College degrees no longer offer a direct route to a higher-paying career. Landing a competitive entry-level job right out of college requires ongoing career development and relationship management well in advance of graduation day. If you want to stand out when recruiters come calling, use your time in school to research what employers are looking for, and position yourself to get noticed.
Emphasize Skills More Than Degrees
A degree isn't a magnet that automatically attracts more opportunities, unless you're pursuing a career with high demand and low entry. In the iCIMS Class of 2016 survey, 86 percent of college seniors somewhat or strongly agreed that earning a degree instantly gives them a competitive advantage. However, 36 percent of recruiters said at least 50 percent of applicants were unqualified for entry-level jobs. Degrees are losing their status as a measure of job-readiness, making it essential to promote your skills with relevant experiences. The time you spent playing team sports, volunteering or working part-time, even for friends and family, demonstrates your ability to juggle responsibilities and solve problems.
Build a Web Presence
Having a personal brand that's easily accessible online is the key to competing for entry-level jobs. Take ownership of your LinkedIn profile, using it to showcase your hobbies, college clubs and activities, work experience and goals. Get recruiters interested in you before graduation by starting a personal website or blog related to your distinct knowledge and experiences, especially if they tie in with your target career. Sharing your insights on the challenges of a STEM education, applying sports training to job hunting or finding marketing internships can mark you as a business-minded self-starter with growth potential.
Take Advantage of Career Services
College is expensive, so squeeze every bit of value out of your school's career center. Take advantage of career fairs, resume workshops, mock interviews and mentoring programs. Career resources can help you refine your target entry-level jobs, learn business etiquette and create compelling application materials.
Hone Your Communication Skills
In the iCIMS survey, 74 percent of recruiters said written or spoken communication skills are more important than an entry-level job applicant's major. Getting relevant insight straight from industry sources, such as counselors, career blogs, visiting recruiters and guest speakers, can help you learn how to communicate your value proposition to employers.
Grow Your Reputation
Networking is twice as daunting when you wait until graduation week to start engaging with influential professionals. In the new digital arena, you should start requesting LinkedIn connections and testimonials from neighbors, educators or friends and colleagues of your adult relatives as early as high school. If you were a babysitter for years, wrote for your school newspaper or frequently performed yard work for friends, ask contacts for endorsements to show a history of initiative and skill-building. You can also use personal connections or career center services to find mentors willing to offer guidance or job-shadowing opportunities. If you're not afraid of reaching out to strangers, you can even use LinkedIn to research and contact prospective mentors currently working in your desired career field.
Entry-level jobs are a gateway to a successful career. With a smart job-search strategy, you can get your foot in the door at a great company right after graduation.
Photo courtesy of aechan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net