By the time you’re a few weeks into spring, you can count on a few things: People who wait all year for Cadbury eggs will likely have overindulged. Seasonal allergy sufferers are likely sniffling. And a new crop of soon-to-be graduates is fretting about being released into the job market.
For the class of 2021, the concerns aren’t misplaced. The unemployment rates for workers ages 16 to 19 and 20 to 24 are nearly double those of the total civilian population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the class of 2021 is also competing against 45% of the class of 2020, who are still looking for work.
While the numbers can be discouraging, career coach Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, assistant director of career development and founder of Beyond Discovery Coaching, says it’s best to ignore them. “Just get applying,” she says. 2020 was a “holding year,” but many industries are starting to post more jobs, and she’s seeing more activity among the students with whom she works. Don’t get stalled because the big picture might not look as rosy as you’d like. There is still opportunity out there, she says.
If you’re looking for your first full-time job this spring, keep these tips in mind to set yourself apart.
Assess your network
One of the mistakes new graduates make is underestimating the size of their networks, says Amelia Ransom, senior director of diversity and engagement at Avalara, a tax-compliance software company. While meet-and-greets, job fairs, and conferences may be on hold or virtual now, there are still plenty of opportunities to network, she says. “We just don’t call them that,” she says.
If you’re using texting apps such as GroupMe, you may belong to peer groups that include 30 to 50 people. Share that you’re looking for a job or ask if people know about the company you’re targeting. Alumni groups, former professors and instructors, and even your social media followers are part of your network. Begin building relationships and sharing what your goals are, she says. You never know who might be able to help.
Know how to read the job boards
Kurt Jones, senior product marketing manager for Jobvite, says that about 60% of new graduates are using online job boards as part of their search, according to the company’s 2021 Job Seeker Nation report. And while the odds are slim that you’ll make it to the finish line via a cold job ad, there is a wealth of information there, he says. You can see which companies have high levels of turnover and where they’re seeking to beef up their workforce. And you can also find job ads.
“Those are the answers to the test,” Ibrahim-Taney says. Pick out the most important skills the ads are emphasizing and tailor your résumé to use the same words and phrases the company uses, she says. If they refer to their “human resources” department as their “talent management” department, for example, weave those words into your résumé. That way, when someone is searching the applicant tracking system (ATS) for this or other relevant jobs, your résumé is more likely to be picked up.
Open up your geographic parameters
Since the start of the pandemic, more companies have adopted liberal work-from-home or work-from-anywhere policies, Ransom says. If you’re in Dallas, you may now be an appropriate candidate for a job in New York or Chicago, if the job can be done remotely. So, expand the geographic areas in which you’re searching for a job.
Polish your presence
Even before the pandemic, video interviews were increasing in popularity in early interview rounds. And mastering them takes some practice and production value, says Monster career expert Vicki Salemi. Practice with a friend, a school career coach, or a mentor who can help you do mock interviews. Get comfortable with the technology’s features, such as how to share a screen. Figure out a good place in your home to do video interviews without distractions. Make sure you have the proper lighting, your laptop is at the right height, and your background is free of distractions.
Practice talking about your strengths
You have a short period of time to make your case about why you’re the right person for the job. So, practice talking about your strong points, Salemi says. Be sure to talk about your experience, whether it’s through an internship, part-time job, or other roles. Rehearse with a friend or mentor until you’re comfortable talking about those experiences.
Develop your own skills
If the pandemic made it tough to find an internship, think about what other experiences may apply. Did you take a leadership role at school or volunteer with a nonprofit? Some professions or industries have opportunities for development and networking that can be helpful too, Jones says. Kaggle is an online community where teams of data scientists compete for prizes by solving thorny problems with data. Stack Overflow is a community for software engineers where you can work on open-source projects. Industry associations may have networking and development programs for young professionals. So, learn more about the opportunities for growth in your field.
Jones also suggests continuing to develop your skills outside of the classroom or job. Seek out online learning and skill development opportunities, which can be inexpensive and show that you are self-motivated and interested in growing professionally.
Some way, somehow, interviewers are going to ask you about challenges you overcame. Give that question some thought before you get into the interview, Salemi says. What are some of the stories from your past that really show your ability to overcome adversity? Perhaps it was a personal challenge or tackling something daunting for the first time. The story should be authentic, she says.
Consider the unconventional
Monster’s survey data found that 77% of the class of 2021 plans to do some sort of gig, freelance, or temp work, and 23% plan to do so even after getting a full-time job. Consider gaining some experience as you look for a full-time job by offering services as an independent contractor, Salemi suggests.
Make the most of a “desperation job”
Sometimes, you just need a job. Monster’s survey found that nearly 3 in 4 recent and soon-to-be grads accepted a job out of desperation, especially because they needed the money (45%) or to pay off student loans (20%). And while you may need to accept a role that’s less than ideal, you can learn something from every job, Salemi says.
Consider that job a training ground for developing in-demand soft skills such as time management, conflict management, better communication, and the like. Look for opportunities to develop skills that will help you get the job you want. For example, if you want to get into marketing, see if you can help out with promotion or find ways to integrate communications writing or strategy into your job. And use the opportunity to build your network, Salemi says.
But, before you accept that job, don’t be afraid to “go for it.” Jobvite’s data found that 53% of workers apply for jobs even if they don’t have all the skills listed as required by the job description. So, even as you’re developing your experience, skills, and network, dream big and keep reaching for the job you want.