The reality for many prospective graduates is daunting. In the last decade, it has become increasingly difficult to land a job directly after graduating college. The numbers are sobering: the unemployment rate for college graduates has risen to 8.8 percent (compared with 5.7 percent in 2007) and the underemployment rate is at 18.3 percent (compared with 9.9 percent in 2007). Though these numbers are startling, it is not impossible to land a job.
The fortunate truth is that the most prepared college graduates still stand a chance of attaining a good position, even in this market. In fact, there are quite a few industries actively seeking new graduates. The most prevalent job opportunities for graduates can be found in fields like education; professional, scientific and technical (that require specialized expertise); health care; federal, state and local government; and finance and insurance. Although these sectors have the highest hiring rates, it is still tough to get hired when competing against thousands of other well-qualified applicants.
The key is to stand out!
The first step in standing out is to conduct appropriate, focused research; I call this the Missing Information Analysis (MIA). MIA prepares a candidate to ensure that he or she appears to be the perfect fit for the job. Those who look and sound like all other applicants will invariably go unnoticed.
- Start out by finding out everything possible about your desired position. For instance, where is it located in the corporate hierarchy? Who do you report to? What are the major responsibilities in this role, and what knowledge and skills must you possess to be successful at accomplishing these? Conduct an informational interview with people who have this job or an equivalent, and with a human resource professional at the company. Ask the HR department for the job description in writing.
- Look up everything you can about the company to which you are applying. Start by closely reading its website. Look online and in print media for articles about the company. Find out about the company’s culture, politics, structure, strengths, weakness, profits, losses (get financials if publicly available), areas for potential growth, (how can you help with that?) and so on.
- Make sure you find out about how people are selected at your target company. Is there a resume review, an interview, a test? Who sits on interview panels (know their names and titles), what are waiting periods, who is the main corporate contact, is there anything available in writing for you to study? Typically, the best way to obtain this information is through the company’s HR department. Otherwise, if you know anyone who has applied to this company before, perhaps he or she could tell you the process.
After you have completed your MIA, you can proceed to the next step in standing out, which is to create a customized resume. Generic resumes do not get noticed. Put an objective statement at the top that demonstrates you know the specifics of the job and company for which you are applying. List your past experiences. Did you ever have a job that matches the job title or part of the job title for which you are applying? If so, highlight that. Can you list some courses that demonstrate you have the knowledge and skills listed in the corporate job description? If so, make sure to mark that down. It is a time-consuming process, but to increase your chances, you must create a customized resume for every job to which you apply.
Make sure you send your resume and cover letter to a specific person, name and title included. After you submit your resume, send an email or make one phone call to find out if it has been received and if and when you will be scheduled for the interview.
If you have been selected to go through a formal selection process, begin to prepare immediately. There are books on interviewing that may more fully prepare you, but in general, make sure to demonstrate that you know about the job, you possess the requisite knowledge and skills, and you fit the organizational culture. Practice in front of a mirror to look confident and well prepared. Tell your interviewers that you are fully aware of the company’s goals and show them how your specific contribution will help them achieve their desired outcomes.
Don’t be frightened by the statistics. With the right tools and proper preparation, landing your dream job is truly possible.