[See our list of the 50 Best Careers.]
1. Start with a plan. The real world might seem intimidating, and that's normal—but don't just throw yourself out into the job market. Come up with a plan (or two or three) for your job search. Your plan should include the direction you want to go, possible ways to head in that direction, and a tentative timeline to keep you on track.
Focus on a larger objective (i.e., "work at midsize public-relations firm specializing in healthcare") and smaller, detailed tactics to help achieve the objective (i.e., "set up five informational interviews with firms that interest me" or "go to two networking events per month"). Be specific with your plan and set attainable goals and deadlines.
2. Research. You did it many times as an undergrad, and now it's time to bring back those research skills. When you're applying for jobs, research is key at every step. Research positions in your desired field and what each position requires; research people who have a job that you want and how they got there; research companies you're interested in and how they hire. When it comes to an actual application or interview, make sure you've done research on the position, the company, and your interviewer. Being prepared and well-informed is essential to blowing away your competition.
Great research tools to get this information are Google, the company website or job board, LinkedIn, and even calling the company and asking to speak with someone (for more on this, see tip #6).
3. Get connected. You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: Networking is key in a job search. Networking should be continuous, whether you're employed or not. In today's digital age, connecting with people on social networks is a great opportunity to network beyond your immediate area. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to connect with people and companies, join groups, and start conversations. Social media is also an excellent way to build your personal brand—a key part of standing out to employers.
Though online social networking is necessary to build your connections, don't disregard the importance of networking in real life. Nothing replaces a face-to-face introduction. Meet people at networking events or through mutual connections. And remember: Networking is all about creating a mutually beneficial relationship, so make sure to give as much as you get.
4. Focus on accomplishments. Relevant experience, such as internships, will surely help new graduates stand out in the job market. Make your experience shine by presenting the right information to the right people; make sure to tailor and personalize application materials (i.e., cover letter, resume, writing samples, etc.) for each and every position for which you apply. No cookie cutter resumes, please.
Focus on your accomplishments and achievements in your cover letter and resume, rather than simply listing duties of a previous experience. For example, instead of saying "pitched media to get client coverage," which is a duty, say something like "secured client coverage in top-tier media including the New York Times and TIME Magazine," which are specific accomplishments. Numbers work great for this purpose, too. For example, "managed a team of 60 people" or "raised profits by 32 percent in the first quarter." Focus on what you can bring to the table for a future employer. This will surely make you stand out.
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5. Clean up your act. The transition from college to the job market is tough, but those who work to make a smoother transition will stand out in a crowd. Take your wardrobe, language, schedule, and online presence from college to the real world by cleaning it all up.
Avoid slang, jargon, and foul language when talking in a professional setting—this will make you look unprofessional and immature. Ditch the sweatpants and Uggs in favor of a professional wardrobe for such situations; every new grad should invest in a nice suit for interviews. Pry yourself out of bed at a reasonable hour to get started on your job search. Remember, searching for a job is a full-time job.
Last but not least, clean up your online presence. Make sure any and all information about you online is not only appropriate, but professional. Use privacy settings when necessary, but remember that social networking is great for a job search, but if you're on lockdown, you can't network. "Google" yourself periodically to monitor your online presence.
6. Get informed. When it comes to finding a job, think of the informational interview as the Holy Grail. Informational interviews combine in-person networking and research by allowing you to not only meet people at a company you're interested in, but also ask questions about the company, position, or industry. Plus, you get to make a great impression and become more than just a name on a resume.
Research online to find the right person to contact at a particular company, and send a brief, personalized message asking for a few minutes for an informational meeting. Treat this meeting as if it were an interview for a position by coming prepared, dressing professionally, and bringing your resume. Come prepared with questions to ask and definitely take notes. Also, don't forget to follow up with a handwritten thank-you note. Remember, this person is taking time out of their day to answer your questions.
How are you making yourself stand out in your job search? What's your favorite tip?
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and employers. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle.