Editor’s note: Peter K. Studner is president and senior consultant at Los Angeles- based outplacement services firm Peter K. Studner Associates and the author of Super Job Search IV.
College seniors, rejoice: According to a new study from Michigan State University’s College Employment Institute, employers will be recruiting more college graduates in 2015 than they have in well over a decade.
With hiring for bachelor’s degrees increasing by 16 percent from last year alone, it’s true that finding your first job may not be the monumental quest it has been for grads in recent years. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put just as much thought and effort into the job search process as they did. After all, your professional future depends on this next step.
Here are 10 things that 2015 college graduates should keep in mind as they search for employment:
Your first job is more important than you might think. As you send out résumés and applications, you should focus on finding a job that allows you to learn about working in your chosen field. That may seem obvious but some graduates are in such a hurry to get placed that they don’t take the time to consider where they want to be in three, five or 10 years.
Your college degree will never be more valuable than it is right now. After you accept your first job offer, you’ll receive promotions and new opportunities based primarily on your accomplishments, not on the diploma hanging behind your desk. The point? It’s important to consider your future goals and leverage your degree in a way that sets you up for a successful, fulfilling career in years to come.
Consider your skills when choosing a field. Yes, all college majors naturally correlate with certain career fields, and you should definitely consider applying to positions in those areas. But it’s also worth your while to spend some time independently considering your skills – both academic and otherwise – and think outside the box when identifying potential career paths.
Many job seekers with whom I’ve worked over the years have been surprised by the field in which they ended up, albeit pleasantly so! Spend a little time using the Job Skills Transfer Assessment Tool (JobSTAT) at the Minnesota Department of Labor’s Web site, PositivelyMinnesota.com. The tool matches your experience, skills and knowledge with possible careers, and lets you know where your skill gaps might lie. Although the actual job openings listed on the site are in Minnesota, JobSTAT is an excellent way to learn about careers that align with your current skills.
Look for opportunity, not salary. Many graduates have large debts to pay off and are understandably tempted to go for the highest salary offered (perhaps you can identify!), but that course of action could be a mistake. High salaries come with high expectations. And if you don’t have enough experience, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Furthermore, the position that pays best now might not be the one that helps you achieve your long-term goals.
Your first job should not necessarily be the one that pays the most; it should be the one with the greatest opportunity for you to learn – not only what to do but also what not to do. Observing a really bad role model in action is one of the most valuable work experiences you can get.
Don’t overstate your experience. Perhaps you held one or more jobs before you graduated from college. Even if those positions were in line with your career path, think carefully about the claims you make on your résumé. What did you learn from those jobs? Can you honestly present yourself as an experienced employee, or will you have to fake it during your interview and hope that you catch on quickly once you’re hired? Will you be squandering an opportunity at a top-notch company by overstating your experience?
It may be wiser to take a less lucrative position where you can admit what you do not know and openly express your desire to learn. Your attitude going into your first “real” job must be positive and proactive. Remember, the organization you’re joining will depend on you. No matter how small your role, you should be able to do your part – and then some.
Make sure your résumé tells your story. You have spent up to 8,000 hours acquiring your degree – don’t drop the ball now. Put as much effort into preparing your résumé as you did into crafting a crucial paper for an important class. Too often, job seekers (whether they’re recent grads or experienced workers) send out hastily written résumés assuming that hiring managers will be able to read between the lines and see how amazing they are. Newsflash: That never happens.
Poorly prepared résumés and other collateral materials will rule you out, even if you are the most qualified candidate – and you’d be surprised by how often this happens. Make sure your résumé does a good job of highlighting your skills, accomplishments, work history (if applicable) and education. You’ll also find helpful resources and hundreds of model résumés at SuperJobSearch.com and on the SuperJobSearch app, which is available for Apple and Android devices.
Prepare (and then prepare some more) for your interview. While the number of job opportunities is increasing, only candidates with outstanding presentation skills will get the plum jobs. Like it or not, most jobs are secured or lost in the interview stage, so put more effort into preparing for interviews than you do into any other part of your job search campaign.
Putting prior thought into how you might answer both standard and tricky interview questions can help you avoid disaster and gain an advantage over the competition. Be sure to rehearse your responses out loud, too. The more comfortable you are talking about yourself, your skills, your accomplishments and your goals, the better impression you’ll make on your interviewers.
Choose a company that aligns with your values. You may not have thought about how your personal values might – or might not – align with your career. But this is essential to consider before accepting a position, because the values factor will impact your performance and your personal fulfillment. When considering an organization, consider questions such as: How do they treat clients? Team members? Might my success come at a cost to someone else? What are their priorities? Will I feel proud or ashamed at the end of the day?
Do your homework. This is one area where negative information can be more valuable than positive. As you interview, learn from the people you meet about the success they have achieved. Their comments can provide you with clues as to how you might feel and perform in years to come.
Be sure to check out GlassDoor.com, which lets you read reviews of companies from current and former employees. Also, Barron’s magazine is a good source of information about many companies. To subscribe, check student magazine discounters (www.MagazineLine.com) for low-cost rates.
Make sure the company has a solid future. Independently, make sure that your research includes forecasts of the company’s activity, product or service. Bear in mind that the products and services they are offering today probably didn’t exist five, 10 or 15 years ago.
Does the company appear to have a solid plan going forward? Are there new products or services in the pipeline, and do they strike you as being viable? Even though you probably won’t stick with the same employer for decades, you don’t want to be caught short without a transition planned.
Look for paid internships. Understandably, most college graduates set their sights on full-time paid jobs. But don’t assume that internships are behind you.
Paid internships, which might last for six months, a year or even longer, are sometimes available to college grads. They’re a good place to learn what goes into becoming a top performer. (These are different from the internships offered to students in return for college credits.) Check out Job-Hunt.org for internship listings in your area, including those at Fortune 500 companies.
Be an active learner. Yes, you’ve successfully obtained your college degree but that doesn’t mean your education is over. In order to build a successful career, you must become a life-long learner.
Don’t assume you know it all – or even that you know enough – now or ever. Just as a company must keep reinventing itself in order to meet new market demands, you must keep developing your skills throughout your career. Those who keep learning new skills on a continuous basis will be the real winners in the long run.
Savvy graduates will take the time to prepare for their transition before actually going out on the job market. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are today – so make sure your focus and self-presentation complement, instead of detract from, the education you bring to the table.