Getting Hired 101: Job Hunting Tips for New College Grads

New college graduates employment
New college graduates employment

Recent college grads may be feeling a bit ripped off. They did what they were supposed to -- studied hard, graduated, and now ... nothing. A new online study by Harris Interactive for American Express (AXP) reveals that 68% of recent grads are not working or are working at a job that is not in their field. Nearly half are only making ends meet with the help of mom and dad.

It's not surprising that some 80% of new grads reported moving in with their parents after all the pomp and circumstance. For the first time in nearly a year, in August, the economy had the distressing distinction of not adding any new jobs. With so much frustration to be found in the job market, more young people are running back to the classroom: 27% opted to pursue another degree in 2010, up from 20% in 2007.

So, what can a person with a newly minted bachelor's degree do? Plenty.

Personality Counts
: The news on the job front isn't all bad. According to American Express' Recent Graduate Environment Survey, 62% of hiring professionals said that personality traits such as communication skills and a good attitude are the qualities they look for most when interviewing. Significantly fewer gave such high importance to a candidate's qualifications/skill set (36%), intelligence/knowledge (23%), work history (11%), or educational background (10%).

"The fact that personality counts almost twice as much as candidates' skill set is good news for graduates who say their biggest challenge is not having enough work experience," says Jennie Platt, director of millennial and household product strategies at American Express. "Highlight your interests and passions and let your personality come through in an interview. Be open to applying for jobs outside of your field of study or work. We were surprised to learn that even though recent grads are having a tough time navigating the job market, more than 60% have not looked outside their field of study for work."

Improve Communication Skills
: What's holding the young folks back? More than half of hiring pros said that while social media has improved recent grads' ability to think out of the box, it has deteriorated their writing skills (87%), ability to focus on a task (79%), and verbal communication skills (78%).

Learn the Hot Spots
: What every underemployed eager beaver wants to know is where the good jobs are. Freshly minted grads are much in demand in health care (46%) and professional/scientific/technical services (37%). Internet marketing (29%) and Web design (29%) round out the list of the sectors that are most on the hunt.

If you're wondering if you went to school for nothing more than the spiritual rewards, well, that depends largely on your paper. According to the survey, the most marketable degrees are technology (55%), business (52%), engineering (49%), finance (28%) and science (27%). Turns out an entrepreneurial degree is more attractive than a liberal arts degree.

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Polish your presentation: "Act like a professional even if you don't have a job," says Christine Hassler, a life coach and Gen Y expert. "Polish your personality skills and professionalism. Develop an elevator pitch. Monitor your online behavior. Dress and conduct yourself in a professional manner everywhere you go. You never know who you'll meet."

Spelling counts: "Triple proofread everything -- from cover letters to emails to thank-you notes," says Hassler. "Instead of spending money on personal things, invest in professional things that make you smarter, skilled and more self-aware. You are your best investment right now and far more valuable than the latest gadget or new pair of shoes."

Get serious and strategic
: Most 20-somethings don't have a system in place for job seeking and go about it very haphazardly, says Hassler. "Set aside a designated period of time each day to spend time searching for jobs, making phone calls, networking online and writing cover letters."

Research online tools that can support you in being more productive anytime, anywhere. Check out American Express' new online community, for 20-somethings " and its collaboration with However, she warns: "Do not allow yourself to be distracted by the Internet, especially Facebook. Set designated times for surfing and using social media for social reasons."

Network in your field: If you can't get a job in your field, do the intern thing or volunteer in your field. Attend industry networking events. Set up informational interviews. Start a blog of your own where you post relevant articles and research, and write your own content or showcase your work, advises Hassler. Set up a wish list of people you'd like to meet and take steps to meet them. Use online aids like LinkedIn and Facebook to find mutual friends and ask for introductions rather than cold calling when possible.

Don't be afraid to fail: Don't fear failure or going "off the plan." Mistakes are a form of course correction and offer huge learning opportunities, says Hassler. "Admit your mistakes, acknowledge your upsets and then move on by finding the lesson. Rather than letting a mistake define you, let it direct you. Keeping a positive attitude is important during this time. Don't let qualifications or concerns keep you from applying for a job or networking with someone. You will learn something in the process. You still have plenty of time."

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