Beyond Graduation: Why College Seniors Should Start Their Job Search Now

Oct 29, 2018 | 20-Somethings, Career Launch, Internships

We are in the heart of the fall semester, and for my college seniors out there, I know graduation day still feels quite far away and you’re thinking you have plenty of time to land that first job. But in fact, now is the perfect time to get a jump-start on your job search. Unless you start thinking ahead now, there is a good chance you will be unemployed come May of next year. Of course if you want to move back in with the parents after graduating, go for it, but keep in mind the early bird catches the worm, i.e. the great jobs in the great locations!

The first reason it’s vital to start your career search now is that this process can take some time. There are several exercises in today’s post that you should complete before you even start to write a customized cover letter or fill out an online application. Fortunately, Thanksgiving and winter break offer breathing space from classes, so you can either go shopping and hang with friends, or put an hour aside each day to knock a few career launch To Do’s off your list. 

The second reason starting your career search now is a good idea is because businesses are looking for great candidates! They don’t wait until May to fill those positions; they’re starting right now. That means companies are active in campus recruitment efforts; it also means organizations are establishing their budgets for hiring new employees in 2019. Smart, efficient businesses are planning well in advance for next year, and you should be too.

There are three major areas seniors should address this fall as they prepare for life after graduation: identifying career opportunities, managing their social media presence, and establishing a professional network. Let’s look at each area in a little more detail:

Research Potential Career Opportunities

For many students it’s easy to figure out their career path. Engineering majors tend to become engineers, computer science majors generally lead to careers in the technology field.  But what if you have a liberal arts degree with no clear direction? The answer is to become a detective or private investigator for a few months before you graduate. If you’re not sure what you want to do, now is the time to don your Sherlock hat and open up the Notes application on your phone.  Get started here:

  1. Shake hands and introduce yourself to the head of your career center.  Don’t just make an appointment with the junior person, try to find the big cheese and walk up to him/her with a smile. You have to stand out, right?
  2. Have a 20 second pitch ready. “Hi, I’m Sandy, a Senior in the Art History department, and I’m looking to research the career paths of former Art History majors over the past five years. Could you direct me to a resource that can help with that research
  3. Sign up for a few workshops on job searching, making sure you learn exactly how to use the center’s software. Note: Don’t miss the LinkedIn training – it’s imperative in today’s job market.
  4. Take various assessments (always do this under the guidance of a professional who can help you meaningfully interpret the results). We love the Caliper Profile: it really digs under the surface to help you understand what your natural traits are and how to leverage them into the right position for you.
  5. Set up informational meetings with professionals (including your parents’ friends) who work in fields that sound interesting to you. For this exercise, you’ll need a Personal Marketing Plan. Talk to us about what that is and how to use it.

If, on the other hand, you know what field you want to pursue and you have the relevant degree and qualifications for that career path, you may be able to skip steps 2 and 4, and move straight to the Career List.

Exercise: Create the Career List  Armed with the appropriate information, create a list of 5-10 job titles that sound appealing and appropriate for your interests and qualifications. To make this list even more useful, identify 5-10 companies who actively hire individuals for these positions. It’s best if the companies you select are in your geographical target (the area you’d like to end up living in after graduation).

Mind Your Social Media

Now that you’ve got a list of possible job titles, your instinct may be to start sending out applications ASAP. Stop right there. Before you create a single cover letter, you’ve got some social media maintenance to do first.

One of the first things any organization will do today is Google you to see the way you present yourself to the world. And they’re not just looking at your professional LinkedIn profile: companies will check out any piece of information that’s available about you on the internet. It’s vital that you know exactly what they can expect to find there, and crucial that the personal and professional brand you are ‘selling’ to the marketplace is the one that is represented on your social media.  

Exercise: Social Media Self-Audit  Start by Googling yourself (clear your browser history first) to see what kind of content is out there and associated with your name. You should also perform site-specific searches on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. You may need to delete old content or change privacy settings in order to clean up your online image. Replace “undesirable” images and content with positive content that creates and reinforces your personal and professional brand.

Exercise: Create a Professional Profile  For most students, LinkedIn will be the best place to establish your professional presence. This platform offers a ton of ways to build your personal brand, including uploading or linking to all sorts of content you’ve created (presentations, portfolios, articles, etc.). Anything on LinkedIn should definitely be public-facing: save the personal stuff for your Facebook page. Spend some time building  out your LinkedIn profile and make sure it clearly reflects your professional interests.

Networking is Better Than Not Working

If you just read the word “networking” and groaned internally, you’re not alone. Networking is a “love it or hate it” part of career-building, but we’ll let you in on a secret: people who hate networking usually don’t like it because they’re approaching it the wrong way.  Building a network is about cultivating mutually beneficial relationships, and it should prioritize quality over quantity. In other words, having over 500  LinkedIn connections doesn’t add any real value if none of those people would be comfortable recommending you for a job! Read this article for some great tips on how to maximize this site.

A solid network can start with just 10 great connections. People in your network should:

  • Know you and like you on a personal level
  • Have a good sense of your skill set and expertise
  • Understand your goals for your career
  • Be willing to recommend you under the right circumstances

Exercise: Identify Your Top 10 Connections  Start by putting a circle on a piece of paper and write your own name inside the circle. Around the circle, start brainstorming potential connections. These are people you’ve worked for, people who love you, people you admire, or people who have in some way been exposed to your professional work.

Write down the 10 best names you come up with and ask each of those individuals to have a 30 minute meeting with you (yes, you should even set up a formal meeting with your Aunt Betty). In that meeting, you’ll sit down and teach each person about your strengths, interests, and what you’re looking for in a job. This will give them the information they need to help you in your career search. It will also help you practice your pitch, develop some fantastic questions, and impress Aunt Betty!  Hey, you never know who Aunt Betty knows.

Building a strong foundation for your career search now means less stress and better opportunities as graduation day draws closer. Don’t delay in starting this process, and if you need assistance, please reach out to me for help!