7 job search tips for college graduates to beat a tough job market
Recent graduates worry how long it will take them to land a job that leads them down a solid career path. Parents worry how long their adult child will linger jobless in their home. With record-levels of student debt and a tough economy, the competition for jobs is fierce.
Take heart, graduates and parents.
This year’s college graduates will have an easier time finding jobs than those in years past, according to a report by the New York Federal Reserve.
The unemployment rate among college graduates continues to fall to just over 5 percent. While the job market slowly recovers, there are ways for recent graduates to increase their odds of success.
Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University, shared strategies to help students land that first career-oriented job.
1. Don’t approach your job search like applying to college.
All graduates figured out how to get accepted to a university, but the job search requires a paradigm shift from what worked in the past.
“Students would like to (just) fill out forms, which is easy to do especially on the Internet,” Smith said. “But, you cannot rely on the Internet and job boards.”
Most jobs are not advertised, and the ones on massive online sites are flooded with applicants. Think of the job search more like dating, he said. It’s about trying to find the right match, and it requires a lot of face-to-face interaction.
2. Research, reach out and rehearse.
Research the companies to which you want to apply. Tailor cover letters to what you can offer them rather than to what they can do for you. Tweak your resume; it should be customized for different types of industries and types of positions. Use words included in job listings to get through initial keyword filters and increase the odds that your resume might be seen by an actual person.
Reach out to your parents’ friends, previous employers, friends’ parents, relatives, anyone who might be able to tell you about openings in a given field. Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral from anyone willing to help. If you are going to use someone’s name, make sure to reflect well on their recommendation. Follow up and send a thank you note to whomever agreed to meet with you, even if it doesn’t immediately result in a job.
Expand your network by requesting informational interviews to find out more about a career even when a company is not advertising a job for which you are qualified. Join your college’s alumni group. Use your college’s career office to get advice on your cover letter, resume and interviewing skills.
If you land an interview, be well prepared. Google the most frequently asked interview questions and practice your answers with someone.
3. Learn how to network. Networking with professionals will help you practice important professional skills. Don’t check your cellphone or text while at a networking event or informational interview. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Don’t be long winded when asked a question. Dress professionally.
Join professional organizations and attend industry-specific events. Introduce yourself to people.
4. Get organized: Set specific daily, weekly, monthly goals.
Set a goal of how many people you will personally contact, how many networking events you will attend, how many follow-up emails or thank-you letters you will send, how many informational interviews you will set up, along with how many job leads for which you are applying.
5. Revamp your social media presence. Clean up your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and remove unprofessional photos and remarks. Join professional sites such as LinkedIn and accentuate the positive. Think of yourself as a brand. How do you project a brand? How do you protect a brand? You can search sites such as LinkedIn to see how successful employees in an industry promote their own brands.
6. Consider work that could lead to a full-time job: volunteer with an organization, work part time, freelance, consult, do another internship.
The job search takes time and requires some hustle.
7. Make yourself more valuable. Take classes or get certifications outside your degree that will boost your skill set and make you more valuable. Do not, however, enroll in graduate school for the wrong reasons. That can be a pricey mistake that only adds to a graduate’s debt burden.
Don’t expect to have it all figured out, Smith said. For most people, their 20s are a difficult time.
Four out of 10 students who graduated in the past two years report being underemployed, meaning they are working in jobs that do not require their degrees, according to a recent report by Accenture. Nearly a quarter of 25- to 34-year-olds live with parents or grandparents, up from 11 percent in 1980, according to Pew research.
“You’re not alone,” Smith said. “You are trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, and you’re not going to figure it out at once.”
By Aisha Sultan, posted on stltoday.com