According to the Department of Labor, only two to three percent of Americans with a college degree are unemployed, versus over seven percent of Americans without a college degree. If you’re in college, you’re in a great place to make sure you have a solid footing when you enter the job market.
Preparing to enter the job market for the first time can be a big undertaking. Take these steps to make yourself as hirable as possible on graduation day.
1. Start early
Don’t wait until the day after graduation to start putting your resume out there.
While college can be stressful, you have to balance coursework with career planning if you want to win that prized job.
What are your interests?
If you don’t have a clue where you want to end up after college, do some soul-searching to narrow it down. Talk to your school’s career counselors. Ask your friends. Talk to your professors. These people often have more insight into your aptitudes than you might think.
Go to your college’s career center, which is packed with information that can set you on the right path. Your advisor will know alumni in different fields who can give you the lowdown on the career you are considering.
Keep in mind that this can be done even if you’re already out of college. It’s never too late to become a professional, and often college career centers and advisors help out alumni who are looking for jobs.
While you’re in school, start thinking of yourself as a professional. It starts now!
Start a LinkedIn page as early as possible. You might not have a lot to include yet, but it will give you a chance to start making connections through the platform. List your classes along with any internships or part-time jobs you have had during your time in college. Remember, everyone started their career with little experience.
Begin to follow people in the fields you’re interested in, and try to emulate the format they use. Show you can talk the talk even before you’ve got the experience to walk the walk.
2. Get experience
The tricky thing about finding employment after college is that everyone wants you to have some job experience. But how can you have job experience if you’re still in college?
Participate in school clubs
Holding a leadership position in a club beefs up your resume and gives you the chance to network with people outside your peer group. While you’re on campus, look for opportunities to join groups that fit with your interests.
Getting involved as more than a member (volunteering, coordinating events, taking leadership positions) will put you ahead of other job candidates who have no experience.
Use your network to get a part-time job
First, ask professors who taught classes you enjoyed, or your advisor, if they know anyone who would hire you for the summer.
Even if someone in a field you’re interested in isn’t hiring, they might know someone who is. Use LinkedIn to search for people in your field and see if you have any connections with them, then ask those contacts to introduce you.
Focus on local opportunities
If you want to be a mayor someday, call the mayor’s office. If you want to be the Librarian of Congress, work or volunteer at your local library. Even if you’re not working at the level that you want to be, the experience will pay off later. Also, initiative goes a long way.
Look for summer internships that can place you closer to a career that interests you. Even a short internship can give you a big edge in terms of getting a permanent position.
Jobs don’t need to be full time to count as experience. If you work an hour a week at your local library, or volunteer a Saturday a month at a local food bank, put it on your resumé. All work experience counts.
This should go without saying: Do a good job. Don’t slack, nap or bring a bad attitude into your workplace, whether you’re working in the governor’s office, scrubbing toilets or waiting tables. You’ll need recommendation letters and references when you’re in the job market, so make a good impression anywhere you work during college.
3. Find contacts
Contacts and networking fill up to 85 percent of jobs. Don’t get left behind banking on your education and experience alone. Here’s who to network with and keep as connections.
When you’re gathering experience, never miss a chance to connect with a co-worker, manager or boss. These people can provide connections and recommendations down the road.
When you’re socializing, keep these questions in mind: Would your co-worker, manager or boss write a recommendation for you? What would they say about you?
Your professors are great resources, and they can add value long after college is over.
Get into professors’ good graces by participating in class and taking opportunities to improve. If your professor has office hours, visit them. Ask how you’re doing in the class and how you can get better.
If you have professors you especially like, take multiple classes with them. See if you can work with them as a teacher’s aide or help them do research.
Some of your fellow students might be following the same advice you are, so search to see if they’re already on LinkedIn. Having friends as professional connections is helpful for everybody. You get to see each other evolve professionally, and that can turn into career help later on.
You can use LinkedIn’s Alumni Tool to look up alumni by city, workplace or career.
If you send a message through LinkedIn, be courteous and to the point; this person is a stranger, and you don’t want to waste their time. Try something like:
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. X,
Greetings! I’m a [major] student at [your university] and am interested in doing what you do. If you happen to have twenty minutes to spare on the phone sometime soon, I’d love to learn more about your career and what your day-to-day is like.
Short and sweet. And don’t send it to just one person: Like job applications, the more you send, the bigger the chances of getting a response. If you send 20 of these out and get one response, that’s 20 minutes of insight you didn’t have before. It’s worth the time.
