With a new class of college graduates preparing to earn their diplomas, millions of new grads are going to be trying to figure out how to find a job. Here are 10 key tips they should know as they enter into what's still a tough job market.
1. Don't wait to start job searching. You might be tempted to take a few months off after graduating to relax, but you might not realize how long job searches take. Hiring processes often take months, and getting a job in this market—especially without much experience—may really take a long time. Start actively searching now, since even with a May start, you might not find a job until the fall or later.
2. Include all of your work experience on your résumé. New grads sometimes exclude certain types of work from their résumé, like fast food or retail, figuring that it won't be relevant to the types of jobs they're targeting now. But especially if you don't have much other work experience to show, these sorts of jobs can be key in demonstrating that you know how to deal with customers, show up reliably and that you have a track record of handling paid employment like an adult. Don't shy away from including them.
3. Don't listen to every piece of job-search advice you hear. If your parents or friends are your main source of job-hunt guidance, you might be at a disadvantage. Job-search conventions have changed significantly in the last decade, so your parents might not know what's most effective in the process today. And your friends probably don't have much more experience than you do, so take their suggestions with some skepticism. Seek out more current and reliable sources of advice instead.
4. Don't apply for everything you see. Anxious job seekers sometimes blast off their résumé to every opening they spot, hoping that something will garner them a call-back. But carefully targeting your search to jobs you're truly qualified for—and writing a tailored cover letter for each—will get you far better results than simply aiming for quantity. That said…
5. Broaden your horizons. While you shouldn't apply for everything you see, you also shouldn't be narrow and only willing to consider a very specific role in a very specific field. The reality is, in today's job market you might not have the luxury of being picky about the specific roles you'll take. Open yourself up to a broader range of possibilities, and you might find it easier to find work (and might also discover that you like some of the alternatives that you hadn't originally considered!).
6. Don't think you can't intern just because you're no longer a student. If you're having trouble finding a full-time job—and if you're like a lot of new grads, you might be—don't assume that internships are no longer a possibility. Many internships are open to non-students, and they can be a good way to get experience and give you something to put on your résumé while you continue to search for something full-time. Volunteering can play a similarly useful role as well.
7. Use your network. You might feel pushy reaching out to co-workers at past internships, your parents' friends and other people you know, but it's very normal to do that as part of a job search. At a minimum, make sure that you've alerted your managers from past jobs to the fact that you're now looking—that's a basic and crucial step that far too many new grads overlook.
8. Practice interviewing. You might have been able to get away with occasionally skipping a reading for a class, but job interviews don't work that way: Interviewers will be able to tell whether you prepared or not, and winging it—especially when you don't have much experience interviewing—virtually guarantees that you'll crash and burn. If you prepare ahead of time and practice your answers to likely interview questions, you'll do far better in interviews and dramatically increase your chances of getting an offer.
9. Make sure that your email address, outgoing voice mail message and online presence all portray you as a professional, mature adult, not a partying college student. Employers will form opinions about you based on these things, and the more mature and polished you appear, the better your chances.
10. Don't panic. Your job search might take time, possibly a lot of time. That's pretty common these days. But it doesn't mean that you'll be unemployed forever or living with your parents when you're 45. You will find a job eventually!
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager'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.