Colleges and universities across the U.S. are entering the final weeks of their academic calendar, and for many seniors this can only mean one thing: It’s officially time to panic.
While a lucky few receive job offers at the end of their junior summer internships, the vast majority will begin their last semester of college without a post-graduation plan.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2014 Job Outlook Survey estimates that employers will hire approximately 8 percent more new college graduates in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13. That’s good news for the approximately 1.6 million students who will be entering the workforce with a Bachelor’s degree this spring. But no matter how many new jobs the economy adds, it’s up to seniors to go get them, says Diana Gruverman, director of Employer Services at New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development. “The job’s not going to come to you,” she says. “You have to be proactive.”
Here are five ways to rev up your search and increase your chances of donning a cap and gown with a job offer in hand.
1. Forget landing your dream job.
While your first job can serve as a springboard for your professional future, it’s not going to make or break your career, and it certainly won’t be your last. “There is a fear in deciding what to pursue, and a fear that the choice will be right or wrong,” says Lori Balantic, a senior associate director in Connecticut College’s career counseling program. But choosing a first job isn’t an indictment on your future, she says. Rather, it’s a chance to explore a new field, build a network and gain skills and insight that will serve you regardless of where your career path goes.
For most Millennials, that path will be long and winding. “These days, college graduates are staying in their first job for 18 to 30 months and then moving on,” Gruverman says. Instead of searching for your dream job, “find something that will position you for your career goals,” she advises. “Pick something interesting that will present you with challenges that will make you more marketable for your next job.”
2. Map out each week of the semester.
Figure out what your goals are — be it a job offer, grad school or a summer internship — and then make a week-by-week plan for achieving that goal.
A sample plan may look something like this:
- Set up an appointment at career services.
- Make a list of your interests, skills and desires for your first job (check out this article for good questions to ask yourself).
- Create or update your LinkedIn account, and check your social media profiles to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong message to a potential employer.
- Update your résumé.
- Join your college’s alumni network, and attend a few upcoming events or panels.
- Talk to everyone you know about
what you’re thinking about, especially professors, parents or mentors who know you well.
- Reach out to three alumni in your field of interest and ask if you can take them out to coffee or set up a 30-minute phone call where they talk about their experience.
- Set aside a few hours each week to peruse job listings through your college’s career services homepage, and make a list of everything that interests you, even if you’re not qualified.
- Apply, apply, apply.
3. Make an appointment with career services.
For student job seekers, a visit to career services should be top priority. “College career centers are a wealth of information for students,” Gruverman says. Some of the dozens of resources they provide include internal job boards, lists of alumni you can contact in a variety of fields, self-assessment tests, sample résumés and cover letters and information about applying to grad school.
The most valuable services they provide, however, are one-on-one meetings with career experts who can review your résumé, conduct mock interviews, connect you to alumni and help you practice your 90-second pitch.
“Students should be able to talk about their experiences and skills and why they would make a great candidate for a job in 90 seconds or less,” Gruverman says. Whether you practice with a friend, a career counselor or the mirror, the important thing is make sure you don’t sound too robotic or rehearsed. “Practice will make networking feel a lot less awkward,” she adds.
4. Network your heart out.
“We encourage our students to think of everyone as a potential networking resource,” Gruverman says. “Fellow students, peers, teachers, alumni. You never know where that conversation can take you.”
Balantic agrees. “I’ve noticed that students often neglect to mention what they are thinking about for post-BA with their most immediate network during the semester: their fellow students and professors,” she says.
This is a critical mistake. Networking is one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of getting a job, and it will continue to be important throughout your career. While it may feel uncomfortable to sell yourself as a potential candidate, remember that most people you speak to are eager to help students, because they were once in your position themselves.
The important thing is to make connections and keep in touch. It’s good practice to send notes to people you meet at networking events, Gruverman says. ”This gives you the chance to follow up again, and it will make sure you’re on their mind in case they see a job opportunity that they think you’d be good for.”
5. Keep an open mind.
“The more applications you submit, the higher your response rate will be,” Gruverman says. She recommends submitting 20 to 30 job applications a week, though your counselor may adjust that depending on the kinds of jobs you’re applying to.
Above all, keep an open mind. As Balantic says, there are no “right” or “wrong” jobs, only different kinds of experiences. Don’t limit yourself to one company, one position or even one industry, because you never know what opportunities you might miss by closing off your options too soon. In other words, “Make a plan from which to deviate.”