Job-Hunting Tips for College Seniors

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With outstanding student loan debt expected to add up to more than $1 trillion in 2011 partnered with an anemic job market, college seniors need to be thinking about their plan of action for what lies ahead in the near future—graduation and entering the “real world.”

While unemployment is still hovering at 9% overall and at 4.4% for those with a bachelors degree or higher, it’s important for students on the cusp of graduating to enter their job search with gusto.

“There are good jobs out there and we’re honestly still hearing from organizations that we work with that they can’t find enough qualified candidates,” says Caroline Paxman, president of the Americas for SHL. “It just requires a bit more creativity and planning to identify those opportunities.”

With some seniors walking across the stage at the end of December, we talked to career and human resource experts to get tips for soon-to-be grads entering the job market.

Create a Game Plan, Now

Seniors will have much more success if they start early and look for job openings often. To stand out from the stampede of fellow students set to enter the market at the same time, Paxman recommends students start their job hunt as a junior.

"Many organizations are identifying top talent very early on. You can really increase your chances of landing a job that you have in your sights by engaging them sooner rather than later.”

Before applying to any job, students should review their resume and tailor their experience and accomplishments to a specific posting.

After working hard to get an education, students shouldn’t sell themselves short by limiting their application technique. Although it may seem easy to fire off a bunch of resumes and cover letters online, this passive application process will lead little results, warns JP Hansen, career expert and author of Your Bliss List: The Ultimate Guide to Living the Dream at Work and Beyond.

“Online applications land you in cyber-unemployment--apply in person to target companies,” he says. “If you make a good impression at the front desk, many receptionists will allow you to meet the hiring manager.”

Change Your Job Prospective 

The labor market is tough right now, but the experts maintain that there are plenty of jobs out there, but soon-to-be-grads should keep an open mind and expand their horizons. Obtaining the ideal job right after walking across the stage may not be realistic in this environment, but any experience that can be applied later in a career can be beneficial in the long run, says Paxman.

“Especially people with particular, quite focused degree programs, they think of a very narrow universe of jobs that they think they would go into next,” she says. “There are lots of great jobs that may lead to a long and rewarding career and it might not be in the initial industries that you would expect or maybe that you had thought about when you picked your particular major.”

When it comes to accepting a job offer, students should remember it’s not all about the money. Being able to pay off financial obligations after graduation is crucial, but experts say students should also consider their happiness in the job.

“You may need to get a job that you’re going to like and enjoy more for a potentially lower salary that can have a lot more head way down the road versus taking a job just based on salary and maybe in three or four months you may be tired of it and have to start looking again,” says Payman Taei, director of operations at Hindsite Interactive. “I think [salary] is important but given these market conditions, it needs to be part of the reason they have a balance.”

It's Not Easy, Plan for the Long Haul

It’s important college seniors stay on track and be persistent in finding a good position for their career path.

“This is very much a two way process of the graduate determining if they’re a fit and vice versa, using each opportunity as a learning experience and not being dismayed through that rejection process because you may not have been a good fit anyway at that organization,” says Paxman. “It’s very easy to take these kinds of things personally, but keep at it.”

To set stand out in a pool of candidates, Paxman recommends students make a concentrated effort to define their potential through the eyes of an employer--find a way to convey that they are the candidate the company needs.

“What they’re looking for in terms of a graduate intake is that long term potential,” she says. “It’s those underlying competencies that will create a career long term.”