Graduation is an exciting time, the end of four (or more) years of intense study. While earning a diploma is a great reason to celebrate, those graduates without jobs lined up may find it stressful, especially in this economic climate.
The time after graduation should be full of exploration and discovery, says Mark W. Smith, JD, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
Though some people have luck with online job boards and company websites, it’s best to use a nontraditional approach in job searches, Smith says. Networking is the way most people learn about opportunities and it often gives them an upper hand.
“One way to think about looking for a job is to use the paradigm of dating,” he says. “It’s getting out, meeting a lot of people. It’s a little bit arbitrary, but that’s kind of the way it works.
“There are two ways most students find an internship or job: the traditional way and the nontraditional way. The traditional way is the way students apply to college – you fill out an application, people make a decision and they get back to you.
“That’s probably the paradigm most college students have when they’re applying for a job. It’s really a rational and orderly method. Unfortunately, it’s not how most people get their jobs.”
Smith offers the following advice to new graduates:
- Get organized and expand your list of contacts. Break out of your comfort zone of friends and family and introduce yourself to new people. You might be surprised how many people are happy to share advice.
- Create a target employer list. What kinds of companies or organizations interest you? After researching an organization’s website, call to ask for the name of a person you can call or e-mail and request an opportunity to talk in person.
- Establish a LinkedIn account. Join local groups and professional associations to stay attuned to what’s happening in your particular industry. Access your school’s alumni group to look for professionals involved in your industry.
- Reach out to those whose work has impressed you. Send a note or an e-mail to people that you meet. Contact people you read about in articles and introduce yourself and tell them you enjoyed their comments.
“Networking and knowing people in the field can make you a stronger candidate when you do go in for interviews,” Smith says. “You’re going to know much more about the industry, about a potential employer and the job, and you’re going to be a much more effective applicant.
“Most professionals are happy to meet with you. People love to share advice with young people, talk about their lives, and chat about shared interests.
“Think of it this way, would you mind telling a student from your high school about what it’s like to be a student at your college or university? You’d probably enjoy it. Informational interviewing is the same thing, but with you in the role of the interviewer,” Smith says.