By Lindsay Olson
It's frustrating: Spending four or more years studying at college only to not be able to find a job when you graduate. With a fierce job market, new grads have their work cut out for them.
Many companies are biased against hiring recent grads. Diana Zimmerman, of the marketing communications agency CMS Communications International, says that she doesn't interview recent college grads anymore: "I have found, overall, they have (right or wrong) a very different work ethic, and are just too self-absorbed. A job interview is not about them. It's about what value they can bring to the company. Many of them haven't even researched the company they are interviewing for."
But all hope isn't lost. Here's a list of 10 steps you can take to increase your chances of snagging a great job once you graduate.
1. Find hands-on learning opportunities.
According to Sabrina Ali, career counselor and writer, participating in cooperative education or practicum opportunities gives college students "paid work experience, industry mentoring, and [they] become a known entity in their industry of choice prior to needing or wanting full-time work, and have a chance to figure out better what they want for themselves in terms of a career after they graduate."
See if your university or department offers opportunities that would allow you to try out working in the field you're studying in.
2. Socialize online (beyond Facebook).
Maria Stephens, PR manager at the pattern-based analytics company Emcien Corporation, says it's important to manage your online reputation. According to her, employers will Google you, so it's best to be prepared by knowing what they'll find. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is polished and up-to-date. Either don't post anything embarrassing that might prevent you from being hired on Facebook or Twitter, or change your privacy settings so your updates don't appear in search results.
Stephens also suggests managing a blog to give you a leg up in the competitive job market. "[Find] something professional that relates in a way to something that could strengthen your chances of getting an interview because you'll instantly become more than just a resume," she says. "Whether it's your interests with running or cooking, show that you're an interesting person with talents and a personality."
4. Never waste a summer.
Sure, you know that interning is one way to get some job experience while still in college, but don't be afraid to take on more than one over the years of your entire college education. "In this tough job climate, it is important that college students prove that they are worth the risk of being hired," says Christie Haynes, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau in Dawsonville, Ga. "They can do this by never wasting a summer in college.... Find an internship that allows you to gain valuable experience in the field you hope to enter upon graduation."
5. Take classes outside of your major.
You can assume that if you take all the sociology classes your major requires that you'll be hireable when you finish your degree, but the truth is: That's not always the case. Other classes, especially those in business, can give you real-world knowledge that employers will appreciate. Consider taking classes in communications, public speaking, finance and general business.
6. Get a part-time job in the field you're interested in.
Scooping ice cream to pay for your college courses won't do you any good when you graduate. Robert Sollars of Today's Training LLC says that if you take an entry-level position in the industry you want to work in (such as working a private security position if you're working toward a degree in criminal justice), you can get a sense of what the work requires -- to see if you're truly interested in making a career out of it. "This will allow them to get their 'feet wet' and learn more about a different side of the law enforcement community," he says.
7. Meet people.
Most college students aren't thinking about networking, but that's exactly what you should be doing before you graduate. Many colleges have strong alumni networks that students can tap into, and many college departments offer opportunities to meet professionals in the community who are working in that field. Get out and shake hands. Get advice on the profession you're interested in and ask questions to get tips on how to best position yourself.
Ali says you should ask questions that you can't find the answers to online: "What do you wish you'd known about the job before you started? What skills and traits make someone ideally suited for this kind of work in the long-term?"
8. Know how to talk about yourself.
Early in your career, you may find it hard to toot your own horn, but Ali says that it's important to be able to do so: "This element is so important and so often overlooked, yet it's a crucial step in determining your success in finding work," she says. "What are you going to say when someone asks: 'Who are you and what are you looking for (in relation to work)?' "
Be confident in your response, and don't be afraid to say what you want. Knowing what you want out of a career proves you're a go-getter, which appeals to employers.
9. Nail the interview process.
Even before you apply for your first job, find out what a professional job interview will look like. Talk to professionals that you network with to see what questions you should expect to be asked, and practice your answers. Have a friend mock interview you so you can get your nervous tics out and learn to smoothly answer questions.
10. Be open.
If you zero in on one single job that you want, you might miss out on other great opportunities. Spend your college time exploring different industries that you could work in, as well as different roles you might be eligible for once you graduate. Your ideal job may come from left field, so be open to possibilities.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.
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