Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

Graduating? No Job? Do This Now

5 Steps for Improving Your Job Search

You don’t have to search hard to find doom-and-gloom articles about the economy and job prospects for new college graduates, regardless of major. It’s a rough job market, so you will need to work harder to find a job, and be more flexible about how you’ll acquire experience. Let’s not waste time talking about what you should or shouldn’t have done in your job search so far-- if you’re graduating and want a job, here are the steps you can take immediately.

Remember, outside of some education-specific fields, most employers hire talent, not majors, so your talents need to shine in the job search. The steps I’m recommending might seem basic, but they are the ones most often overlooked by new job seekers and are worth reviewing.

1. Visit your career center before you leave college. But don’t just show up for a 10-minute “walk-in” to have all your questions answered and then leave frustrated that they weren’t helpful or “didn’t have a job” for you. Career centers don’t have a list of employers just waiting for your arrival. Finding a job is a process and they will help you through that, but you will find the job yourself. Schedule an appointment with a career advisor, and arrive with questions about the steps you need to take. Verify what services you can still use after you graduate (many career centers have to limit alumni services due to budget constraints) and what last-minute services might still be available. (My office runs a “boot camp” which runs soon-to-be graduates through all the basics of the job search; some offices sponsor “just-in-time” job fairs.) And then USE the services.

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2. Know your strengths and personal characteristics.

  • What experience have you already acquired?
  • What are the strengths of your education?
  • What career fields are you considering?
  • How do your experience and education fit that? If they don’t, then start thinking about a 2- year plan to develop the background you need to succeed in your chosen field.

Don’t have a “chosen field”? Then focus on how you’d like to spend the next year or two while you learn more about yourself and decide on a field. This is a time to experiment and try out ideas. Research jobs and career fields on the internet. Don’t pressure yourself to know everything about what you want to do or find the perfect job. Just don’t use your career indecision as an excuse to do nothing. Move forward on anything that looks interesting and see what develops.

3. Create the best possible resume, cover letters, writing samples, and other marketing tools. Show them to friends, relatives, or anyone who will look at them. Make sure all typos, weak phrasing, grammar issues, etc., are gone. If you have “responsibilities include...” anywhere on your resume, dump it. Use action verbs and take advantage of bullet points to show highlights and accomplishments, not duties. (Want some help? Here’s a handout. Just scroll down the page for "Action Verbs.") And here are some links to help with cover letters and writing samples. Also, check out this post for other ways to express your talents.

4. Create/enhance your social media profile. Not on LinkedIn yet? Has it been awhile since you updated your profile? Then that’s a great way to spend this evening. Create your profile and make sure it highlights your skills, talents, and successes. Watch the tutorials on YouTube, post a professional picture (even if you just get a friend to take a photo of you in front of a blank wall). Use LinkedIn actively—join groups related to your career interests, join your college’s group (many have alumni groups for networking), look at employer profiles, etc. LinkedIn can help you create a network faster than almost any other source. And while you’re at it, clean up any digital dirt lingering on the internet. Tighten up the security on your Facebook profile. Make sure your Twitter feed isn’t going to show you in a negative light.

5. Be professional at all times. The most common complaint we receive from employers about college students is their lack of professionalism in three areas: dress; knowledge of company; and ability to identify and articulate their talents. So now you know what you need to do to beat the competition.

  • Buy a professional interview outfit. Appropriate interview clothes vary according to industry, but it's generally better to err on the side of too conservative than too casual.  (Some college women mistakenly think that dressing up for a job interview means a pretty dress and high heels. Don't be misled by inappropriate business attire on TV.  Better to go with a blazer and matching slacks or traditional suit in navy or other conservative colors with medium heels or flats. No low-cut or sheer tops, and no high hemlines.) 
  • Practice professional responses to interview questions— you can find lists of sample questions all over the internet. Know your three top strengths and present them as a story or in a conversational manner.
  • Research companies before you go to job fairs or interviews. (Here is some more advice from a recruiter.)

Job searching is a process. It takes time and you have to hear many no’s before you get that yes. Following the 5 steps above, however, should significantly reduce the time on your parents’ couch this summer. And, if you’re on the couch right now? What could you do instead that would add to your resume and make you more desirable to employers?

Best wishes on your search. Every year I do a shout-out to my terrific and talented liberal arts students at The University of Texas at Austin. Hook ‘em Horns!

Copyright 2012 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 Photo Credit Flickr Creative Commons

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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