It’s that time of year again. Recent college graduates have just gotten their diplomas, and many are in the midst of their very first job search. And, as today’s graduates attempt to enter the workforce, many of them are realizing that it’s not quite the same as when their parents, professors and advisors first applied for jobs years ago.
Although jobs numbers have been steadily improving since the Great Recession, many college graduates are still finding it hard to land the right job – after graduation. While unemployment is at an eight-year low, nearly half of college graduates – 44% – are underemployed, meaning they are working at a job that does not require a college degree.
However, according to a 2016 Student Loan Hero survey, most college graduates are “cautiously optimistic” about their job prospects. 51.3% thought they would “definitely” have a job within three months of graduation, while 33% thought there was a 50/50 chance they would have a job within 3 months of graduating. Only 15.6% didn’t think they would have a job within 3 months of graduation. And, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, or SHRM, the class of 2016 has the best hiring forecast in 10 years.
How to take advantage of these positive numbers? Preparation, of course. With the help of career and hiring experts, GoodCall put together a complete guide to finding a job after college, from personal branding to budgeting during the job hunt. Read on to learn how to land your dream job after school!
Give Yourself an Edge
When it comes to finding a job, nothing is more important than standing out. And we’re not talking standing out with a gimmicky resume or flashy interview outfit. We’re talking standing out the old-fashioned way – with more experience and better skills.
Author and millennial business coach Amanda Abella shared her tips for standing out in the post-grad job hunt with GoodCall below:
“There are three kinds of job hunters who graduate from college – those who wait until after they’ve graduated to look for a job, those who wait a couple of months to look for work and enjoy their last summer of freedom, and the smart ones, who start planning their job hunt even before their last set of finals.
The latter know that in order to give themselves an edge, they need to start early on. The reality is, that if you want to give yourself an edge on your first post-grad job hunt, you’ll need to start early. And I don’t mean start looking for work a month before finals. In some cases, starting early may mean preparing yourself a couple of years in advance.
Here’s how you can give yourself an edge on your first post-grad job hunt:
Gain work experience while in college
The catch-22 of looking for a job after college is that even most entry-level positions are hiring for someone with experience. Many recent grads find themselves in the predicament of looking for their first job, only to learn that employers are looking for someone who has already worked in some capacity.
Granted, this isn’t the case with all employers. Some employers still like to hire people who are very green. But most employers still prefer a college graduate who brings some sort of experience to the table.
Your best bet is to work while you are in school, whether it’s an internship or a part-time job or summer job. Is it easy? No. Taking on a full load of courses and working at the same time is not easy. But it is going to give you a major edge when you look for a job after graduation.
The best-case scenario? You find a job related to your field and then get promoted once your degree is complete. Worst-case scenario? That doesn’t happen, but you still have experience on your resume when you graduate.
Start looking for a job before you graduate
If you know what you want to do, you can start looking for a job in your field even before you graduate. Fortunately, there are endless ways to do this now, thanks to the internet. Below are a few options to help you start looking for work before you graduate:
LinkedIn and other job search sites: More and more recruiters are using LinkedIn to search for candidates. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by Jobvite, 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn in the recruiting process – and 96% use social media as a recruiting tool.
Meetup.com and Eventbrite: One extremely effective way to get a job is to network. It’s much easier to get a job when you have a personal referral than to try and get in the door without one. According to a recent report in U.S. News, job candidates who apply with a referral from a current employee are hired two-thirds of the time. And the earlier you start building your professional contacts, the better. This can actually also help give you an edge when looking for work. Start attending events related to your industry to meet people and expand your network. Simply go on Meetup.com or Eventbrite to find events in your area.
There are also other techniques you can use to start looking for work before you graduate. For example, January is a very busy time for recruiters as they look to fill new spots. It tends to slow down in the spring (Easter), and practically comes to a screeching halt in the summer (when everyone is on vacation). It’s it’s a good idea to start getting your feet wet during late winter/early spring of your last semester of college. Even if you don’t get hired right away, you can start building contacts – you may have a job waiting for you when you’re done.
