Or better yet, start six months ago. "The later you start, the more energy you're going to have to put into it and the more persistence you're going to have to display," says Craig Schmidt, executive director of career and professional development at University of California-San Diego's Career Services Center. Whether you've spent your whole senior year working on snagging a job or are just now thinking about it, the following steps will help transform you from student to must-hire entry-level job candidate.
10 Things New Grads Can Do to Get a Job
10 Things New Grads Can Do Right Now to Get a Job
Don't graduate without using this important resource. These professionals can help you identify the careers you want to pursue, connect with industry professionals, create impressive application materials, practice for interviews and more. Stop by your career services office, or make an appointment to meet with a counselor. Help them help you.
You may not be as much of a newbie as you think. Students often undermine their extracurricular and work experience, Schmidt says. To get a sense of what you can offer an employer, he suggests writing out all your professional experiences – from working in the library to campaigning for student government – and then fleshing out which you can leverage for the types of jobs you're pursuing.
For example …
Say two students worked in the dining hall for a few years. Schmidt point outs that while one may say she just schlepped food part time, the other could take the time to build a list: trained five new employees, promoted to assistant line cook, awarded employee of the month and so on. The latter student is the one who will have strong, evidence-backed experience on hand for interviews, networking, résumés and cover letters. And that student will have the edge when job searching.
Reference your list of experiences when creating your résumé, which is helpful to have ready to go when opportunities arise. Here's what an entry-level résumé should look like, according to Robin Reshwan, U.S. News blogger and founder of the consulting and staffing firm Collegial Services.
If you don't have a LinkedIn profile yet, get to it – like, now. This professional networking tool is what enables employers and professional contacts to find you and connect, and it gives you the opportunity to show off what you offer as a job candidate. Visit students.linkedin.com to get LinkedIn advice targeted toward internship hopefuls and entry-level candidates.
Use LinkedIn to network, too. Schmidt advises starting with "warm" contacts, like fellow alumni. From the LinkedIn homepage, under the "Connections" tab, click "Find Alumni." Use the filters to identify alumni based on location, employer, industry, education and skills. When you see someone you want to contact, send a message. Steer clear of the "I-need-a-job" plea, and either share something of interest or simply tell this person you're in the early stages of job searching and would like to connect, Schmidt says.
You know what would contradict the professionalism you're showing on that new LinkedIn profile? Facebook photos of you bonging a beer (or something else) and Instagram photos of your sexy selfies. Employers will Google your name if you apply, so be sure no Ghosts of Frat Parties Past will haunt you. Up your privacy settings on social media accounts, and create new Web pages to push down any incriminating Google search results. Speaking of which...
Schmidt points out that simply reading through common interview questions and thinking about your answers doesn't cut it. You need to actually practice the interviews with a career counselor, friend or family member. "It's like anything else when you're exercising or practicing for a sport, you need muscle memory," he says. "You need to be able to do it without even thinking about it."
Take a video of your mock interviews.
Record mock interviews with your phone, so you can observe (and then improve) your answers, energy and body language. Schmidt observes that in these situations, students are often quick to see weak points – why am I rambling on so much? – but often overlook what they're doing well. "Sometimes we're our own worst critic," he says. "And we may miss some of our positives." Cut yourself some slack.
Seriously, Ctrl + Alt + Delete. Building your online brand and fine-tuning your résumé is important, but so is interacting with real-life humans. Grab coffee with your mom's friend who's in your target industry, or shadow her for a day. Search online for meetups of young professionals in your area, and attend. Volunteer. These activities provide networking opportunities and show potential employers you're more ambitious than the other entry-level candidates you're competing with, who are just staring at job boards.
Schmidt says those who actively commit to the job-search process – by following these tips, for example – fare better than those who passively go through the motions. "You have to be in charge of this search," he says. "It takes work and commitment, but there's a great payoff at the other side of it, which is finding a fantastic job that builds on your strengths and is very rewarding for you."