Colleges and universities across the U.S. are entering the final 100 days of their academic calendar this week, and for many seniors this can only mean one thing: It’s officially time to panic.
While a lucky few receive job offers at the end of their junior summer internships, the vast majority will begin their last semester of college without a post-graduation plan.
According to a 2013 Accenture poll, only 39% of the classes of 2011 and 2012 had jobs lined up by the time they graduated; for 2013, just 16% had job offers a month before their commencement.
Thanks to recent job gains and record highs in the stock market, however, those numbers have a good chance of turning around this year. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2014 Job Outlook Survey estimates that employers will hire approximately 8% more new college graduates in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13. That’s good news for the approximately 1.6 million students who will be entering the workforce with a Bachelor’s degree this spring.
But no matter how many new jobs the economy adds, it’s up to seniors to go get them, says Diana Gruverman, director of Employer Services at New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development. “The job’s not going to come to you,” she says. “You have to be proactive.”
Here are five ways to rev up your search and increase your chances of donning a cap and gown with a job offer in hand.
1. Forget landing your dream job. Focus on what can get you there in the future.
While your first job can serve as a springboard for your professional future, it’s not going to make or break your career, and it certainly won’t be your last. “There is a fear in deciding what to pursue, and a fear that the choice will be right or wrong,” says Lori Balantic, a senior associate director in Connecticut College’s career counseling program. But choosing a first job isn’t an indictment on your future, she says. Rather, it’s a chance to explore a new field, build a network, and gain skills and insight that will serve you regardless of where your career path goes.
For most Millennials, that path will be long and winding. “These days, college graduates are staying in their first job for 18 to 30 months and then moving on,” notes Gruverman. Instead of searching for your dream job, “find something that will position you for your career goals,” she advises. “Pick something interesting that will present you with challenges that will make you more marketable for your next job.”
2. Map out each week of the semester, so you can visualise how you’ll achieve your goal.
“There are 13 to 15 academic weeks until graduation,” says Balantic. Figure out what your goals are — be it a job offer, grad school, or a summer internship — and then make a week-by-week plan for achieving that goal.
A sample plan may look something like this:
- Set up an appointment at Career Services.
- Make a list of your interests, skills, and desires for your first job (check out this article for good questions to ask yourself).
- Create or update your LinkedIn account, and check your social media profiles to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong message to a potential employer.
- Update your resume.
- Join your college’s alumni network and plan on attending a few upcoming events or panels.
- Talk to everyone you know about what you’re thinking about, especially professors, parents or mentors who know you well.
- Reach out to three alumni in your field of interest and ask if you can take them out to coffee or set up a 30-minute phone call where they talk about their experience.
- Set aside a few hours each week to peruse job listings through your college’s career services homepage, and make a list of everything that interests you, even if you’re not qualified.
- Apply, apply, apply!
Jumping headfirst into hundreds of job listings can be incredibly overwhelming and demotivating, so it’s important to first think about who you are, what you’re interested in, and what you’re qualified for, so that you can tailor your job strategy to meet your unique goals and deadlines.
3. Make an appointment with Career Services — ASAP.
For student job seekers, a visit to career services should be top priority. “College career centres are a wealth of information for students,” says Gruverman. Some of the dozens of resources they provide include internal job boards, lists of alumni you can contact in a variety of fields, self-assessment tests, sample resumes and cover letters, and information about applying to grad school.
The most valuable services they provide, however, are one-on-one meetings with career experts who can review your resume, conduct mock interviews, connect you to alumni, and help you practice your 90-second pitch.
“Students should be able to talk about their experiences and skills, and why they would make a great candidate for a job in 90 seconds or less,” says Gruverman. Whether you practice with a friend, a career counselor, or the mirror, the important thing is make sure you don’t sound too robotic or rehearsed. “Practice will make networking feel a lot less awkward,” she adds.
4. Network your heart out.
“We encourage our students to think of everyone as a potential networking resource,” says Gruverman. “Fellow students, peers, teachers, alumni. You never know where that conversation can take you.”
Balantic agrees. “I’ve noticed that students often neglect to mention what they are thinking about for post-BA with their most immediate network during the semester: their fellow students and professors,” she says.
This is a critical mistake. Networking is one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of getting a job, and it will continue to be important throughout your career.
While it may feel extremely uncomfortable to sell yourself as a potential candidate, remember that most people you speak to are eager to help students because they were once in your position themselves. (And don’t worry — even people with years of practice think networking is awkward, so you’re in good company.)
The important thing is to make connections and keep in touch. It’s good practice to send notes to people you meet at networking events, says Gruverman. “This gives you the chance to follow up again and it will make sure you’re on their mind in case they see a job opportunity that they think you’d be good for.”
5. Keep an open mind, and apply to everything.
“The more applications you submit, the higher your response rate will be,” says Gruverman. She recommends submitting 20 to 30 job applications a week, though your counselor may adjust that depending on the kinds of jobs you’re applying to.
Above all, keep an open mind. As Balantic says, there are no “right” or “wrong” jobs, only different kinds of experiences. Don’t limit yourself to one company, one position, or even one industry, because you never know what opportunities you might miss by closing off your options too soon. In other words, “Make a plan from which to deviate.”
And don’t forget to proofread!
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