by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
It seems pretty unfair when you think about it. You've worked hard in school for some 15 or more years, including 4 or more years in college, all with the plan that once you made it through all that schooling, you would have a good-paying job waiting for you. But now, with the U.S. and global economies mired in the slowdown of a generation and saddled with college debt, you face an uncertain future.
There may be no good-paying job waiting for you. Those who have already graduated and are still searching for a job in your career field know that. And for you seniors graduating this year, many fewer good-paying jobs waiting for you. That said, the more prepared you are -- and the more you maximize your job-search efforts -- the more likely you will be one of the lucky ones who does land a great job.
It's certainly not the best time to be a recent college graduate or a college senior, but that doesn't mean you have to give up on finding a good job and retreat back home to your family's basement (since your mom has already made your bedroom into her workout room). Nor should it mean you give up on a job-search altogether and forge on to grad school, hoping by the time you finish your graduate degree the job market will be better.
No. Instead, if you follow the advice in this article, you can increase the odds that you will indeed be one of the lucky few who find a good-paying job. And yes, by the way, these strategies will work in all economic situations -- but they will especially help in times of uncertainty.
The job-search advice in this article is separated into tips for those who have already graduated college or are about to in December and those who will graduate next spring.
Recent College Grad Job-Search Advice
1. Obtain Job Leads.
The most important activity for recent graduates is finding and developing job leads, defined as actual or potential job openings. The best job leads come from your network of contacts -- partly because they are the most current and partly because you may be able to leverage inside information about the job to tailor your resume and interview responses to become a top prospect. Plus, employers favor applicants referred to them.
If you don't have a big network (and everyone's is bigger than you first think), or you don't have many contacts in a certain industry, occupation, profession, or location, one of the most underutilized tools -- especially for new grads -- is the informational interview. As the name implies, it's a meeting in which you seek information (and further contacts and potential job leads) from the person you interview. Informational interviews are a powerful resource and should be a key tool in your job-search plan.
While informational interviews are about expanding your network, enough cannot be said about the many positive outcomes from this technique. Many former students who have conducted informational interviews have eventually received job offers as a direct result of their informational interviews. In fact, one out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer. That's why informational interviewing is the ultimate networking technique, especially considering that the purpose of informational interviewing is not to get job offers. Read more in our Informational Interviewing Tutorial as well as my Career Doctor response: What are informational interviews -- and why should I do them?
There are, of course, a number of other ways to generate job leads -- and you should try to incorporate many of them in your job-search. For more details, read this article: 10 Ways to Develop Job Leads.
2. Polish Personal Branding.
The next activity to tackle is developing -- or putting some sparkle -- on your personal brand. While you can't really change the experiences you have had at this point, you can position them more strategically -- while sharpening how you express that experience on your resume and in job interviews.
While business and marketing grads might have a bit of a leg up on the lingo, the underlying fundamentals of personal branding is simply to make you a more attractive job prospect to employers. This process involves not only re-examining all of your previous experiences (full- and part-time work, volunteering, class projects, work-study), but also researching each potential employer to understand the organization's needs and package yourself to be the perfect solution to solve their employment needs.
You don't need to be a business graduate to build and sharpen your personal brand. We have all the tools you need, including a tutorial, in this section of our site: Personal Branding and Career Self-Marketing Tools.
3. Never Stop Your Follow-Up.
Remember how you kept hounding that one professor to raise your grade -- how you would not take any other answer because you felt you deserved the better grade? And remember how it worked? The same holds true for job-hunting in the sense that the job-seeker who regularly follows up with prospective employers -- continuing to build your case and express interest and fit with the organization -- will be given the most serious consideration.
Yes, it's true that you have already invested quite a bit of time and energy -- obtaining job leads, writing and polishing your resume, preparing for interviews, and taking part in the interviews -- but sometimes the difference between getting called back for another interview and getting eventually rejected is follow-up.
Follow-up starts before you even get called in for an interview by contacting the hiring manager (after you have applied for the position) to ensure he or she has all the information needed to make a decision. Follow-up starts after the interview with a thank-you letter to each (yes, each) person who interviews you and continues later with calls or emails to the hiring manager to highlight your fit and continued interest in the organization. (As hiring decisions lengthen in duration, staying in touch with the hiring manager becomes even more important.)