Start getting acquainted with the alumni association
Personal referrals can go a long way when looking for a job, but they can be hard to build from scratch. Fortunately, your school already has a group of personal referrals ready to go – your alumni association.
Most people like to help people. This is especially true if it’s people who went to the same college. When I worked in recruiting, there were definitely instances where young grads were practically hired on the spot just because they went to the same college as the hiring manager.
Don’t underestimate the power of your alma mater, and start making some connections as soon as possible. Even if you can’t attend any alumni events yet, you can still find alumni on LinkedIn with their Alumni Tool. You may also want to consider volunteering to help during the events if you can’t yet join the association.”
Create an Elevator Pitch
Another way to stand out? Have a great elevator pitch. While the term “elevator pitch” has traditionally applied to selling products, it can also apply to selling yourself to prospective employers and new professional contacts. It’s basically your 30-second pitch for you – what you do, what you’re looking for, and what you need to get there.
Financial coach Tonya Rapley wrote for GoodCall about creating an effective elevator pitch:
“The term ‘elevator pitch’ has traditionally applied to sales – it’s based on the notion that that you never know who you’ll meet in an elevator and how they might help you further your business. However, it also applies to networking – everyone should have a personal elevator pitch that they’re prepared to give in case they come across someone who could be a helpful contact.
While elevator pitches don’t have to happen in an elevator, they should still be short and succinct. More often than not, you’ll be giving your elevator pitch in environments like networking events, conferences, or even waiting in line at the store – anywhere you have the opportunity to meet new people.
If you are in a field where networking is essential, or if you’re looking for a new job, investors, partners or employees, you should have your elevator pitch down pat. Below, I’ve put together a few tips to help you create a winning personal elevator pitch:
Get clear on your goals
Elevator pitches are succinct, so you want to make sure that you’re communicating the most important details quickly and effectively. The best way to do this? Determine what you want to gain from these interactions. Clarify what your current goals are, both personally and professionally. Once you are clear on your goals, ask yourself who would you like to meet to make these goals happen – that’s who you’ll be delivering your pitch to.
Craft your pitch
The key components of your pitch are who you are, what you do, and what you need help with or what you are seeking. It should be no more than four sentences. And remember to think about what you hope to gain.
If you are looking for new clients, you would want to include your training and details about your expertise – for example., ‘I specialize in creating engaging events for millennial entrepreneurs and have been doing so for the past three years. I am actually currently accepting new clients who would like to better connect with millennial audiences.’
If you are looking for a job, you might say, ‘I recently graduated from school, where I studied Physical Therapy. I specialize in working with children and am interested in interviewing with private practices in the downtown area.’
Keep in mind that you may have several versions of your elevator pitch. One version might be used for communicating at business events, while another might be used for communicating in informal settings with friends or acquaintances.
A winning pitch gives enough information so that listeners know what you offer, but also prompts conversation. Ideally, your elevator pitch should be descriptive enough to warrant interest, but intriguing enough to prompt questions or follow-up requests.
Memorize and practice
Your elevator speech should flow easily. You should be able to shoot it off instantly when an opportunity arises, and it should feel like second nature. Spend some time each day reciting your elevator speech to yourself, and recite it at different times throughout the day. If you are having difficulty remembering your pitch, or it feels forced, consider editing parts of it. If you are unsure of your pitch’s effectiveness, enroll the help of friends or mentors for feedback.
Here are a few tips for using your elevator speech:
Be flexible. If you have limited time, there isn’t always an opportunity for pleasantries. But if you have more time, remember that your speech doesn’t always have to be the conversation opener. It is most effective – and often more authentic – when followed by a prompt such as ‘What brings you here today?’ Try to insert your elevator pitch into conversation where it makes sense.
Practice follow-up questions and responses. Always assume that people will want to know more. Think about potential questions or additional details you would want people to know during conversation.
Consider tweaking your pitch depending on the audience. Determine if bits of your speech should be altered or left out depending on the audience. For example, you may have a pitch that is specific to the organization you serve or what you are looking for, but you may be open to opportunities outside of that niche. It would serve you better to have a more general pitch than one than limits you or excludes you from certain opportunities.
