What College Students Should do Now to Get a Summer Job

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Summer may seem far away with midterms around the corner and spring break still weeks away, but now is the time college students need to be applying for summer jobs and internships.

The national unemployment rate might have dipped to 8.4% last month, but the youth job market still remains bleak. According the  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the youth employment rate for July 2011 (usually the peak of employment for the summer months) was 48.8%, the lowest youth employment rate for the month since 1948.

“The job market that 2012 college students are facing is very different from just about any [previous] generation for a very long time,” says Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of McGraw Hill’s College & Career Center.

“Students who find meaningful summer experiences are also the students who will most likely have good choices for full-time employment once they are finished with their degrees.” Making a plan to look early and often for summer jobs is crucial for students to get professional experience this summer. Here are some tips from college and career experts on how students can find employment, stay on an employer’s radar and land a job when school is out.

Find opportunities

Summer job openings and internships are extremely competitive in a tough job market, and students need to tap into all their resources to gain an advantage: use the college career center, reach out to personal contacts, peruse job-hunting sites and use social media to find openings and establish connections at potential employers.

Students need to show initiative, and shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to companies. It works: Livingston shared that even though he hasn’t started the summer intern hiring process yet, a student is already standing out because she requested a connection on LinkedIn  through a shared contact.

“She is already on my radar screen and sending me her resume--that’s a smart use of networks,” he says. “She leveraged the people that she knows to get to other people and that is what the smart college students are doing.”

Students should also look outside their parent’s home town or campus location for possible job openings. Consider family and friends in all parts of the country, or look for other colleges that offer cheap summer dorm options.

“Being flexible – and mobile – can take you from a bleak employment market in one specific sector or geography to ones that are in full recovery mode,” says Nels Wroe, assessment and talent management expert for SHL.

Dip into other industries

Not all students will land their dream summer job, but that’s OK, they can still gain valuable experience by leveraging other opportunities, says Christine Gaiser, career services director at Bryant & Stratton College Online.

“Even if you aren’t able to get a summer job in an industry that pertains to your degree program, future hiring managers would rather see that you spent your summer working in a related field and were able to develop relevant skills versus working at the mall or doing nothing at all,” she says.

And when it comes to building a resume, students should know it’s not all about their major. They should highlight other talents and skills that would be appealing to hiring managers.

“I’m looking for young people who can help us to understand how we can leverage the internet to remain relevant and extend our brands into all kinds of exciting new markets, and I think I’m just as likely to find that among business majors and fine arts majors as I might in an English major,” Livingston says.

Unpaid vs. paid

Getting paid is nice, but experts warn students from taking a gig outside their area of interest just for the paycheck.

“Students are realistic about their financial position, [but] choosing [an inapplicable] paid job over an unpaid internship so that you can buy the jeans that you want today will impact your career path in the future,” says Danielle Moss Lee, president and CEO of the Harlem Education Activities Fund (HEAF).

What to do Now

Gaiser recommends students research and find companies and organizations that they find interesting and relevant to their career path and ask for an informational interview to learn more about the employer and see if there are any openings for the summer.

“If you believe it is the right place for you, either in your conversation or in your thank you letter, express your interest in a summer job and ask what the preferred process is for that organization. Submit your application through the formal channels and if you feel comfortable doing so, let the person you spoke with know that you did, so they can follow-up internally if they so choose.”

Livingston says that it’s a good idea to follow up every couple of weeks through email but limit contact beyond that.

“You’ve got to make sure that you stay front of mind without becoming a pest,” he says. “Stay contacted so that at the moment when it’s been decided how many interns will be [accepted], you as an applicant are informed, aware, and you get first pick.”