Job-seeking college seniors must stand out from the crowd

With the slow economy today, the job market in the United States is tough. College seniors graduating this spring with little or no work experience may find it especially difficult to land that first professional job.

But even if a graduating senior doesn’t have a resume together or has never been on an interview, it is not too late to pay a visit to a career center, says Lea Luchetti, director of The Career Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

“We start our students in the right direction early in their college careers by encouraging them to come into The Career Center and to start thinking about their job search early on,” Luchetti says. “But even if a student hasn’t had a chance to work with his or her university’s career office, help is still available.”

Computer-based career searches are a great way to learn about the current job market.

The core basics of any job search — having a good resume, strong interviewing skills and thorough research — are the same no matter what the job market looks like. But to get a leg up on the competition, especially in tougher economic times, networking is the key, Luchetti says.

Making connections

According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, seventy five percent of jobs and internships are found through networking and proactive job search methods, she notes.

“Networking can be fun and informal. It does not only occur at cocktail parties and specialized networking functions,” she says. “You can network at a baseball game or even an ice cream stand. It is simply a matter of sharing your interests and goals with others. All sorts of connections can be developed through a simple, informal conversation.

“Think outside of the box about networking methods, strategies and venues. The goal is to get the word out to others that you are searching and give them specific information and concrete descriptions about the type of job or employer for which you are looking.”

It’s never too late to head to your school’s career center to begin using its vast job-searching resources.

Since there are fewer jobs available now, students “have to shine even more than their competition,” Luchetti says.

“You have to be sharper, smarter, more researched, more focused, better prepared and present yourself more effectively when the job market is tough. The market is a lot more competitive when there aren’t as many available jobs,” she says.

Luchetti has several tips on ways that graduating seniors can separate themselves from the job-hunting crowd:

  • Engage in deliberate self-assessment to understand the types of industries and jobs that would be the best fit for your skills.
  • Research specific companies and organizations that would allow you to do that type of work. Use informational interviews as a way to make contacts and learn about how to succeed in the job search.
  • Use a three-pronged approach to identifying viable jobs in that field, including reviewing job listings, networking and prospecting. Use the “one-a-day” method. Do one job search related task each day, whether that includes making a phone call, following up with a lead or sending out resumes and cover letters.
  • Remember that job-seekers who go the extra mile will be the most successful.

“Do your research. Don’t come into an interview and expect the person conducting the interview to tell you what you should be doing with your life. Be prepared for the interview. Be focused and have your homework done,” she says.

Luchetti also suggests doing as many informational interviews as possible. “Informational interviews are great because they allow you to learn more about an industry or specific organization and are a valuable networking tool.”

Getting a foot in the door

Another great option is internships, Luchetti says. “Seniors can even do a post-graduation internship in the summer after their senior year. A lot of jobs are found through internships because they are a cost-effective option for an employer to see what you are like as an employee. The advantage for the student is that when job opportunities become available, employers prefer to hire their own interns for full-time positions.

“Vault (online career information) reports indicate that more than one-third of all college graduates have internship experience and that upon graduation, students who have done internships secure jobs at twice the rate as those who have not,” Luchetti adds.

The other thing Luchetti encourages recent graduates to do is volunteer. “If you don’t have a job and you can’t get a post-graduation internship, volunteer at an organization where you might like to work,” she says. “If you’d like to work at the art museum, for example, volunteer there. Get familiar with that organization and the people who work there. An advantage of volunteering is that you have the opportunity to find out what working at that organization is really like while gaining valuable work experience.”

Finally, says Luchetti, be creative. “In a tough market like this you have to make yourself stand out. Be proactive and take ownership of your job search.”