Tips for College Graduates in a Highly-Competitive Employment Market

This post is by Kathy Young, director of staffing operations at Incepture, a Florida-based staffing company that specializes in the healthcare, IT and financial sectors. In this extraordinarily competitive employment market, it's essential that college graduates make an extra effort to stand out from the crowd. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), businesses plan to hire only 2.1 percent more college graduates from the class of 2013 than they did from the class of 2012. Want to make a good impression? Here are a few steps that can help:

Fine-Tune Your Resume

Think of your resume as your agent. It's out there to get you opportunities, so make sure you say what you need to say, and highlight your best points to secure face-to-face interviews. It can't just be bullet points of extra-curricular activities you did in college. Here are a few tips.
  • Be consistent with your format. If you begin with Roman numerals, maintain that format throughout the document.
  • Be clear. Make it easy for employers to spot the most important information -- your degree, your address, your contact information, etc. Make use of bold and italics to draw the eye to what’s most important.
  • Keep it short. A graduate typically should not have more than a page-long resume, unless you have had an exceptional amount of experience.
  • Highlight your skills. Tell employers what you are capable of doing, and then back it up with examples from previous experience.
  • Have an objective. What do you intend to do for the company? What are your career goals? Employers want to see that you not only want a job, but that you are looking to start a career.
  • Discuss your achievements. Did you lead a fraternity? Were you involved in a club? Passion is important; show it. If you held a leadership position during college, be sure to explain it.
  • Experience is key. Draw attention to internships and other work experience because that is what gets the attention of employers.

Leverage Social Media

Social media is a wonderful tool to present your experience to many different HR/professional audiences. However, as beneficial as it is, it can make a grad seem unprofessional if used incorrectly. Here are a few tips.
  • Build your profiles to resemble your resume. If your resume appears professional, then it is a great model for a networking profile.
  • Ask for recommendations. Previous professors and employers are great resources to highlight your teamwork and responsibility.
  • Add volunteer experience and certifications. It shows commitment as well as motivation.
  • Broaden your audience. Follow businesses that interest you and join groups with similar business goals.
  • Post carefully. Refrain from using offensive language and content in any posts. You will be judged by your words and deeds as a reflection of your character and reliability.
  • Be wary of confidentiality. The internet is an open book; anyone can access the information you put on your profile. Only grant access to what you would be proud to present to potential employers.

Make the Most of Internships

Internships are crucial. They show employers that you understand how specific sectors work on a day-to-day basis. While many internships begin as the company coffee-maker, interns have a chance to contribute as they learn more about the business world and build relationships and trust with their bosses.
  • Embrace the environment. Immerse yourself in your potential career, without all the pressure of being an employee. It is your chance to learn. Employers see internships as little gold stars on your resume. It tells them that this candidate has proven that they can handle a professional atmosphere.
  • Watch for potential recommendations. Interns make connections and making an impact during your time in an internship can open doors for your future.
  • Gain skills. Being an intern means being taught the important how-tos of every career path. Acquiring those skills prior to a job shows employers that you are capable of mastering a skill, and can apply it to their business.
  • Get involved in teamwork. Every job has a certain level of teamwork. Internships display a candidate’s ability to work towards a company's goal.

Highlight Your Schoolwork

Some hiring managers pay close attention to a candidate's GPA, while others are much more concerned with experience. Either way, a high GPA or being cum laude could benefit you. Making these points stand out in bold on a resume is a great way to draw attention to academic accomplishments.

Extracurricular Activities

Unpaid positions still matter. An employer wants to see that you have skill sets that can meet the company’s needs.
  • Volunteer activities. Employers like to see that an individual will go above and beyond to participate in their community.
  • Hobbies. Give employers a chance to get to know you and your interests.
  • Clubs/Organizations. Highlight any experience in your club that was meaningful and showed an important skill set.

The Extras

Here’s what you can do to really stand out from the crowd. Assume that every other applicant has put just as much work into their resume building and networking as you have, and use that as fuel to push you to the next level.
  • Apply everywhere. Do not limit yourself to the top five companies on your wish list.
  • Don't take no for an answer. At the same time, don't lower your standards simply because you are desperate for a paycheck. Employers love persistence, so follow up and be bold yet diplomatic.
  • Be overt in your desire for a job. Once you get that face-to-face interview, do not let it go to waste. Answer questions with confidence and prepare questions of your own. Ask for the job; employers want you to want the position enough to ask for it.
  • Network. The more people you know, the better your chances of landing that ideal position.
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