These connections might not get you anything upfront, but over time, they can be leveraged to help you get a job and build your career.
4. Apply for jobs
As you get closer to graduation, start collecting information on companies you’re interested in and positions you want. Your college will probably host job fairs, which you should attend with multiple resumes in hand.
Do your research
Use LinkedIn to find companies and open jobs in your field. There’s a good chance you won’t be staying in your college town, so start looking outside your city, your state or even the country. Get organized by compiling a list of companies you’re interested in and uploading your resume to their careers site.
When you find companies or jobs that you like, start asking your connections if they know anyone who works there. Having a connection gives you a much higher chance of getting noticed and hired.
Write a resume
Before you attend job fairs or reach out to potential employers, make a resume. All resumes should be tailored to the specific job you’re applying for, but you should also create a one-size-fits-all resume to distribute at job fairs.
Most word processors offer several templates for resumes. They shouldn’t be flashy; they need to communicate your professionalism and drive. Shy away from templates with graphics or exaggerated fonts.
Tried-and-true fonts for resumes:
- Times New Roman
At the top, include the following information:
- Your full name
- Mailing address
- Phone number
- Email address
Moving down the page, include sections for the following details:
- Employment history, with dates (month/year to month/year) and position held
- Education history, with concentration and any accolades received
- Special skills, including technical specialties, languages and computer programs
If you can, give statistics inside your employment history detailing the impact you made in that position. Include that you decreased turnaround times by 25 percent or increased community involvement by 10 percent. Potential employers prefer hard facts to vague descriptions like “worked on optimization” or “head of community involvement.”
Tailor your resume to the job
If you’re applying to be the head of a marketing department, the company isn’t interested in your responsibilities waiting tables. If you’re applying to wait tables, employers want to know about customer service experience, not your tech internship.
Make sure that you’re emphasizing the experiences that correspond to the job you want. This shows your potential bosses that you paid attention to the job description. You should still include basic details about jobs you’ve had that are unrelated to the position you’re applying for, but they should take up less space on your resume.
Write a cover letter
If possible, address the hiring manager by name in your salutations. Failing that, even “Dear [company name] Team” is preferable to “to whom it may concern.”
Be sure to relate your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. Read the job description, and use your experiences in class, at an internship, at a summer job or at a volunteer position to explain why you would be a good fit.
Once you’ve applied, wait one or two weeks. If you haven’t received a response, send an email or call to ask how the application process is going. Make sure you mention your whole name, and don’t act annoyed or impatient. This is a routine step in most application processes.
Once you’ve secured an interview, you’ve done a lot of the work already. Now, you need to prepare.
Know who you’re talking to
If you know who you’re interviewing with, look them up on LinkedIn and glance at their work history and their current job responsibilities.
Also, do your research on the company. Make sure you know their history and understand what they do and how your prospective job contributes to the bigger picture. If you don’t know what they do, then you don’t know the job you’re applying for.
On the day of your interview, dress a few levels up from what you imagine you’ll be wearing at the job. Don’t be afraid to dress too formally; it’s better than dressing too comfortably and coming off as a slob.
Leave nothing to chance when it comes to getting to your interview on time. Give yourself 15–30 minutes more than you usually would in case of traffic or late public transit.
Arrive at least ten minutes early, and be prepared to smile and shake hands with everyone you can. Your goal here is to make a good impression and ensure that, if your interviewer asks others what they thought of you, you get glowing reviews.
Take deep breaths. Job interviews can be intimidating, but you shouldn’t lose your mind over them. When you get into the interview, try to keep your focus on your breathing so you appear at ease.
Stay upbeat and focused, and make eye contact, especially while you’re speaking. This will help you project confidence and create a connection with your interviewers.
Don’t be afraid to be funny, but try to stay professional; after all, this is a job interview.
When the interview is over, ask about the timeline for hiring. It helps to ask if you need to do anything else, or if they plan on contacting you once the next decisions have been made. Make it clear that you’re willing to help the process move along.
Always follow up by sending an email to your interviewers, if you have their email addresses. If not, send it to the recruiter or whichever employee you’re in contact with. Thank them for their time and be sure to mention your ability to provide more information if they need it (recommendations, a portfolio, etc).
If you’re not contacted by the time they said they’d contact you, send a polite email asking about the next steps for hiring. Reiterate your willingness to provide more information if necessary.
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