For the past few years, most college graduates in America have donned their caps and gowns to face a very uncertain future. Thankfully, the job market and the economy have improved, but grads still face stiff competition in the workforce.
This year, employers will hire 2 percent more new grads from the Class of 2013 than they did from the Class of 2012, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
The organization also found the current unemployment rate for recent grads to be 8.8 percent — higher than 2007’s rate of 5.7 percent, but down from 2010’s rate of 10.4 percent.
To land an entry-level job in today’s competitive market, recent grads can look to these five tips to set themselves apart from the masses:
1. Boost your resumé
“First-time job-seekers should fill their resumés with a variety of experiences necessary to thrive in the position for which they are applying. This may include part-time jobs held during college, volunteer work, professional student organizations and, most importantly, internships,” says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform that matches college students with employers.
Out-of-the-classroom experience can “move mountains” when it comes to proving to employers you’re more than prepared to take on an entry-level position, Parcells says, adding that recent grads should always list relevant skills at the top of their resumé.
“Most students put their education first,” says Dana Manciagli,author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job!. “But you’re not a student anymore. On your resumé, you’ve got to list your experience first, including volunteer positions.”
Grads should also avoid using self-aggrandizing terms such as “excellent” and “outstanding,” says Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of executive search firm Trilogy Search. “Instead use action-oriented words such as ‘completed’ and ‘improved.’”
“For instance, if you were the kitchen manager at a restaurant in college, say what you were charged with, what things you did to make work flow better and how you trained waiters.”
2. Join, interact with and clean up social media
“Recent grads need to appear as professional as possible during their job search. This means ditching the college party profile pictures and potentially changing your social media profiles to private if you don’t plan on posting professional updates,” Parcells says.
Grads should also keep in mind that all nonprivate social media profiles should be consistent in their level of professionalism.
“Your blog posts may boast your knowledge and expertise in your career field, but if your Twitter account doesn’t give mention, what will employers think?” he says.
When it comes to social media, the goal is to “make hiring managers do a double-take” by actually using your social profiles to share your career knowledge, Parcells says, adding that it’s always a good idea to participate in Twitter chats related to your industry and post relevant industry-related articles.
To ensure you’re searchable on social media, Pappalardo suggests using only your professional email address when signing up for accounts.
“Make sure you’re using JaneRJones @gmail.com rather than something like sororitygirl @gmail.com,” he says. “Respect yourself and remember that your digital footprint can be a heavy one.”
Students graduating this year will find there’s more of an emphasis on social media than ever before, and most hiring managers not only seek to hire the most qualified applicant; they strive to recruit applicants who can attract new clientele, says Beth Throne, associate vice president of student and post-graduate development at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
“With social media becoming a primary tool of customer recruitment and relations, it is critical that job-seeking graduates have a robust social media presence,” she says.“This not only means having a Facebook
3. Make it known your internships were real experience, not just coffee runs
Because internships are often the only source of work experience for recent grads, it’s critical that they articulate how the tasks performed at an internship contributed to the bottom line and operations of the organization, whether that involved drafting, proofing or merely stapling critical reports, Throne says.
One way to really make your internship experience pop is to blog about it, says Zach Killian, a recruiter at The Marketing Arm, an employee promotion agency that's part of Omnicom Group
“Check with your supervisor about what can be made public, but it’s a great idea to highlight big projects and successes at your internship on a blog,” Killian says. “The posts will show that you were involved in real work. Add in recommendations from those you worked with to build your reputation. Just launching the blog in the first place will show initiative — and if done well, your creativity and communications ability, as well.”
Depending on the particular internship and with the permission of the business where they served the internship, recent graduates may also want to create websites with an online portfolio showing samples of the work they completed, says Roger Pao, dean of undergraduate studies at the New England College of Business and Finance. There, they can explain in more detail than would be found on a resumé or cover letter their accomplishments during their internship.
4. Use your best judgment when it comes to touting GPA
“GPA isn’t a big factor when it comes to getting hired in most career fields,” Parcells says. “But if you have a great GPA and still managed to hold a job, take on internships and participate in a variety of other extracurriculars, be sure to make this known to potential employers.”
Fields where GPAs may be the most important include law and medicine, Pappalardo says. But most employers just want to know you have the degree, then what you can do.
“Almost no one will ask you for your GPA, although if you have an impressive one, by all means highlight it,” Pappalardo says.
If you do choose to include academic accomplishments, make sure to list them towards the end of your resumé, Killian says.
“If you graduated cum laude or at the top of your class, that's impressive and should absolutely be shared on a resumé. Simply list those academic achievements in the education section, just like you would list professional accomplishments,” he says.
5. Remember, you’re never too old to highlight your extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities really do matter when it comes to getting hired, says Parcells, adding that it's usually best to save hiring managers time by listing only the activities most relevant to the position for which you’re applying.
Listing some obscure interest or activity could spark a conversation, though, says Killian.
“Companies want well-rounded candidates. Extracurricular activities can lend insight into a candidate's personality, drive, interests and passions. We love seeing candidates who were college athletes or leaders within campus organizations,” he says.
Keep in mind that although your extracurricular activities will not get you hired on their own, they can be beneficial in two ways, Pappalardo says.
“An interviewer may share a similar interest, creating a point of commonality; this can push an opportunity in your favor if all other factors are equal. Also, if you’ve done something that demonstrates extraordinary commitment, such as qualifying for the Olympics in rowing, an employer will recognize that you can bring that same level of dedication to your work.”