream job I was meant for.

Alex Lee – Atlanta

Alex Lee

I started looking for a job mid-December. I made an Excel spreadsheet where I kept track of the emails I had sent to hiring managers at different agencies and companies around Atlanta, where I wanted to work. But I wasn’t getting many responses.

My dad is an IT director at North Carolina State University and has lunch regularly with TEKsystems account managers in Raleigh, who put me in contact with the Atlanta office.  So I moved on to working with a recruiter.  

Pretty much within the first week of talking with Erin and getting my resume in order, I came to Atlanta for the IHG interview. Since IHG had a lot of interviews already lined up for a few weeks following my interview, it was nice to have Erin there to keep me up to date and in the loop because she was in contact with the hiring manager. If you were doing it on your own, you might not hear anything for awhile and get discouraged.

As a production designer I work on a lot of global campaigns (e.g., landing page design, hero images). A highlight so far has been the Your Rate campaign. It was hectic, one of our largest campaigns, and it’s been extremely successful. We redesigned all hero images and third-party ads that were participating within IHG. I really like my team [at IHG]; it’s a very laid-back work environment. We have a nice balance between work and fun with each other, which makes it more enjoyable when you have high-stress projects coming through.

I hear from Erin and Scott a couple times a month, and at least once for lunch. They keep in touch with my boss at IHG, which is great because I am kept in the loop of my performance and status.

Related reading

Digital and creative recruiters reveal their top tips for job hunters 

Interested in connecting with a TEKsystems recruiter? Create a job-seeker profile or contact your local office

As a writer in TEKsystems’ marketing department, Kelly Cooper Niles develops content for brochures, presentations, and more recently, videos and blogs. When she’s not brainstorming puns, Kelly enjoys playing tennis and being by or on the water.


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