Finding a Job After College: A Roadmap

Finding a job after college is like climbing Mt. Everest: freaking challenging either way, but at least doable with a trusted guide. The elements (a rocky job market, your relative inexperience) are working against you, but if you have the foresight to research a path around the most dangerous pitfalls, you will eventually reach the summit triumphant.

We’re here to help ease the transition from college to career by turning you into the most well-rounded candidate we can. These are our essential tips to help you find a job after college.

Start 6 Months Ago

Did you know that employers hire 65% of new grads in the fall? December grads enter the workforce in the post-holiday hiring lull, and Spring grads flood the job market ahead of the push for temporary Summer hires. If you can pull together your cover letter, resume, online profiles and other application materials early in the Fall, you’ll be prepared when the market is less competitive and companies are hiring for keeps.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a time machine, because we’ll spend the rest of this article trying to catch you up to speed.

Network, Network, Network

If the word “networking” triggers daunting visions of conventions and career fairs, it will be helpful to expand your interpretation of the word to include your friends, your parents’ friends, your professors, even your favorite barista – anyone connected to the working world.

A simple conversation with someone you know opens you up to their entire mental rolodex. If you ping 20 people with 50 connections apiece, it’s fairly likely your next interview lies somewhere within that 1000-person web, just an introductory email away.

Remember: networking is really just the act of communicating the interests you intend to pursue, regardless of whether the person in front of you can hire you or not. If they can’t, at least one (and probably many) of them know someone who can.

Of course, your network is a breathing, evolving organism, not just a collection of business cards to mine for leads. Nurture ongoing communication with your network – you should have enough foresight to realize you’ll engage in the job search process many, many times in your future, and a reciprocal helping spirit will benefit your career in the long run.

Develop Soft Skills

Remember those BASF ads with the tagline, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy – we make a lot of the products you buy better.”? Your hard skills (i.e., what you studied in college) make up the product; your soft skills make the product better. If you can communicate well, stay organized, manage your time, accept criticism and so on, you will make your workflow more efficient and yourself more pleasant to work with.

Hiring managers absolutely consider soft skills to determine how well you’ll gel with the company culture, and it starts with the ability to make eye contact and answer questions confidently in your interview. Never underestimate the value of research and preparation for the job interview, as it will absolutely help you convey traits that the hiring manager values for the role at hand.

Think your soft skills are a little underdeveloped? I can think of one solid way to fix that…

Intern

And now for some alarming numbers that will serve as a gutcheck for young job-seeking hopefuls: if you don’t have an internship under your belt, you’re at a real disadvantage in today’s job market. The uncomfortable truth: as recently as 1985, just 2% of college graduates pursued internship opportunities, a figure that has soared above 90% in 2012. Why the huge leap? Because today, students with internship experience are 70% more likely to find a job than those without one.

Simply, you’ll be considered for more opportunities, earn more money and be better positioned for long-term success if you’ve been through an internship program to assimilate you into the working world.

We know, we know: a lot of internships are unpaid, and as a graduate fighting against the clock (and likely your bank account), it’s easy to question the value of working for free. If you can afford it, find something short (3 months or less), express an interest in contributing to important projects and be clear about your desire for career placement at the end of the program. You’ll learn just about everything else we touch on in this article (soft skills, versatility and networking prowess) and potentially line up work for yourself in 3 months’ time.

Be Versatile

In a survey forecasting the 2013 job market, 77% of hiring managers identified cross-functionality as a trait becoming more important in today’s work climate. To match that growing need, 72% of candidates are actively acquiring new skills to make themselves more well-rounded.

No, that doesn’t mean the specialist is disappearing from the workforce. But specialists earn that distinction through years of experience, something you don’t have yet. In lieu of that, read up on devour information in your field, take a free online course, and do anything else in your power to expand your professional skillset. Your first job will likely be some murky mix of contracted duties and a series of internal odds and ends. Get hired by getting good at the odds and ends.

Cover Letters: The Great Equalizer

Cover letters are magical – handled correctly, you can sell yourself to almost anyone. Your passion for an industry far eclipses anyone else you’ve met? Explain how it will translate to supercharged work. Excelled in extracurricular pursuits? Translate the knowledge you’ve picked up from personal projects into work-ready skills. You’ve picked up work-relevant experience somewhere along the line in your life, and if it doesn’t belong on your resume, it goes in your cover letter.

You can find more tips on the art of building a great cover letter – and every other aspect of the job hunt – in our Complete Guide to the Job Search.) And if you’ve already made the leap, tell us: what tactics helped you make a smooth transition from college to your career?