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In the time it takes a college student to toss a Frisbee across the quad, my daughter has become a senior.
At least it seems that fast. How quickly we’ve moved from kitting out her new dorm room to realizing that graduation is less than eight months away. And that means right now is the time to get strategic about what happens next.
Most college students indicate that getting a good job is a primary reason for pursuing higher education. Yet according to a landmark 2018 study, 43% of college graduates are underemployed — working at a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. The study also found that, when you start off underemployed, you’re likely to remain there for years to come.
The last thing any parent wants (after shelling out thousands on tuition) is to find your student on the cusp of graduating with only barista jobs in sight (nothing against my favorite shot-puller). Ideally, strategic career planning has been part of your student’s college experience all the way through, but fall of senior year is when it needs to ramp up. Since it typically takes 3–6 months to find a job, the time to start the search is now.
“What do you want to be doing as soon as you graduate?”
That’s different from “What do you want to do with your life?” It’s essential to get specific about job plans in order to devise a strategy that will allow you to hit the ground running once the diploma is in hand. In my daughter’s case, her answer might be "to land a job as a medical scribe” or “to work in a community health clinic” — her immediate goal being to gain clinical experience before applying to physician assistant graduate programs. A specific job aim is easier to pursue than a vague intent like “I think I want to work in the field of public health.”
Your job search shouldn’t begin when you graduate. The groundwork must be laid now, and that requires investing time in research and preparation. It’s most effective to block out time each week, just as you would do for class or studying, and don’t procrastinate.
Posting party pictures to Instagram or Facebook is just for friends, right? Don’t count on privacy settings to protect you fully. You never know who might see posts you’re tagged in. Employers often scour an applicant’s social media to get a sense of their interests, values and character. If you wouldn’t want a potential future boss to see a picture of you downing shots or wearing a skimpy thong, take it down.
Four in 10 students never visit their college’s career services office, according to a 2017 Strada-Gallup survey. Yet this resource can be one of the most helpful avenues for job search help.
Ideally, you’ve already investigated career paths based on your interests, personality traits, etc., and now it’s time to nail down an actual job. Check with office staff about how to research openings, make connections, get help with your resume, test your interviewing skills, and find out about career-related events on campus.
In today’s digital job search arena, a dynamic resume is essential — be sure it’s up to date and adaptable, depending on which skills you want to highlight for a given position. Your resume should feature your education, relevant work experience, pertinent extracurricular activities, and skills and abilities (focus on what’s transferrable across positions: communication, analytical prowess, critical thinking, leadership, team building, etc.).
It’s also virtually a given that a job applicant should have a LinkedIn profile. Some employers use these exclusively in screening and hiring.
Along with honing your resume, you’ll want to get references lined up. Think of significant people during your college experience who can speak to your talents, abilities, work ethic and potential. Consider professors, advisors, internship supervisors and/or previous employers. It’s a good idea to ask for a general recommendation letter to keep on file, though you may need individually tailored references, too, depending on the job you’re targeting.
If you haven’t had an internship yet, it’s not too late to capitalize on the value and connections this real-world experience can hold. Talk to your advisor about lining one up for spring term (many require an application well in advance; the time to look is right now), or check out options for summer. Plenty of internships are still available for post-grads during their first year out of school, and this experience can be an excellent way to position yourself as a competitive applicant in your future job search.
Whether flannel shirts or short denim cut-offs, college attire is decidedly casual. But those won’t do for most networking or job interview settings. If you’re aiming at a finance career, you’ll likely need to buy a suit for interviews. But for most positions, think pressed khakis, button-down shirt and nice shoes for guys — maybe a navy blazer, if it’s a more corporate or urban setting — and a classic, understated dress and low heels for women.
Most colleges and universities host these events, often featuring booths with a wide variety of employers looking for promising candidates. Some events are more informational, others may offer interview opportunities on campus. Certainly, not every field will be represented, but it’s worth a wander through the aisles to see what kind of opportunities exist.
Remember, these are employers seeking students about to graduate — you’ve already got an open door in this context. Check with your school’s career services center to find out when these are scheduled and who will be coming.
There may be no more important tip, actually, than this one: most jobs are landed via personal connections. Nurture and pursue these now. Ask parents, relatives, friends’ parents, church or synagogue connections, professors and more if they know people working in jobs or fields you’re interested in. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet people doing work you want to know more about. If you have a dream job, find someone who’s doing it and set up a coffee date or a phone call to learn how they got there. Ask for cards, contact numbers, connect on LinkedIn, and check in periodically, if appropriate, to learn about potential openings.
Find people in the job you’d like to have and ask if you can observe them for a day. Whether it’s a physician, civil engineer or elementary school teacher, many professionals may be willing to let you sit in or follow them around to get a real feel for their daily tasks.
Building on all of the steps above, start defining a list of employers to pursue. Even if they don’t have openings at present, begin to build relationships (conduct an informational interview — see #10 above) and get familiar with a company so you’ll be competitive when the time comes.
Delve deep: explore a company’s website in detail. Learn about their history and current leadership, discover their financials, know their products intimately. Few things impress an employer more than a candidate who’s highly knowledgeable and can speak to how they could specifically benefit the employer.
If we were to add a “lucky 13,” it’s this! A job search can be a long and arduous process, requiring patience, persistence and fortitude. But you’ll up your odds of success substantially by tapping these tips and not giving up.