Job-Seeking Advice for New College Grads

Congratulations college grads! You just received your college diploma, now you have to convince someone to hire you.

With the unemployment rate sitting at just over 9%, college grads face heavy competition. Given the weak labor market, odds are the older candidates with more experience will be willing to accept a lower salary than they would in healthier environments, making them highly attractive to hiring managers.

So how can recent grads tip the scale in their favor? Be better prepared.

Diane Kenney chairs the board for Bottomless Closet, a non-profit that offers business attire to women looking for work.

In addition to providing candidates with five free work-appropriate outfits, Bottomless Closet also includes comprehensive training on job-hunting skills such as creating a resume, practicing job interview questions and how to manage personal finances.

Kenney spent her career in human resources at major corporations, most recently retiring as head of HR at Time Warner's music division. She has interviewed hundreds of job applicants around the world and has seen it all; she knows all of the dos and donts when it comes to interviewing for a job.

College graduates may have self confidence on the football field, running the student newspaper and running around toga parties, but Kenney says that confidence tends to fade in a business interview.

Many college grads find it hard to put together a resume and dont understand the skills they have gained over the years, says Kenney. She recommends enlisting the aid of someone who has knowledge in the business world and who has interviewed job applicants.

While Kenneys nieces are lucky to have Aunt Diane as their go-to person, a mentor doesnt have to have a background in human resources. Job seekers need someone who can help identify their abilities and strengths, even if their only past job experiences include waitressing or lifeguarding.

For instance, when working with her nieces, Kenney will ask, Tell me about the projects you undertook? Did you do anything with a team? What got you interested in certain courses?

Kenney advises students who were members of a fraternity or sorority to use that experience as more than just a social one.

Theres responsibility. Compromise. Negotiation. Did you plan any events such as walks for charity? What organizational skills did you have to have?

She also recommends students cite concrete leadership skills on their resumes. For instance, If you were a babysitter, what did you do when you arrived? How did you set priorities?

Its also a good idea to provide a short list of references to employers. Dont overlook college professors and advisors, as well as former bosses and family friends with substantial positions in the business world who can speak about personal strengths.

When applying to a job posting, students should research the company, the industry and the corporate culture by reading news articles, press releases and the companys Web site.

Preparation is key to pulling off a great job interview, so candidates need to practice and role play with their mentor. Develop a list of questions (see box for list of potential question) and practice answers that are thorough and dont use slang. Kenney advises keeping the tone positive and avoid speaking badly of a former co worker or employer. The only way not to be nervous, is to be prepared.

Candidates must also walk into an interview armed with questions about the company and job position (This does not include, How many days off do I get in the first 6 months?)

According to Bottomless Closet, first impressions are made within 30 seconds of candidates walking in the door; much of that impression is based on attire. While some businesses are more conservative than others, Kenney says the classic attire for women would be a dark-colored suit with skirt or slacks. The top and bottom pieces should coordinate, but dont necessarily have to match. Ditto for men (minus the skirt part). If the company is in a more casual industry, you can always slip off the jacket.

In addition, avoid anything tight or revealing, and always turn off cell phones, pagers and anything that might make noise. Fingernails should be groomed and not too long and shoes shined. Kenney also advises job seekers cover tattoos and take out non-traditional piercings, think polished, professional, poised.

And dont forget to listen. Sometimes people get so caught up with that theyre going to say, they dont understand the question.

When walking into the interview, candidates should greet the interviewer by name (make sure you know how to pronounce it and say thank you when leaving.

Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist at Franklin Templeton Investments. The views expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the content.