Recent college grads are facing a tough labor market with stiff competition for few job openings. They also face another battle: staying fresh and motivated in an unstable economy and bleak outlook.

While the Job Outlook 2011 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) predicted that on average, employers would hire 13.5% more graduates than in 2010, many Class of 2011 grads are still struggling to find jobs—making it tough for 2012 grads to find employment. 

Job hunting is a long, arduous process that can be full of frustration with little glimmers of hope, but experts say staying positive and having a good attitude is a critical part of landing a job.

Employers can sense and are turned off by a defeated attitude, says Susie Hall, president of Vitamin T

 “When you interview with someone and you feel like you’re not going to get this job or that there are so many people up for it, they can tell and you’re really not going to get that job,” she says. “It taints your responses and it can make you come across as a negative person and no one wants to hire a negative person, especially not in a market where there are so many choices and it is competitive.”

To avoid becoming a jaded college grad on the job hunt, here are expert tips on how grads can stay fresh in the job market.

Make the job hunt a full time job.  Finding a job should be taken as seriously as a normal 9-5 job: it takes time, energy and commitment and grads should focus on it every day, says Michael Vecchio, Solutions Delivery Manager at Seven Step RPO

If grads start to feel burnt out, it’s important to take a break--but stay productive.

“Use the time to organize your strategy and develop the next game plan, seek advice from connections and stay up-to-date on latest news in industry,” says Vecchio. “Then get back to it and keep it active, even when you think you’ve applied to every listing out there.”

Create a support system. Establish a group of people that can provide advice and feedback about the job hunting process. When looking for contacts, focus on professional networking contacts and already-employed peers, recommends Leonora Valvo, CEO of etouches

“Talk to people in your age group who are working in the jobs or companies that you want to and try to connect with them,” she says. “Find out what they’re finding in their profession and understand better how to go after those jobs and what it means to be in those jobs.”

If approached genuinely, Vecchio points out that peers can share their own tactics that have or have not worked for them on the job search. 

“They can also be a source for leads since often times recruiters will look for referrals or even word-of-mouth buzz about job openings,” he says.

Get any job experience. Volunteer positions and internships are not limited to the most recent college grads, and students of older classes should capitalize on any opportunity to gain quantifiable experience in their field, says Valvo.

“Being active in a work force is critical to the interview process. Even if you’re working as an intern, we don’t know whether you’re paid or not—it’s more about trying to develop skills in the work place.”

Companies are dealing with tighter budgets looking to get the most out of their interns and may end up letting grads take on more real work rather than finding menial tasks for them to do, says Hall.

 “It’s an incredibly valuable time to get real hands on experience because companies genuinely need people to do great work and they don’t have the money to spend to bring in lots of people who could potentially be more experienced than you.”

Keep your skills sharp. Depending on the industry and potential demands of positions, grads should look into free or low-cost classes and certifications to stand out from the competition and continue to build their skill set.

Hall recommends grads use LinkedIn or company websites to look at people in positions that are of interest to them and check out what skills and certifications they have under their belts.

“Those should be the things that you can hone in on for skills that you want to learn so that you can be prepared for a job like that--so many people have gone before you to build on this career path so really spend your time in the best area possible,” she says.

Create a positive, demonstrative online presence. Online profiles and social networks should always have a professional tone and be carefully maintained. They should also be industry-focused to a certain extent to show your commitment levels to employers, suggests Vecchio.

“Sharing industry news and even liking trending topics can help make a candidate more visible in the same way as joining certain groups and career communities,” he says.

Hall points out that employers want to see that recent grads are tech-savvy, so use the down time to post relevant articles, create a blog, or hone social media skills.

“You can actually add a lot of value by talking to them about the things you have done on that platform or a blog that you have written,” she says. “If you’re not working a job, you have more time than they do to stay up on trends and the fact that you have an opinion will show you have value and something to add.”