As difficult as the job market is for most job-seekers right now, new graduates face a special set of challenges: Not only must they contend with the same bad job market as everyone else, but their lack of work experience poses an extra obstacle because they’re competing for jobs with more experienced candidates.
Here are some things you can do that will help:
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1. Make sure you’re getting up-to-date job advice. If your parents are your main source of job hunt guidance, you might be at a disadvantage because job searching conventions have changed significantly in the last decade. If your parents are telling you to do things to apply for a job in person or call aggressively to follow up on your application, this is a sign to seek more current advice.
2. Go for quality over quantity with your applications. A smaller number of well-done applications will get you better results than a generic resume blast to 100 places. This means, at a minimum, tailoring your cover letter to each position you apply for. (And that means really customizing it—at least two fresh paragraphs per job, not just plugging in the name of the company.)
3. Make sure your resume doesn’t look like a student’s. Many recent grads send resumes where the first half of the page is taken up by education, notes on coursework, and honors. But what you really want to play up is work experience—internships, volunteer work, and so forth. A hiring manager is likely to spend maybe 20 seconds on the initial scan of your resume. What do you want her to see in that quick glance—a list of college courses you took, or work experience directly relevant to what she’s hiring for?
4. Don’t be afraid to show a bit of personality in your cover letter. New grads are especially guilty of assuming that all professional communications must be formal to the point of sounding stiff. But in fact, hiring managers read so many dry cover letters all day long that coming across one that sounds like a real person can really make a difference. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to worry about grammar or good writing—just that it’s OK to write more conversationally.
5. Start networking, if you haven’t already. Ask everyone you know if they have any connections to the types of jobs you’re looking for, and don’t be afraid to use these connections when you uncover them.
6. Use your college’s career office. You may think campus resources are only for current students, but many campuses’ career offices cater specifically to grads. Ask them to connect you with alumni who work in the field you’re interested in.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.