Follow up. Most connections are missed because of a lack of follow-up. General rule of thumb is to follow-up within 72 hours of meeting a new contact.”
Update Your Job Advice
We mentioned that the job market today doesn’t look like the one your parents, professors or college career advisors started out in years ago. In fact, the job market has changed significantly even in the past few years. And that means that some of the advice job seekers are getting – and sharing – is outdated.
Amanda Abella shared with GoodCall some things that have changed when it comes to finding a job in recent years – and how job seekers can deal with them:
“When I was a recruiter, I worked for a company that specialized in placement for college graduates. That means I spent a lot of time interviewing bright-eyed 20-somethings who were excited to get to work. The only problem? Many of them were ill-prepared for the actual process.
The company I worked for ended up spending a lot of time fixing resumes, coaching candidates for job interviews and, in some cases, even teaching them how to negotiate. It was a lot of work. And often times, we found out that these recent graduates had gotten bad advice.
Here’s the deal with parents, professors, and even college career advisors: while they may have great experience, they aren’t recruiters. That means a lot of the information they have – and share with students – may be outdated. They also aren’t usually in the field talking to employers on a daily basis, so often,they don’t really know what’s going on in the marketplace.
This isn’t to say all the advice you’re getting is completely useless. If you have absolutely no idea how to put together a resume or handle an interview, by all means use the resources around you. However, keep in mind that you may have to do some of your own research in order to really prepare yourself for the job hunt.
Here are just a few things that have changed in recent years:
One of the most obvious cases in which career advice is a little bit behind the times is resumes. With the emergence of digital portfolios, application tracking systems and LinkedIn, the world of resumes has been thrown for a loop. The job market itself is also totally different, so a lot of common resume advice is considered outdated.
For example, did you know that objectives are about as outdated as mullets? An objective is the part of the resume where a candidate details what they are hoping to get from a position. But the truth is that companies are way more concerned about what you can do for them than what they can do for you. They’re putting a lot of money into potentially hiring you, so they want to know whether or not they’ll be getting their money’s worth.
You might also not be aware of how applicant tracking systems actually work. An ATS is what companies use to allow applicants to apply online – and track their applications through the hiring process. Using relevant keywords helps the system notice you. But using images, like a logo or bullet points, may actually ensure that your resume never makes it through the system.
Additionally, you may have been told to use your resume to describe your job, when really you should be using it to describe your accomplishments. Employers probably know what you did on a daily basis – they are more interested in hearing about how you rocked it.
Realistic salary expectations
Another area in which there is a lot of disconnect between what candidates have been told to expect and reality is salary expectations. I’ve had candidates walk in thinking they were going to make a lot more money than was actually feasible with their work experience and in the local area.
When quoting average salary numbers, job seekers usually see national numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What they don’t realize is the average numbers may not apply during a down economy or in your local economy. For example, you’re not going to make the same amount of money in Florida as you would in New York for the same job. In fact, the same jobs may not even be available.
There are several factors that go into what is considered a realistic entry-level salary, including where you live, your experience, the state of the economy, the current state of your industry and more – and unfortunately, most individuals aren’t aware of what’s going on with any of these.
If you really want to know what to expect, go to the Department of Labor for your state and look at the numbers. You’ll also want
to look at numbers in different industries, and perhaps even see if your local county has any labor statistics. You can also look up entry-level salaries in your area on PayScale or Indeed.
How to actually use LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a brilliant tool for the job hunt. But unfortunately, many job seekers don’t know how to use it effectively.
There is a lot more to LinkedIn than just copying and pasting your resume online. In fact, you have a lot more room on LinkedIn that should be used up. You also need to take into account keywords, LinkedIn groups, content creation and a whole lot of tools (like the Alumni Tool) that can make your job hunt more effective.”
Expert Advice for 2016
We asked several employers and career and hiring experts:
What is one piece of outdated career advice recent college graduates are getting, and how would you update/replace it?
“My parents remind me of a time when people applied for jobs cold or blind, without knowing anyone in the business. Occasionally, they encourage me to send in an application for positions I am interested, but I find I am more likely to get an interview when I have contacted someone who works at the location and can help bring my application out of the stack.
