To the roughly 1.6 million college graduates in the class of 2014: You have my heartiest congratulations – and my sympathies. I graduated during the early 1990s recession when finding a decent job was very difficult, so I have an inkling of the challenges many of you now face.
Although the job-search technology available has changed considerably since then, as someone who is now on the other side of screening candidates, I can tell you many of the underlying principles for waging a successful search remain the same. Let me share a few:
Stand out from the crowd. You'll probably be competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants for most jobs, so:
- Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight education, skills and experience relevant to the position – check out Monster.com's Resume Center for writing tips.
- If your work history is brief, play up education highlights, volunteer or internship positions, awards, organizational memberships, etc.
- Have strong references – and make sure they're willing to speak or write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
- Proofread everything carefully and ask a trusted acquaintance to review.
Before applying, research the company to make sure it's a good fit. If you do get called for an interview, kick it up a notch:
- Make sure you understand the company's products, services and customer base.
- Examine their business structure and how your potential department fits in.
- Research competitors so you understand the business environment in which they operate.
- Investigate their social media presence for clues on how they interact with customers.
Employers are forced to do more with fewer resources, so they seek employees who are focused, polished and willing to work hard. I've spoken to numerous hiring managers who say many candidates they see don't convey those qualities. A few tips:
- Google yourself. Review your social media footprint and remove photos or other materials that portray you unprofessionally.
- Show up – on time – for interviews dressed appropriately, with copies of your resume, work samples and any requested materials.
- Be prepared to answer a barrage of questions about yourself and how you'd react in different situations. (Monster has a great list of potential interview questions.)
- Make sure you can back up any claims made on your resume or during interviews.
Register with job search engines where you can apply for jobs and make yourself visible to potential employers and recruiters. Popular sites include Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com. LinkedIn, AfterCollege.com and LinkUp.com.
Landing a good job can take months or even years, so be persistent and tap all available resources. For example:
- Contact your school's career office to see which services are still available to you as a recent graduate. Many will help by reviewing your resume, conducting practice interviews and connecting you with alumni volunteers willing to meet for informational interviews.
- Build and maintain a profile on LinkedIn. Many employers and recruiters go there first when looking for suitable candidates. Also, join LinkedIn groups for your field of interest and partake in their discussions.
- Contact and join professional organizations in your field. Weddles.com provides links to thousands of professional organizations.
- Many companies use automated tracking systems to scan incoming resumes for skills and job-appropriate key words before a human will ever see them. Make sure your resume includes these key words – provided your experience is relevant, of course.
Bottom line: You worked hard to earn your degree. Unfortunately, you may have to work equally hard to get your career going, so take advantage of the available tools – and good luck.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter.