Many college students want to have a job lined up after graduation, but getting a job (especially one in their field) can take longer than expected. We asked 11 recent graduates and working professionals to share their advice for students to get ahead on their job search while they’re still in college, and this is what they had to say.
“Stop sending the same resume to everyone. Read the job description and rearrange your resume to fit the job description. You might not have all the experience and that is ok! You’re still a student after all. If you have no experience in that field, think of what jobs and experiences you have had and how those have prepared you for a job. For example – waiting tables taught me to how to prioritize tasks and be respectful and responsive to customers while under a lot of pressure. Skills that I use every day in a totally different capacity. Sometimes ambition and willingness to learn can go a lot farther than whatever is on your resume.”
- Marissa Lovell, Content Producer at Red Sky PR
“My advice would be to not limit yourself. Too often we're our own obstacle. We have a specific role or type of organization in mind and—while it's helpful to stay focused—eliminate perfectly viable options. Especially for students, who may not have much experience, stay open to other opportunities. Go to interviews even if it's not your ideal job. First, it gives you interview experience. And secondly, you might end up loving it once you learn more.”
- Chris Lee, Founder and Career Consultant at PurposeRedeemed
“An internship is the best way to start on a job search while in college. Often firms will hire interns that are respected in the office. Do good work for a few months while school is out of session; enjoy a prime job upon graduation!
Reach out to contacts through your university's career center, family connections or connections through your professors. Approach these people asking them for information about the field that interests you. Ask them how to find a job, don't actually ask for a job. Do this at least six months before you actually want to find a job. The result will be that people will make introductions and will also consider you for open jobs.”
- Timothy Jaconette, Founder of Advanced Admit College Admission Consulting
“Network. Your goal when you network is not to just exchange a card. It's certainly not to collect as many as possible. The goal needs to be to come away with one contact. A real, meaningful contact. When you meet someone at an event, don't be a pest. See how you can add value to them. You have to have a 60/40 mentality. Give more than you get. When you get that $40,000 per year job, work like they pay you $80,000 per year. Eventually, you'll get to where you need to go.”
- Brandon Grittini, CFO at PRM Freight Systems
“As the hiring partner at my mid-size law firm, and a graduate who found a job as a lawyer in a very tough market, I think I have some sage advice. An applicant should get experience in the field they ultimately want to work. That means work for free or for little to nothing and it will pay big dividends. While it is important to focus on good grades, if you can find the time while in school to get some practical experience as a grunt, intern or volunteer in the field you are seeking employment you will separate yourself from the huge pool of applicants that just have good grades but no experience.”
“If a student expects to be prepared for job search, they should participate in at least one internship while in college. To be most competitive, a student will have had two or more internships before they graduate. This means, as a freshman or sophomore, find pre-internship opportunities, such as getting involved in student organizations, participating in community service projects, taking on a part-time jobs or volunteer commitment.
Once a student starts his/her second to last semester, it's a good time to start the process: attend career fairs, talk to employers, and even apply for jobs of interest especially for those corporate entry-level post-graduate positions. Nine months prior to graduation is not too early to establish a relationship with them somehow to let them know of your interest. This is why attending career fairs or conducting information interviews well ahead of graduation time can be beneficial. Each employer has different timelines in their recruiting process.”
- Margie Stewart, Career Resources Specialist at Missouri State University
“Volunteer more. This can have positive effects on the growing of your network and also looks great on a resume. Since these are normally free gigs, you can be selective and volunteer in the vertical of your degree, the industry that you want to pursue, or for a cause that you feel strongly about.”
“Passive job shopping should start at least six months in advance of the need for a regular paycheck (whether a student or out in the real world). Many students wait until they graduate to start looking, which is going to cause a delay in obtaining work because there is normally a flood of other students graduating who are also applying for jobs fresh out of school. The best thing to do while in the last year of school is seriously starting the ‘network’ of learning who is in what company or field that may be able to assist the student in finding work. Get the LinkedIn profile beefed up. Establish a professional resume (or have one written) that focuses on accomplishments and achievements. Once the resume is completed (circa 4-5 months out), post that document online on the major job and resume databases to see what, if any, nibbles start coming through.”
- Dawn Boyer, PhD, CEO at D. Boyer Consulting
“If you have specific skills in technology, software development, writing, marketing, project management, market research or accounting, then you might be ready to take on small freelance projects and begin building your portfolio and your resume. Many of these can be done and paid for by the end of this weekend. You don't need to wait until the summer or for some other big block of time the way you would for a job. Another advantage is that freelancing is a hack to the perennial experience problem: How do you get a job requiring experience if you don't have the experience to get a job? Freelancing gets the ball rolling so you can tell employers in the future that you do have experience.”
“Start preparing early, months before graduation. Some companies looking to hire recent grads will post their job descriptions as early as January/February. Keep your resume relevant, by only including experience that's in line with the job that you're applying for. Hiring managers see so many resumes and cover letters, so it's important to make yours stand out. Whether you include a pop of color, a defining design or layout, or even a personalized heading, something to make your name stand out in a pile of hundreds of resumes.
- Irene Courey, Recruiting and Social Media Specialist at Gray Scalable
“Get involved. Have something on your resume that you're proud of and be able to talk about it in detail. Whether it be an organization, class, or job, it is important to show your passions, even on a piece of paper. Also, go to the Career Center on campus to have your resume reviewed. The smallest change in format or wording could be what gets you an interview and it’s always best to get a second pair of eyes on an important document.”
- Kourtney Mudd, MBA student and 2018 graduate at Missouri State University