Many years ago, there were not as many qualified or interested applicants. Now, it’s important to network and reach out to your contacts to see if there is someone that can put your application in front of the right person.
People are still sometimes offered jobs without knowing anyone, but it is not as common of a trend as it used to be. It helps to be qualified and have a network of people that can advocate for you and bring attention to your credentials.”
“The old-school advice – it’s who you know – might be outdated if it doesn’t take into account second degree connections on LinkedIn. So it’s not who you know that matters; it’s who those people know that gets you hired. Over 80% of hiring in 2012 was thanks to those types of contacts, and that percentage is likely higher today. Grow your network on LinkedIn, and when you identify a job you’re interested in, check who among your second degree connections can get your resume in front of the hiring manager.”
“What school doesn’t teach you about is personal branding. You no longer necessarily need a university degree to become an authority in a subject. Anyone can brand themselves as an expert in their given field and spread that message online. This doesn’t take much time or money. Forget the resume. It’s dead. Make a blog, YouTube channel or write a book – employers want to connect with real people, not just degrees and resumes.”
“Outdated advice: You should follow up on every application sent by calling the company.
Updated advice: In a world where each application is just a click of a mouse away, companies are inundated by applications. Just calling out of the blue is unlikely to lead to a better result. Find an advocate within the company that can champion your application, and improve your chances of getting an interview.”
“Advice from a parent: Print out your resume on nice paper and pound the pavement! When I was first out of college, I delivered my resume to every HR office on Park Avenue.
Advice from today’s career advisor: Create a LinkedIn profile you’re proud of. Then, use the LinkedIn alumni tool to connect with people that work in roles and at companies you’re interested in. Write a customized introduction asking for a few minutes of their time to discuss getting from your shoes to theirs. “
I think any advice that pertains to working hard and climbing the career ladder with the gold watch in mind is tired. Millennials care more about forging their own career paths than following traditional, prescribed paths for success.
For example, in the legal industry, millennial lawyers are now demanding to create their own roadmap that allows for flexible hours, the ability to work remotely, the ability to work with different lawyers, team-based projects, etc. These demands are in some cases replacing the defined, sweat-laden path to achieving the partnership that was once so coveted. In response to this, we learned that leading businesses are using personal career development plans for millennials and others – allowing them to work with managers to create a custom career path that is complete with goals and objectives that are tailor-made to their specific situation. As a result of this phenomenon, at Fennemore Craig, we have started implementing personal development plans for every non-partner attorney at our firm.
And if you think that graduation means the end of studying, you should actually think of it as the start of learning about your working life. You should be constantly learning and paving your own career path, which includes giving input and making your voice heard. Millennials are the most educated generation in history. They are not content with top-down policies and not having a voice in the direction of the company. This starts with providing direct feedback to supervisors. Many leading businesses are responding to this by implementing 360 reviews that give millennials and other workers the opportunity to evaluate the boss – a concept that was unheard of in Boomer generations and less common for Gen Xers.”
“Let’s start with admitting that your parents and career counselors are right about one thing: Networking is incredibly powerful. One estimate states that 24% of jobs filled in 2014 were referrals. Others put that estimate as high as 40%. While networking is still a powerhouse, realize that your parent and career counselors’ networks might have looked different than yours do today. Networking isn’t the business card grab-game with sweaty palms and awkward elevator speeches. It’s the 21st century, and it’s time to update your definition of networking with new ways to establish and build your professional network:
1. Social media. Approximately 1.1 million (almost 10% of all applications) were submitted with social media profiles. The computer services industry had the highest percentage of applications submitted via social networking tools, according to one study. Friend and follow other professionals within your line of expertise. Be sure to congratulate them on achievements and to tag them in your industry-relevant content sharing.
2. LinkedIn. Consider writing articles on your LinkedIn profile, sharing news-worthy content and joining professional groups. Build your name recognition within your industry by being visible on this highly-regarded professional networking platform.
3. Community events. The tried and true way to establish and build your network is in-person. These can be work, industry, professional or even interest-based events like book clubs and hiking groups. The fallacy of networking is the idea that you have to be purposefully and awkwardly meeting new people.”
