Graduates: Get Ready and Stay Ready for Your Job Search

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May and June mark the return of exciting and anxious times for many college seniors. They are focused on Commencement Day, the culmination of years of study and a time when they can finally exhale. The students with jobs already lined up will breathe an even greater sigh of relief. The ones still in the market for a job will face an uncertain reality. However, they can take comfort knowing that the quietly stabilizing U.S. economy has increased the amount of recent college graduate hires. The question for unemployed recent graduates becomes: What can I do to be the next one hired?

Hopefully, to a great extent, you’ve prepared months in advance to meet up with potential employers. An old saying applies: “If you stay ready, you won’t have to get ready.” But what constitutes being prepared and staying ready? Here are some useful tips:

Seek Career Clarity. When asked about what’s next after graduation don’t be one to answer “I don’t know” or “a job.” Being in a confused state of everywhere and nowhere is not helpful. Instead, think long and hard to gain clarity about what career paths interest you and then organize a strategy to pursue each. For example, if you want to be a corporate accountant, make a short list of the industries best suited for your skills.

Consider Career Fairs. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, hiring by companies at career fairs will increase 10.2 percent. Meanwhile, Reuters surveyed career experts at a dozen U.S. schools who estimate that 15 to 30 percent more companies attended campus career fairs. Such opportunities occur during the school year, but others like them should be forthcoming. Seize these moments. Check with your school’s career center and then mark your calendar.

Show Competitive Fire. The job market is crowded and employers have a limited number of positions to fill. Study potential employers in advance. Train for interviews with the focus of a professional athlete before a big game or a stage actor on opening night. Poise and confidence are also key. Be ready to define and exhibit what you see as your strengths as a candidate. Believe that your best is equal to or better than the best of any other candidate.

Look and Act the Part. Now more than ever, the job market demands a more polished product. Before meeting with employers, get comfortable wearing business attire as part of your regular wardrobe. Also, relax your texting rituals and engage in more face-to-face discussions with your peers about substantial topics. Whether it is enhancing your listening skills or even dressing in appropriate attire, simulating a professional environment can pay enormous dividends. Interviews are your moment to act like you’ve been there before (even if you haven’t).

Leverage Internships. Experience is necessary in today’s corporate world. Employers for entry level positions look for special qualities in their applicants. They want to see that you did not waste your time in college. They want to know that you can function effectively in a professional manner. Building up your resume before graduation, better enables you to walk into an interview with confidence in your skills, education and past experience.

Volunteer. Organizations in your community utilize volunteers with a wide range of skills and education. Acquaint yourself with a good cause that capitalizes on yours. It’s a win-win for you and the organization. Like internships, volunteerism can provide valuable work experience, but can also lead to professional connections. In some cases, service experience can even help you figure out a pathway towards a career or job you may not have considered.