Graduation will be here before you know it and you’ll start your job hunt. Whether you’re a senior, junior, sophomore or even a freshman, now is time to begin preparing for that day. Don’t put it off until your final semester, or even until your senior year.
Now is when you can begin putting together the package that will be ultimately be you, the job hunter. The better you’re able to do that between now and the time you’ll begin a serious job search, the stronger you’ll be as an employee candidate.
Putting together your resume
Most people start the job hunt by updating their resume, but unless you’re a senior this step is premature. Right now you need to be focused on what you want your resume to look like when the time comes.
Start by getting to know the potential jobs you hope to land and the employers you want to work for. What skills and experiences are they looking for, particularly from new graduates? Check online job sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, or any unique to your career choice. Look for patterns in required or requested skills.
The skills and experiences you see repeated are the ones you want to develop so that you’ll be able to put them on your resume. You’ll need time to acquire them and that’s why you want to get started now—even if you’re only a freshman or sophomore.
A little bit of work experience can make a big difference
It’s tough to get serious career-related experience when you’re a full time student. Paid internships offer the best of all worlds—experience and pay. Those arrangements are hard to get, but don’t give up if you can’t get one.
Since so many grads come out of school with zero work experience—let alone career related experience—you’ll have an advantage even if your previous work history is on the light side. A little experience is better than none at all and it may be enough to get you the job of your choice.
If you can’t get a paid internship, go for an unpaid one. Offer your services on a voluntary basis to an employer in your chosen field over summer break or even as a part-time arrangement. Whether or not you’re paid for the work, you can still add it to your resume as relevant work experience.
At a minimum, the experience will allow you to have your name attached to a relevant employer, to build some contacts, and to see and learn the business from the inside. That can make a major difference when you’re looking for a career position after graduation.
Learn industry jargon before you need to
Transitioning from university to the job market can require learning something of a different language. In school, you’re often speaking using words and phrases from the pop culture that you freely exchange with other students who use and easily understand the same words and phrases.
When you get into the job market, the language changes a bit.
Every industry has “buzz” words and phrases that are common in that business. Just being able to use a few of them in an interview can move you ahead of other job seeking grads. It won’t hurt for you to put some of them on your resume either.
You’ll pick up some of these words and phrases from your major courses, but you can get a lot more from reading trade publications at the library, surfing industry websites, or conversing with people who already work in the industry. If you can get an internship—paid or voluntary—that will be a place to learn them as well.
Learn the words and phrases and start using them now, that way they’ll flow naturally in an interview.
Build substantial references
The ability to land a job often depends on the quality of the references you have. Since references are built through relationships, and relationships take time to build, you want to get working on this as soon as possible.
Having a college professor or two (in your major) as references is a good start, and a coach won’t hurt either. But to get an upper hand you’ll want to add two or three industry references.
Building relationships with people from an internship is one way to do this. You’ll want to keep regular contact with those references right up until you land your first post-graduation career. Ask such a person to be your mentor that way they’ll not only remember you, but they’ll take special interest in your successful job hunt.
Another way to get references is through networking. Many people go wide but not deep when it comes to networking, with the idea that more contacts means more job prospects. But as a soon to be new grad looking for your first full time job, it might be better if you narrow your network contacts to two or three, and invest some time building relationships. Regular emails, phone calls and an occasional lunch meeting could create a relationship. Those couple of contacts could nicely round out a list of professional references that will be very credible to a prospective employer.
Learn specific industry business skills
As a recent graduate, no one will expect you to have deep experience. But you can raise your desirability as an employee if you have certain skills common to the industry you plan to enter.
Every industry has certain widely used computer applications. In accounting for example, QuickBooks is very popular. Many jobs look for PowerPoint or Excel. What ever the applications are in your desired industry, learn them now. You don’t need to be an expert, but if you at least have working knowledge, you’ll be more valuable to an employer than a candidate who needs to be trained from the ground up. (Hint: the less an employer will need to train you, the more likely you’ll be to get hired.)
There are courses you might want to add to your schedule too. Taking a course in public speaking can increase your confidence and give an employer an indication that you have management potential. Marketing courses can help too, since today every employee is expected to market the company’s products and services in some way. And learning a foreign language is becoming more important in an increasingly global world.
Even if you’ve just begun your university career, now is the best time to begin to prepare for the job you hope to get. Develop some quality references, get some job experience and learn those buzzwords. When graduation comes, you’ll be ready to land that first job.