“We actually had a whole discussion on this a while ago on the blog – one of the biggest pieces of ‘bad advice’ my readers mentioned was the classic, ‘You can do anything with a law degree.’ As one reader noted — there’s a lot of stuff you CAN’T do when saddled with six figures of student debt.
“My own ‘worst advice’ would be ‘follow your passion’ – you may love baseball, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy working at something related to baseball, like sports writing, field maintenance, recruiting, etc. Instead I’d say follow your SKILLS – what do you love to DO? Write? Work with people? Work with numbers?”
“I think the most outdated piece of career advice I can think of is to wind up a massive job search in the months before and after graduation in pursuit of an immediate position. Don’t do it! Take a time out and do something awesome, adventurous, and maybe well out of your comfort zone. The job can wait.”
How to Budget During the Job Hunt
One thing about hunting for a job after college? You typically don’t have a steady income while you’re looking. While many recent college graduates move home until they find their first job, it still helps to watch your spending until you have something locked down.
Writer and recent graduate Sarah Michelle Walsh gave GoodCall some tips for budgeting during the post-college job hunt:
“You went to a good college, got a respectable GPA, and were a pro at networking by the time graduation rolled around. But May is long past, and you still haven’t found the right job. Maybe you had a part-time job that was supposed to turn full-time, but that never panned out. Or perhaps the right opportunity never came along, and you’ve been working in retail or as a server in a restaurant while you wait.
Meanwhile, it seems like all of your college friends somehow miraculously got their lives together. But with the job hunt still on, your savings are getting increasingly smaller. If you’re looking for ways to trim your budget, consider these 7 tips to save money while continuing the search for your dream job:
- Consider moving back home: It’s not always ideal to move back in with your parents after having freedom for four years at college. But recent PEW Research Center studies show that 26% of millennials are moving back home post-grad, up from 22% in 2007. Not only has moving back home become socially acceptable, it’s also a big money saver. Parents are likely only to charge you a minimum amount of rent at most – and you might be able to negotiate some free meals.
- Rethink your coffee habit: As you’ve probably figured out, the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts runs that were a staple of your college life are costing you a small fortune. Instead of indulging in your $5 coffee habit, use your hard-earned money to create an online portfolio – or at least use one of those coffees to treat a mentor during a brain-picking session.
- Get a professional look for less: One of the key components of a successful interview is looking the part of a professional. For most industries, this means a well-tailored suit and conservative shirt or blouse. Instead of going to the mall or shopping online, consider looking for a thrift or consignment store, such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army, near you to find proper attire at a reduced rate. In some cases, you can find a name brand suit that’s never been worn for less than $20.
- Send your resume to your college’s career development office: Many career sites will suggest that you send your resume to a professional for critique – but paying for your resume to be reviewed can quickly add up. A free alternative is to send your resume to your college’s career services department for evaluation, a service many schools still offer to alumni free of charge after graduation.
- Look out for free networking events: Depending on where you live and what organizations you’re a part of, you can find free networking events or happy hours close to where you live. One example is The Boss Group’s Creative Connects, which happen monthly in several major cities across the US. These events cater to “marketing professionals, designers, writers, digital/web gurus and all other creatives.”
- Go out for happy hour instead of dinner: Speaking of happy hour, when you’re looking to connect with business associates or even friends, schedule plans around happy hour instead of dinners or drinks later in the evening. This way, you can still socialize, but save money with happy hour drink and appetizer specials. As another bonus, you might run into someone out for drinks after work who could have a job opening that’s perfect for you. A little impromptu networking never hurt.
- Choose a student loan repayment option that best suits your needs: With the grace period for student loans ending 6 months post-grad, it’s time to face the facts of student debt. With the average student loan debt reaching over $37,000 in 2016, it’s important to decide on a repayment plan that’s right for you. While the recommended minimum payment may seem scary, you can explore income-based repayment, or defer your payments as a last resort to give yourself more time to find the right job opportunity.
Whatever your employment status may be, make sure to be proactive about saving money and use some of your available funds toward activities that can benefit your career.”
For more helpful advice during the job hunt, check out these resources: