Consider me a cautionary tale. I was one of many misguided college graduates who underestimated how difficult it would be to find a job after graduation. I didn't expect to collect my diploma and walk into a sea of headhunters waiting to hire me, but I had no idea that it would take me a year to find a job in my field.
I thought I was doing things right. I took my classes really seriously, got good grades and built relationships with my professors. I paid my own way through school, which left no time for internships (or sleep).
Now my younger sister is in college, and I'm determined to make sure she doesn't experience the same post-college struggles that I did. College students, please heed the following advice. Your wallet and your sanity will thank me later.
1. Don't wait until graduation to start your job search
It sounds obvious, but this is a common mistake. I told myself I was too busy. But I should have made the time.
Job-hunting is a long process that takes patience. In fact, when I finally got an interview for my current job, it was after months of checking the company's website for an appropriate opening. Start making your post-college career plans as soon as possible.
2. Show off your skills
A resume can only say so much, particularly when you don't have a lot of experience yet. Consider starting a blog, creating a website or making a video to show off your specific talents. Listing "strong writing skills" on a resume isn't nearly as effective as showcasing those skills with particular examples of work.
3. Be an active intern
The "go get me some coffee" internship stereotype exists for a reason. Just because you're assigned menial tasks doesn't give you an excuse to be passive. Ask for more difficult tasks. Offer your ideas. Find out about the company's hiring process. Talk to your superiors and seek out a mentor.
Landing an internship is only half the battle. You have to make yourself indispensable.
4. Apply high
One of my favorite college professors advised me to not be afraid to "apply high." She said this after I complained that every job I wanted required years of experience I didn't yet have. She told me that just because a job has specific requirements doesn't mean you shouldn't apply if you believe that you're capable of performing.
When I found out about the opening for my current position, I went for it even though I did not meet some of the minimum requirements. I wrote a strong cover letter. I came to the interview confident and well-prepared.
As a newbie to the workforce, you have to be ready to prove that you can do it -- but it's well worth the fight.
5. Network here, there and everywhere
Though the job market isn't ideal right now, new graduates have an incredible array of networking tools at their disposal. Use every single one of them. Streamline all of your social media pages to reflect your job search. Use your LinkedIn and Facebook contacts to connect to new people in your field.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that networking ends on the computer. Talk to anyone who might be able to help. Job-hunting is not the time to be timid.
6. Be a realistic dreamer
Certain majors are more employable than others. I believe that people should chase their dreams, but I'm also a realist. If you major in something esoteric, your job options will be far more limited than someone who majors in accounting.
I majored in writing. Though fiction is my one true love, I took every possible writing class while I was in college. I wanted to be as well-rounded as possible to increase my job options.
Now I have a job that pays me to write. I might not be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble (yet), but I am pursuing my dream and paying my bills at the same time.
The lesson: Don't wait for the perfect job to land in your lap. Work hard, network and don't give up on your dreams -- just be smart about them.
(Erin Palmer is a contributor to Brazen Careerist. She works as a writer and editor for Villanova University's online programs and can be reached on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer. Brazen Careerist is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. This isn't your parents' career-advice column. Be Brazen.)
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