Graduating Soon? Here's How to Kick Off Your Job Search

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By Alison Green

If you're graduating soon, you're probably feeling the pressure and stress of knowing that now you need to take that degree and figure out what kind of job you can get with it.

Don't panic! Millions of new grads before you have successfully navigated this transition and found meaningful and even interesting work. But if you haven't embarked on an active search yet, now's the time to get serious about it. Here are seven steps that will help:1. Don't put off job searching. You might be tempted to take some time off after graduating to relax, thinking you can start your search later in the summer or even in the fall. That's your prerogative, of course, but be aware that you might have a more difficult search if you wait. Job searches usually take longer than people expect, and that means if you put it off, you could end up with a long period of unemployment that will make you a less attractive candidate than you would be as a fresh graduate.

2. Use your network. New grads often feel awkward about using their networks to find job leads, but it's a very normal part of job searching. Don't resist it! Your friends, parents, parents' friends (and friends' parents!), alumni network and pretty much everyone you know from anywhere is part of your network.

Reach out and let them know what type of work you're looking for. You can also turn to your network to get more information about a particular field or to find industry contacts.

3. Learn about how to conduct a good job search. How to actually find a job usually isn't a skill you're taught in school, and unfortunately, campus career services are rarely well-equipped to provide concrete help to new grads and alumni. Moreover, your professors and parents might not know how to job search effectively in today's job market – in fact, they might have pretty outdated advice that will lead you in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, there's tons of information about résumés, cover letters, interviewing and negotiating online. You just need to seek it out and put in the time to absorb it all.

4. Include all your work experience on your résumé. New grads sometimes don't realize they should include all their work experience. They end up leaving experiences like retail or food service jobs off their résumés, figuring they don't relate to the field they're now pursuing.

However, many employers consider it a plus to see that experience, because it demonstrates work ethic, reliability and customer service skills, among others. At this stage, you're not going to have enormous amounts of work experience, so don't sell yourself short by editing it down.

5. Realize that work experience matters more than schooling. New grads often come out of school assuming the academic work they've been focusing on for the past four years is their strongest qualification.

However, in most fields, employers will care most about work experience – internships, volunteering, summer jobs and so forth – even if the work isn't in your field. They want to see a track record of performing in an environment similar to their own, and for most employers, those short-term jobs will often feel more relevant than a school project. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about school projects at all, but be selective about what you highlight, and put the emphasis on work.)

6. Talk to people in the field you want to go into. Do everything you can to seek out people who work in the field you want to work in, and ask them about their experiences. What do they wish they had known about the field before starting in it? What are the best things you can do to stay current in the field – are there materials to read, organizations to join or people to talk to? Who are the best employers in the field? Who should you be wary of? What kind of starting salary should you expect? Are you being realistic about the roles you're aiming for in your job search?

This isn't about hitting people up for job leads, although you might end up getting job leads out of it. It's about learning about the field, how people succeed in it and all the behind-the-scenes nuance you may not have learned in school.

7. Make sure you're coming across as a professional – not a student. That means you need a professional email address (firstname.lastname@gmail.com is good; keg-stand@gmail.com is not), a professional-sounding voice mail greeting and a clean online presence. Employers are sometimes wary about the professionalism of people right out of school, so you want to demonstrate that you're mature and have good judgment.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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