Recently I spoke to a group of students at the University of Florida about landing a job after graduation and it had me thinking about what college students need to do now, while still in school, to land the best job after graduation. Here are the five ways college students should prepare for graduation.
Pinpoint Your Ideal Job and Company
“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar
One of the biggest mistakes I see college students making when preparing for the working world post grad is that they cast too wide of a net. They apply for every type of job imaginable, thinking that something is bound to stick eventually.
Instead, it’s crucial that students narrow their focus to determine exactly what they are looking for. It can be difficult during school to commit to a particular path, but just know that starting an entry-level job in one industry doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. However, not having a specific target can cost you time and headaches.
Start by identifying three to five companies that you would be interested in working for. You don’t want too long of a list here. Pick out the best ones that seem to match your desires, particularly when it comes to company culture. Get to know these companies well online and start determining who you can meet that works there.
Once you have identified companies you want to work for, start to pinpoint roles or departments within that company that you want to focus on. Set up job alerts on LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, or Indeed so you get notified when they post a job with the title you are after.
Now that you have your pinpoint focus of companies and jobs you want, everything else you do will be influenced with that in mind.
Create Your Resume
It may seem to be a monumental challenge to create your resume when you have little to no work experience to list on your resume. It’s important to know that your resume is the first checkbox you must complete on your way to finding a job.
Don’t wait until you are ready to apply to a job to start working on your resume. It takes hours of dedicated effort and multiple revisions to come up with a working copy that is usable for applications.
Keep it simple and start with a professional looking template that you can find online for free. Fill in all the relevant sections with the basics and plan to circle back to edit it later on. Keep in mind that if you have little to no actual work or internship experience, you can list volunteer work, on-campus jobs, and even class projects where applicable as relevant experience.
Remember when you identified the jobs that you want to get? Here’s where that influences your resume. As you read the job postings and responsibilities for those roles, notice which keywords are commonly used to describe the role. Write them down and find a way to include them in your resume, even if it’s simply in the skills section of your resume and not within your relevant experience.
In addition to ensuring you are using relevant keywords, make sure your resume is straightforward, clear, organized, and results-oriented. Listing what results you accomplished in a project, class, job, or volunteer role in the form of numbers such as percentages and dollars raised or saved will give you a leg up on the AI tools that crawl your resume and pass it along to recruiters or throw it in the trash pile.
Exhaust Your Career Services Center Resources
Nearly every college has a career services center that is at your disposal, free of charge. If there’s anything I could do differently about my own college experience, it would be to use the career center longer and more frequently.
Your career center will likely have access to personality and career tests that could help you narrow your job search focus. They generally do resume reviews and conduct career fairs. Further, the career center will be your best opportunity for easily networking with working professionals that can connect you to a job.
Most new hires are the result of a referral or connection made by a current employee at a company. Utilizing your career center that has those connections directly and with alumni is one of the best ways to get connected without reaching out to a random stranger.
Establish and Build Your LinkedIn Profile
There’s a lot to be said about LinkedIn, but the bottom line is this: if you intend to be an employed individual after graduation, you must have a complete LinkedIn profile. It’s the first place that potential employers look to learn more about you.
Upload a professional photo. Without it, viewers of your profile are less likely to engage with you. It’s simple to take a professional photo with all the options on smart phones today and editing apps available.
Ensure you have reflected your experience, skills, accomplishments, and volunteer roles accurately and in detail on your profile. These will be the areas that recruiters and employers will be looking at what you actually did the last four or more years.
Most important, before you graduate, identify at least a few individuals who would be willing to give you recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. A recommendation posted to someone’s profile can be the difference between whether an employer brings you in for an interview or not. Think about work supervisors, professors, volunteer project leaders, and peers that would be willing to write a rave review. Give them guidance on which qualities you are most hoping to reflect on your profile.
Pursue Targeted Networking
After you have spent the time as mentioned earlier pinpointing the job and company you want to work for, you will have a narrow target to pursue. This includes pursuing networking. It’s often times most college student’s least favorite part of the job search process, but it can also be the most rewarding.
Start searching on LinkedIn for people who currently work at the companies you identified earlier as companies you want to work for. See if you can find people whose titles indicate they work in the same department you have interest for – particularly looking for managers, senior managers, recruiters, HR professionals, or even individual contributors. Most folks director level and above are less likely to respond to messages out of the blue, given their level at a company and their busy schedule.
Start with just one person. If you can find someone who graduated from the same college as you, or is from the same hometown, for example, use that as an entry point into the conversation. Send them a message stating you are a student that is preparing to enter the workforce after graduation and that you are looking to make connections with professionals that you can learn from. As a note, most decent human beings won’t ignore or reject a message from a college student, as we have all been in a situation where we were the ones needing help.
Make sure to try to offer the person you are messaging something useful as well. You can do a little bit of searching for recent events, news articles, or a trending topic in that industry or related to that company or a competitor and include it in the message. That way you aren’t approaching the conversation just asking for something.
Next, you will want to ask them if you can spend 15 minutes doing an informational interview with you. If you can get it in person, great. If not, over the phone is more than fine. Come to that meeting prepared. Research their company well so that you are not asking any questions about that company or department that you could find the answer to online. Come prepared with specific questions you want to ask them to know more about what it would be like to work there.
At some point, they are likely to ask you if there’s anything they can do to help you. Here’s your opportunity! Plant the seed with exactly what you are looking for. For example, “I’m looking for a HR Associate role in the new division of XYZ Corp. Do you have any advice on how to pursue that?”
They will be able to give you their best insights and will likely offer to help refer or connect you to jobs. Be sure to send them a thank you note in writing after this meeting. From there, follow up with them every quarter or every couple of months to see how they are doing and if anything has changed at the company. These will be the type of contacts you lean on when trying to pursue the best opportunity for you.
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