As a college senior, the process of applying for postgraduate jobs can look different depending on what industry you’re hoping to enter.
Jobs related to consulting, financial services and technology, for example, typically hire earlier in the school year than most. Students often need to apply the summer before their senior year or during the fall semester.
But for other industries that rely on “just-in-time hiring” practices, seniors can start searching during the spring semester if their goal is to be employed by the summer following graduation, says Stacy Bingham, associate dean of the college for career development at Vassar College in New York.
“There’s wide variability in all of those things, but we encourage students to lay the groundwork in the fall even if they won’t be sending out job applications until the spring,” she adds.
Shutdowns and restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic have caused periodic hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs over the last few years. But experts predict a “fierce” job market for the class of 2022 – one that could create high levels of competition for the soon-to-be college graduates.
Here are 10 expert tips for college seniors who are applying for jobs:
1. Clarify your interests.
Before browsing a job search website, students need to determine the type of industry, location, company size and work environment that best fit their needs.
“Start figuring out your job targets, your non-negotiables,” says Luis Santiago, associate director of coaching operations at the University of Washington. “A lot of times students haven’t had the time to answer those questions yet.”
2. Visit school career centers.
College career centers provide resources and information related to the job search process. Whether it’s to discuss career goals, review a resume or participate in a mock interview, students can schedule meetings with staff members at their university.
For those unsure about where to look for job opportunities, career centers also have a list of job search websites, such as Indeed or Handshake – a company that specifically caters to college students – and alumni networks.
3. Update your resume with relevant experiences and skills.
Job applications typically require a resume and cover letter. In some cases, hiring managers ask for an online portfolio.
Of course, you should include relevant experiences in a resume, like internships or summer jobs in that field.
But employers also value learning about your broader experiences, including volunteering, job shadowing, coursework or part-time jobs, such as at a summer camp or in retail.
“When you start to really add in those additional activities, it really does bolster their resume and better highlights a full set of skills and qualifications that an employer is generally seeking,” says Jeff Beavers, executive director of the Career Services Network at Michigan State University.
All of these experiences can demonstrate a candidate’s soft skills including leadership, initiative, ethics, problem-solving, applied intelligence, teamwork and communication, he adds.
However, especially now, employers are also looking to see how students have adapted to online learning and other changes brought on by COVID-19, says Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at MSU.
“They want to see how (students are) going to adjust when they get into the organization,” he adds.
Experiences and skills can also be promoted on LinkedIn as a way to attract recruiters.
4. Review materials.
Give your resume and cover letter a careful edit before submission. Have a staff member from a career center or a trusted friend act as a second pair of eyes to avoid any typos or mistakes, like using the wrong company name.
“Things like that can leave more of a sour taste,” Bingham says. “Or say this person doesn’t really have an eye for detail.”
Be aware of the hidden job market. The majority of jobs are not even posted online because the positions are filled by word-of-mouth, says Santiago.
“It’s a missed opportunity that students so many times are not even thinking about because their first thoughts are, ‘I need a job, let me go to the job board,'” he adds.
Reach out to family members, friends and alumni in a chosen industry. Networking can also occur at school career fairs or through targeted messaging on LinkedIn.
“Don’t stay quiet about the job search,” Bingham says.
However, the heavy reliance on networking to obtain a job can create inequities, experts say. Some students have an advantage in gaining access to opportunities based on where they grew up, what schools they attended, and who they know, which is known as the “network gap.”
6. Reach out to an employee working at the company.
Students should look to see if there are any alumni from their school at the company they applied to. That employee could provide insight into the company, answer questions and even serve as a referral.
“They might have a nice conversation with you and be willing to call the hiring manager and say, ‘Can you move this person’s materials to the top of the pile?'” Bingham says.
7. Take a mini “vacation” from applying.
Finding a job can take months, and seemingly never-ending rejections can start to take a toll on students’ mental health. Experts suggest practicing self-care and taking a break from applying once in awhile.
“Getting a job is a full-time job,” says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, “but it’s important to stay positive.” Look at rejection as a learning opportunity rather than a negative outcome.
“When you start to get negative, employers can really sense that,” she adds. “That’s not helpful in the process. People want to work with others that are hopeful and optimistic and see possibility. And so being able to stay in that mindset is quite frankly very critical for the process.”
8. Persist politely.
“Sometimes students think, ‘Well, I’ve sent off all these applications and now I’ll sit back and wait,'” Bingham says. But unless the job advertisement explicitly states “no calls or emails,” follow up with the company if there’s been radio silence.
Write to the hiring contact to reiterate your interest in the position and ask where the company is in the hiring process.
9. Practice before an interview.
Don’t walk into the interview unprepared. Research the company ahead of time to understand its values, mission and work. Note any recent news announcements, such as a merger.
Practice answering questions beforehand. Come up with specific anecdotes that highlight your skills and experiences, but avoid coming off as scripted.
Because of COVID-19, many companies are conducting interviews remotely, at least in the initial round. Become familiar with being on camera and test out your Wi-Fi and software ahead of time to avoid mishaps.
At the end of the interview, ask questions such as:
- What’s your favorite part of working here?
- What would be the biggest challenges I would face in this role?
“Remember, it’s not just about you answering questions, this is also your opportunity to interview the interviewer,” Drew McCaskill, a LinkedIn career expert, wrote in an email. “Many people approach an interview with a single focus: getting the job. But it’s important to also figure out if the job is right for you.”
Be sure to send a handwritten or email thank-you note the day of your interview, he adds.
`10. Don’t accept a job offer right away.
Though it can be tempting, especially after weeks or months of receiving rejections, immediately accepting a job offer is not a good idea, experts say.
Spend a day or several thinking about the overall compensation package, beyond just the salary. Develop a list of questions to ask the employer about professional development opportunities and benefits such as 401k, vacation time and insurance plans. For fully remote positions, inquire about at-home stipends for office equipment like a desk or extra monitor.
College career centers can also help students determine whether the offer is competitive in the market.
“If they need assistance in potentially negotiating a part of that offer, we can work with them on properly introducing that topic to a recruiter,” Beavers says. “It’s really just about helping them review the opportunity and ensure that (students are) making a commitment that excites them and that will leverage their interests and passions appropriately.”