Among the tips for those in college: Brush up on your presentation skills and take classes that will set you apart from your peers.
I recently shared job-search strategies with a group of business students at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Many of the 160 undergraduates who spent the day learning the ins and outs of retail management, entrepreneurship, accounting and finance, and other industries are first-generation college students. Most are working their way through school, and some juggle two jobs, says Léonie Karkoviata, a lecturer in economics and organizer of the event.
Many, she says, don’t have the networks to guide them through the pitfalls of launching a professional career.
So here are some of the universal strategies I discussed with the group, along with a few more I should have included. They can help those working their way through school and those fortunate enough to have mom and dad foot the bill.
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Grades are important, but internships are key. Recruiters tell me they’d prefer a graduate with relevant internships on his or her resume than someone with high grades yet no relevant work experience.
I’ve suggested to my daughter that she find two semester-long internships and plan to graduate in five years rather than four years. It won’t cost any more — as long as those internships are paid positions — but it will strengthen her resume and network for when she has to find her first “real” job.
Brush up on your presentation skills. Lots of graduates have good technical skills, but the ability to communicate will set you apart.
Many companies want employees who can make presentations to colleagues, managers and clients. They test those skills during the interviewing process by asking candidates to make a presentation on a project they’re working on at school.
Take advantage of public speaking seminars at your career services office, or join a group such as Toastmasters.
Take classes that will set yourself apart from other job seekers. For example, someone studying psychology might consider courses in statistics, computer programming and data mining.
Many companies, from retailers to energy firms, are relying on big data for more of their analysis. Having those underlying skills will be a plus when it comes to finding a job. And who doesn’t benefit from understanding statistics in the business world?
The career services office is your friend. Most offer a wide range of services, including resume writing, business-etiquette classes, interview role-playing, and sessions on how to weigh competing job offers, and negotiate better wage and benefit packages.
Don’t wait until a week before graduation, like I did, to write a resume and cover letter. Start taking advantage of the services as a freshman, and you’ll be a top candidate by the time you graduate.
Avoid getting lost in the black hole of online job boards by understanding how they work. The big job-search engines use keyword-optimization software filters. To make sure your resume is flagged as a good match, use the same keywords from the job posting.
Some experts recommend adding a “keyword” section at the bottom of the resume and listing all the ones that apply to you. Other experts recommend the less obvious approach of sprinkling relevant keywords throughout your resume.
Either way, make sure the keywords are on the first page, because that typically is the only one that gets scanned.
Don’t neglect to tell the people helping you find a job when you land the big one. That includes your college professor who wrote a letter of recommendation, your career counselor who helped you retool your resume and the neighbor down the street who provided the initial lead about the opening.
They all deserve to be notified that your hunt was successful, thanks in no small part to their assistance.
A handwritten note is nice, but in today’s world an email works, too. Or, if you’re close friends, a jubilant call will do. Just don’t forget to circle back and say how grateful you are.
That’s more than just being polite. Letting your mentors know you landed a job is an important step in building your network. Then keep in touch on your way to a career.