Job searches are never much fun, but when you're just starting out and don't have much – or any – experience, it's often hard to know where to start. How can you position yourself to get hired when you're brand new to the workforce?
1. If your résumé is sparse, think creatively about what experience you can include. While work experience is best, you can also add volunteer work, extracurricular leadership positions, community involvement, blogging and other activities that demonstrate your work ethic and skills.
2. Add to your experience even though you don't have a job. Volunteering doesn't just help out organizations in need. It also expands your network, adds something to your résumé and puts you in contact with loads of new people who will now want to help you. You might also find other ways to be productive: Start a blog in your field, take on a leadership role in a professional organization or otherwise use your time in ways that will flesh out your résumé and show you've kept building your skills.
3. Learn how to job search and don't just wing it. Don't be one of the hordes of inexperienced job searchers who send out terrible application packages and make inadvertent missteps, like not preparing for common interview questions or forgetting to prep their references. There are plenty of resources for job seekers online, covering everything from writing a strong résumé to how to ace an interview. Read as much as you can find.
4. Go beyond just cleaning up your online profile. By now, you've probably heard plenty about how important it is to make sure that employers Googling you won't find photos of you engaged in drunken antics or any other professional turn-offs. But go beyond eliminating anything problematic and proactively work to build a positive online presence. That could mean anything from a website portfolio of your work to a track record of smart and thoughtful comments on industry blogs. When employers Googles you, let them be impressed by what they find.
5. Write an amazing cover letter. Don't fall into the trap of using your cover letter merely to summarize your résumé; that's a waste of a whole page of your application. Instead, you'll stand out if you write about why you want this particular job (not just a job) and why you'll excel at it. And don't be stiff or dry; show some personality so that employers can get a feel for who you are.
6. Connect with alumni. Think you don't know anyone in your field? There are almost certainly people in the field you'd like to go into among your school's alumni. Get in touch with your alma mater and ask to be put into contact with alumni in your field. You might be surprised by how willing fellow alumni are to help you out, whether it's talking with you informally about their career path and what you can expect within the industry or helping you connect with hiring managers in your field. (But make sure you do your research beforehand and come prepared with specific questions. Most people are more willing to help you if it's clear that you've done your homework.)
7. Get on LinkedIn. It doesn't matter if you don't have much of a professional profile to advertise there yet; fill out what you can, but more importantly, add connections from all areas of your life. That way, you'll be able to see who in your network might know someone who works at a company where you'd like to apply or whose company might be hiring. Plus, LinkedIn has thousands of alumni, industry and professional groups, which might help build your knowledge and give you access to industry experts.
8. Get over any fears of networking. If you feel pushy or awkward reaching out about your job search to past co-workers, your parents' friends and other people you know, it's time to get over it. The people you reach out to won't think you're doing anything odd; networking is normal and most people want to help if they can. So don't let the fact that it's new or nerve-wracking stop you from doing it.
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.