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The 5 most important job-search tips for recent college grads

It’s not the easiest time to be searching for your first post-college job, but these tips from industry experts can help.

The 5 most important job-search tips for recent college grads
[Photo: SchulteProductions/iStock]

Over the course of a few weeks, soon-to-be graduates saw the job market move from record-low unemployment levels to an economy shedding jobs by the millions as COVID-19 spread around the country. U.S. job openings on Glassdoor dropped to 4.8 million—a decline of 20.5%—between March 9 and April 6, 2020. One in two internship openings (52%) closed between March 9 and late April, according to Glassdoor research. And as the unemployment rate spikes, new graduates may wonder what prospects lie ahead.

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The good news is that there are still companies that are hiring, says Alison Sullivan, economic communications research manager at Glassdoor. While travel and tourism industries have been hit hard, some technology sectors, essential retailers, and financial services companies are still hiring, she says. “It’s really looking at within the industry that you’re looking to enter after graduation. Where are the companies that are still hiring, that are still being nimble during this uncertain time?” she says.

As the Class of 2020 prepares to enter the job market, here is some job-finding insight from industry experts:

Look where the jobs are

Job boards aren’t always the most effective way to find a job, but leading career websites and platforms have created COVID-19-specific resources that show who’s hiring and share useful information about job hunting. Glassdoor has created a job search hub with the latest in-demand jobs and remote work opportunities, as well as a hiring surge explorer, which lists companies actively hiring for multiple roles. LinkedIn has a COVID-19-focused editorial section and a running list of who’s hiring now. Indeed also has a COVID-19 resource center with a job search function.

Beyond those resources, look for specialized job boards, says Jill Tipograph, cofounder of Early Stage Careers, a career consulting firm that specializes in career coaching for college students and graduates. She recommends targeting industry- or location-specific boards. Some examples include MediaBistro (media, marketing), Built In NYC (startups and tech), Idealist.org (philanthropy, non-profits, government), and others. Invest in those that allow you to narrow searches in areas of focus, geography, experience level, duration, and date of posting. And be sure to create job alerts on Google, LinkedIn, Indeed, and others, so you get notifications when relevant jobs are posted.

Get creative

While you may have a vision for how you want your career to play out, there are lots of ways to get valuable experience, says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of staffing firm LaSalle Network. “You may have to take a job as a temporary employee. You may have to take a job as a contract assignment to get your foot in the door,” he says.

LaSalle’s research shows that more students are now willing to embrace the opportunities that come their way. In February 2020 polling, 75% were not open to a temporary role, and 72% stated their desired compensation was between $41,000 and $72,000. April 2020 polling revealed that 89% of respondents are willing to take a temporary role, and 92% are willing to adjust their compensation expectations and potentially accept a role that is at a lower starting salary than desired.

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Those who are willing to be flexible can create opportunities for themselves, Tipograph says. Seek out virtual internships. Create a “volunteership” using your skills to help nonprofits or other organizations in the area where you’re interested in gaining skills. Of course, not everyone can forego pay for skill-building. Look for opportunities that may give you an opportunity to grow. Taking a role as an essential worker may give you an opportunity to build sales, customer service, or managerial skills. And, once you’re in a company, you may have an advantage when it comes to moving into a role that better suits your goals, Gimbel says.

Work your network

Faculty, peers, career services office, fellow alumni, and other people you know are all an important part of your job search. Devote effort to building professional relationships and staying connected, says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of HR at job-search platform Indeed. Even in a social distancing environment, attend virtual industry networking events and connect with others on social media. And tell virtually everyone you know that you’re looking for a job.

“Peers may be hearing about openings in their area or their industry. Word of mouth in networking is always an important part of anybody’s job search kind of toolkit,” Wolfe says.

Optimize your résumé

Many companies, especially larger firms or those that outsource HR functions use automated applicant tracking systems, which search for keywords to match résumés with openings. “The best advice I have is to take a look at that job posting. What are the words that are really standing out to you? Those are the same words that recruiters are going to be looking for,” she says. Integrate those keywords into your résumé appropriately. Did you hold a leadership role in a club? Were you able to improve sales at your part-time job or oversee a successful fundraising drive? Highlight the positions of responsibility you’ve held and the results you’ve achieved, using the language reflected in industry job ads.

Treat your search like a job

“Getting a job is a job. It is also frustrating, stressful, lacks structure and predictability, and is wrought with more rejection than most young adults have experienced,” Tipograph says. To help new job seekers structure their days, her firm created a free seven-day job search plan, which plots out steps to take on a weekly basis. Track the contacts you make and the follow-up you need to do. Vary your activities from day to day so you don’t burn out. And it’s also a good idea to recruit an accountability partner—ideally someone who is also searching for a job—to help keep you focused and motivated.

Most of all, be persistent, Tipograph says. “In this market, postings are taken down quickly; be careful to store these posts and your applications. If you do not apply, others will, and these become potential lost opportunities. And since offers can be rescinded at the last minute, it is best to be in the game continually,” she says.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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