College Senior Job-Search Advice
1. Max Out Your Experience.
While you're still in school, find time to fill any experience voids in your resume so that by the time you begin your job-search, you'll be an unbeatable prospect to employers. If you have not yet worked in your field, now is the time to secure an internship -- whether during one of the terms or during your holiday break (or even during your spring break). Internships are your strongest experience, but certainly not your only experience.
If you're like most college students, you probably belong to a few student organizations. As a senior, you're typically expected to help lead -- and employers want to see that leadership ability, so grab a leadership position in at least one organization.
Of course, many other types of experiences can benefit you -- some of which few students ever list on their resumes, such as work-study, part-time jobs, volunteer work, team sports, and class projects.
Read Emphasizing your Classroom Transferable and Marketable Skills, What Do Employers Really Want? Top Skills and Values Employers Seek from Job-Seekers, and How to Find Your Ideal Internship.
2. Use Your Career Services Office.
As a college senior, you should be well acquainted with the multitude of services offered by your school's career center. No? Sadly, you're not alone. But it's not too late to learn of all their services -- and to take advantage of as many of them as you can.
Some typical services you can find in your school's career center include resume-writing assistance, internship and job leads, career and job-related workshops, resume posting on the school's job site, mock interviewing and other interview tools, employer information sessions, on-campus interviews and career fairs, and networking connections (including one of the best networking sources: alumni).
In fact, most of the folks who work in these offices will do everything they can to help you prepare for the job market.
3. Develop a Job-Search Plan.
Maybe in a good economy you can get away with just winging it and seeing what happens come graduation, but in a bad economy one of your best tools in landing at least one great job offer is developing a job-search plan. This month-by-month plan maps out the rest of your senior year, providing a broad strategy and timetable for perfecting and implementing your job-search. Your job-search plan -- which you should develop and implement as soon as possible -- includes all the sources of job leads you intend to use, including informational interviews, your network of contacts, career services office, college professors, job fairs, job boards, and cold-calling. It also includes all the activities you need to accomplish before starting your job-search, such as polishing your resume and prepping for job interviews.
Start your job-search plan with the basics of what you seek -- the type(s) of job, the nature of employer (corporate culture), and the geographic location of where you want to live. If you're not really sure of any of these things, then start your plan here -- because these basics are the foundation for success. But your job-search plan will also include all three elements listed above for new grads, including finding job leads, polishing your personal career brand, and following up everything.
Learn more about developing your job-search plan in this article: For Job-Hunting Success, Develop a Comprehensive Job-Search Plan.
Final Thoughts on Empowering Your Job-Search
Some of our students and former students jokingly refer to Quintessential Careers as a black hole because of the depth of information we have on these subjects -- and it's true... you can go as deeply as you want on all the topics discussed in this article because of the site's goal to provide you with all the tools to empower your first real job-search.
So, with that depth in mind, here are a few more key resources for recent college grads and college seniors.
Recent College Grads Key Job-Search Resources:
- 15 Myths and Misconceptions About Job-Hunting
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Career Networking
- Powerful New Grad Resumes and Cover Letters: 10 Things They Have in Common
- Real New College Grad Resume and Cover Letter Samples
- Ten Questions to Ask Yourself if You Still Haven't Found a Job
- 10 Reality Checks of Job-Hunting: Overcoming Common Job-Search Mistakes
- Thank-You Letter Resources for Job-Seekers
- Using Key Marketing Tools to Position Yourself on the Job Market
College Seniors Key Job-Search Resources:
- College Grad Job-Hunting Readiness Quiz
- Conquering the Real World Tutorial: Success After College
- The 15-Point College Grad Job-Hunting Study Guide
- Job Search 101 Tutorial
- Networking Timetable For College Students
- Strategic Portrayal of Transferable Job Skills is a Vital Job-Search Technique
- Ten Ways to Market Your Liberal Arts Degree
- What Recruiters Wish College Job Applicants Knew: The Top 5 Tips for Getting a Job
- Your Senior Year in College: 15 Activities that are Pivotal to Your Job-Search Success
Finally, if you are still seeking more advice, use our search engine to find the exact information you seek or browse the entire collection of articles specifically tailored to your needs in this section of our site: College Student/College Graduate/Entry-Level Job-Seeker Articles.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.