With a national average unemployment rate of 9.6 percent for 2010 and still hovering at 9% as of the end of February 2011, soon-to-be college graduates must be diligent in their job searches and interview preparation to get noticed. In such a compressed job market, it boils down to how good you are, not just in general, but compared to the numerous other people interviewing for the same role. Being prepared for the job search process and starting early allows you to exceed an employer’s expectations. This is the key to landing yourself the right job straight out of college.
Here are five important rules to follow which will help guide your expectations in order to set you up for success.
1) Set realistic career expectations.
Understand the market you are entering. Do more than just research the companies you want to work for. Research your industry in general, and be able to answer questions such as: Is hiring up or down? What are the average starting salary ranges? What are the top two business trends in the industry? The more knowledge you have about the field you want to enter, the more prepared you will be to engage a recruiter in conversation and understand how your experience matches the business need.
2) Professionalism is paramount.
Do you present yourself with a mature demeanor and polished communication skills? Coming to an interview or a job fair with a resume and a suit are just the basics. Being able to articulate your value to a future employer in any setting will serve you well when searching for employment. The more an employer can “see” you in front of their customers will increase the likelihood of you getting called in to meet for a face-to-face interview. Many students take the slang they use everyday into conversation with employers. “Dude…yeah, like, you know” and “totally” are not for use during first introductions.
3) Make your career search a part of your schedule.
When you begin searching for a career, set a calendar appointment each month to engage the contacts you have made. This interaction can take place via telephone, email, even snail mail. The conversation can include whatever is relevant at the time, but keep it professional. If the company recently received an award, shoot an email of acknowledgement and congratulations. Perhaps send a holiday card, or call and see if there may be an opportunity for a tour or shadow during your winter/spring break.
The stronger your relationship is with the recruiter or hiring manager, the less likely your name will be lost in the pile of resumes.
4) Consider an internship.
You don’t know for sure what you really want to do until you’ve actually done it! An internship serves two great purposes. First, it allows you to test drive a company and a position to determine if you’re headed in the right direction. Second, it gives you real world job experience to discuss in an interview setting. Don’t rely on your classroom projects and extracurricular activities to give you enough to articulate your value to a company.
5) Take your time making the right career decision, then stick to it!
If you need time to consider other offers, communicate this to your potential employer, and set specific date they can expect to hear from you. Saying “I need more time” is not sufficient. Once you commit to an offer, it is not only unethical to continue to interview, it can also be career suicide. The world of recruiting is much smaller than people realize. The last thing you want is your name to come up in a conversation where both employers realize they’ve hired the same employee.
When thinking long term about your career, you want to maintain your communication and marketability to as many people as possible. If you choose to switch employers a few years down the line, being able to call recruiters whose offer you declined professionally can be very helpful in finding your next career move.