Career Advice for the 2011 College Grad

For college seniors, graduation is no longer something on the distant horizon. It’s only a couple of months away. For the student still seeking post-graduate employment–as most are–that means there are only a few remaining weeks to work on career preparation before exams loom. It’s tempting to throw in the towel, and simply enjoy the remains of the college experience. But savvy students will take advantage of college resources to put a career strategy in place before they graduate. In doing so, they will set themselves apart from the competition, and reduce the time it takes to find a position. The following ten action steps provide the basic foundation for success:

1) Have coffee with your career advisors, whether they are faculty, family or career professionals. Everyone can use an advocate in the job search. The more they know about you, and your interests and values, the better able they will be to help you find and pursue opportunities.

2) Learn how to format your cover letter according to accepted business norms. Unfortunately, this critical skill no longer seems to be taught in high school. So it’s not surprising that many students don’t know where the address of the recipient goes, how to address your future employer, how to place the letter within the page, or how many spaces you have to put between your closing sentence and your name.

3) Pay attention to the content of your cover letter. The purpose of a cover letter is not just to put on top of your resume, but rather to entice an employer to interview you. Most employers will want to know how you found out about the job opportunity, what you have to offer and why you want the job. Cover letters are critical to some employers, yet deemed totally unnecessary by others. Unless an employer has specifically told you not to send one, however, consider it an essential part of your application.

4) Get a second or third “read” of your resume and cover letter to make sure they have no typographical or grammatical errors. Some employers immediately eliminate candidates whose materials are not word perfect. When you’ve been working hard on a document, you may not notice that you wrote “who’s” instead of “whose”. It matters. Have a detail-oriented friend proofread for you – every time you send a letter or update your resume.

5) Have your resume critiqued. The obvious reasons are to eliminate careless errors and to make sure the resume is appropriately formatted. But there’s another reason to get a critique: to make sure the focus of your resume is as close to the focus of the job you desire as possible. What image does your resume give of you? If it says you’re a brilliant academic, but you really want to go into business, you need to re-orient it.

6) Don’t rush. It’s tempting to use a similar cover letter and resume for each job. Although the basic format can be the same, you need to customize each one. Employers can sniff out “form” letters a mile off. If you give the wrong title of the position you want, it’s a dead give-away that you’re searching for multiple positions. Every employer wants to feel that you want their job, not any old job. Make them feel special!

7) Project enthusiasm. If you can’t get excited about the job, you’re unlikely to get it. You may see it as a boring, entry level, position, but your future employer is probably investing significant time and energy into hiring the right person. To be that right person, you need to indicate through your application that you’re familiar with the job and the company (read the website carefully and do your research), that you know what you can contribute, and why you want the job. In a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, enthusiasm for the job was one of the most important factors in the employer’s decision-making process.

8) Be selective where you apply. That’s difficult to do if you don’t care where you work and you just need to make money. However, your attitude will show through if you use the “shot-gun” approach. Think of it this way: You will be unlikely to compete well against other candidates using a generic approach – even if you apply for more than 50 positions. On the other hand, if you do 10 really thorough applications, your efforts will stand out, simply because so few people pay this amount of attention to the job search.

9) Follow through. You set yourself apart from other applicants even more if you follow up in person on your application. Some employers state that they do not want telephone calls. In that case you will need to email to ensure that your materials have been received. However, a telephone call gives you the opportunity to start to build a relationship with your future company, and to give them a sense of you as a person.

10) Commit to treating the job search like a job. After many years in college, you may want to take life easy for a bit. Don’t. The new grads who find jobs most easily are the ones who invest significant time, and are both prepared and persistent. If you’re researching, networking and preparing unique applications for jobs, you can easily fill forty hours a week. Just like going to work!

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