Very soon after the graduation high wears off, the panic can set in.
Recent graduates worry about how long it will take them to land a job that leads them down a solid career path. Parents worry about how long their adult child will linger jobless in their home. With record levels of student debt and a tough economy, the competition for jobs is fierce.
Take heart, graduates and parents.
This year’s college graduates will have an easier time finding jobs than those in years past, according to a report by the New York Federal Reserve.
The unemployment rate among college graduates continues to fall, and is now just over 5 percent. While the job market slowly recovers, there are ways for recent graduates to increase their odds of success.
Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University, shared strategies to help students land that first career-oriented job.
1. Don’t approach your job search like applying to college.
All graduates figured out how to get accepted to a university, but the job search requires a paradigm shift from what worked in the past.
“Students would like to (just) fill out forms, which is easy to do, especially on the Internet,” Smith said. “But you cannot rely on the Internet and job boards.”
Most jobs are not advertised, and the ones on massive online sites are flooded with applicants. Think of the job search more like dating, he said: It’s about trying to find the right match, and it requires a lot of face-to-face interaction.
2. Research, reach out and rehearse.
Research the companies to which you want to apply. Tailor cover letters on what you can offer them rather than what they can do for you. Tweak your resume, too: While it can seem difficult, it should be customized for different types of industries and positions. Use words included in job listings to get through initial keyword filters and increase the odds that your resume might be seen by an actual person.
Reach out to your parents’ friends, previous employers, friends’ parents, relatives, anyone who might be able to tell you about openings in a given field. Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral from anyone willing to help you. Follow up and send a thank-you note to whomever agreed to meet with you, even if it doesn’t immediately result in a job.
Expand your network by requesting informational interviews to find out more about a career even when a company is not advertising a job for which you are qualified. Join your college’s alumni group. Use your school’s career office to get advice on your cover letter, resume and interviewing skills.
If you land an interview, be well-prepared. Google the most frequently asked interview questions and practice your answers with someone.
3. Learn how to network. Networking with professionals will help you practice important skills. Don’t check your cellphone or text while at a networking event or informational interview. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Don’t be long-winded when asked a question. Dress professionally.
Join professional organizations and attend industry-specific events. Introduce yourself to people.
4. Get organized: Set specific daily, weekly and monthly goals.
Set goals for how many people you will personally contact, how many networking events you’ll attend, how many follow-up emails or thank-you letters need to be sent, how many informational interviews you’ll set up, along with how many job leads you’ll pursue.
5. Revamp your social media presence. Clean up your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and remove unprofessional photos and remarks. Join professional sites like LinkedIn and accentuate the positive. Think of yourself like a brand. How do you project a brand? How do you protect a brand? You can search sites like LinkedIn to see how successful employees in an industry present and promote themselves.
6. The job search takes time and requires some hustle. But in the meantime, consider work that could lead to a full-time job: Volunteer with an organization, work part-time, freelance, consult or take on an (or another) internship.
7. Make yourself more valuable. Take classes or get certifications outside your degree that will boost your skill set and make you more valuable. Do not, however, enroll in graduate school for the wrong reasons. That can be a pricey mistake that only adds to a graduate’s debt burden.
Don’t expect to have it all figured out, Smith said. For most people, their 20s are a difficult time.
Four out of 10 students who graduated in the last two years report being underemployed, meaning they are working in jobs that do not require their degrees, according to a recent report by Accenture. Nearly a quarter of 25- to 34-year-olds live with parents or grandparents, up from 11 percent in 1980, according to Pew research.
“You’re not alone,” Smith said. “You are trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, and you’re not going to figure it out at once.”
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.