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How can college seniors decide which jobs to apply for?

You’re graduating soon, but have no idea what jobs are right for you. In part one of this series, college career counselors share their advice on finding your ideal career path.

How can college seniors decide which jobs to apply for?

Do a quick Monster search for “sales assistant,” and you’ll return thousands of results, all with different responsibilities, job locations, experience required, company size—you name it. Same goes for “nurse practitioner,” “software engineer” or any other entry-level job you may be applying to.

You get the point: Job openings exist in droves. But which of the thousands should you spend time applying for in the weeks before you graduate—especially if your major isn’t one with an obvious career track?

Monster spoke with college career counselors about how to narrow your search to find the right jobs to pursue, as well as when you might need to cast an even wider net.

Do some soul searching before job searching

If you’ve made it through four years of college and you still don’t know what you want to do after graduation, don’t panic. You’ve still got some time to narrow down your career path. Thomas Ward, Jr., from Adelphi University in New York, suggests this exercise:

“Ask yourself the following questions:

1.What am I good at? (working with people, numbers, process, writing, listening, etc.)

2.What do I like to do? (problem-solving, technology, helping others, being creative)

3.What do I value in a job? (opportunity to work with others, a reliable routine, good money, a healthy work environment, chance to travel, work/life balance, etc.)

4.What opportunities are available to me based on the previous answers?”

Step outside your major

“[Someone with] a ‘track’ major—such as accounting, nursing, physical therapy or elementary education—likely knows, ‘I am going to become an accountant, nurse etc,” says Jim Allison with the College of Charleston, South Carolina.  

“However, most communications and liberal arts majors naturally will apply within and outside of their majors—using transferable skills. So for them, there needs to be a targeted net.”

So if you’re an English major, apply to jobs that feature writing or editing. To further narrow your focus, think about skills you’ve acquired outside your degree. Did you help promote the on-campus radio station, or have an internship or extra-curricular activity where marketing or promotions were part of your duties? You might want to target your search to marketing-related jobs.

Search your strengths

If you’re new to the professional world, there’s a good chance you won’t know if you’re a great match for a job based simply on the title you’ll hold. Lisa Gavigan from Wheaton College in Massachusetts suggests trying a different approach:

“Students will often search job databases by job titles, but they should consider searching by job functions instead, she says. “For example, search for jobs that call for ‘project management’ or ‘quantitative investigation.’ Using that strategy, they might find rewarding work in an industry they never considered.”

Be flexible—about everything

“Everyone has to make a decision about when to settle for a less-than-ideal job, and it may depend on financial needs,” says Stephanie Kit of the University of Tennessee. “However, students should be aware that every May, a large influx of new graduates hits the market, so competition increases.”

So while no one wants to “settle,” when you’re one of millions of job-seekers entering the market at the same time, you’ll have better luck if you stay open-minded. Make a list of what a job offer and position absolutely must haves (health insurance benefits, paid time off) and make another list of what you're able to live without for now (opportunity to travel, signing bonus).

Sometimes, being flexible might even mean moving, says Catrina DosReis of North Carolina Central University.

“Although the unemployment rate has gone down, the job market is still hard. If students have majored in a field that has a stronger job market in another state or city, then it may mean they should think about relocation,” she says.

Do your detective work

Nothing is better than first-hand experience, so take these last few months before graduation to attend career fairs, networking events and other in-person job-related activities so you can ask lots of questions of the experts: the people currently working in your potential field.

Kristen McMullen, from the College of Charleston School of Business says you can set up low-key, casual meetings with recent grads who share your educational background. Your college career center is a great place to start.

“Schedule informational interviews to find out what people with your same degree are doing. You’ll see a whole new world of possibilities open up,” she says.

Once you hear what your recently-graduated peers are up to, you might get a few ideas of your own—and will hopefully be inspired to hit the ground running and snag a job by graduation day.

Why wait until finals roll around? Get started with your job search today.

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