The science to landing your first job out of college

With many new college graduates struggling to land a job, incoming seniors should act now to avoid falling into the same trap, says Ladd Flock, director of career services at Wake Forest University. Here are 10 steps students can take as they head back to school this fall to improve their chances of finding a job by graduation.

1. Register with the university’s career office – One of the first items on your back-to-school list should be registering with the university’s career office. All kinds of things may have changed over the summer, so be sure to update your career center profile with current career interests, job experience, and GPA.

2. Update your resume – Did you work over the summer, study abroad or take part in an undergraduate research project? Don’t wait to update your resume. Employers may come recruiting as early as one or two weeks into the semester.

3. Line up your references – Many employers require a letter of recommendation or references for new hires. Now is the time to line those up. “When you ask for a reference, you don’t want to do that by email,” says Flock. “Stop by their office or go out and have a cup of coffee with them. Be sure to give them a copy of your resume because it will help them as they’re writing the reference”.

4. Prepare your interviewing attire – Employers tend to give students a break when interviewing for internships. But in job interviews, they are eyeing you as a potential full-time employee. Dress the part. “Make sure your clothes fit appropriately, that everything is cleaned and pressed and that your shoes are shined,” Flock says. “You don’t want to be looking for things at the last minute or borrowing clothes from your friends.”

5. Begin your professional presence online – Start by cleaning up your Facebook page, and then examine your online presence with the eye of a potential employer. Create a Linked In page to give prospective employers easy access to your educational background and links to organizations where you’ve worked.

6. Go on informational interviews – Most employers are willing to take the time to sit down with students and tell them about the opportunities available at their company. But that door may close as soon as you’re an unemployed graduate. “Seniors should be thinking about using Thanksgiving and winter break to conduct informational interviews, and take time before then to get prepared,” Flock says.

7. Sync your calendar with the career office – Most colleges and universities start holding career events shortly after school starts. For graduating seniors, these events should be top priority. Many employers who conduct information sessions on campus keep a list of students who attend and will give them priority when scheduling interviews.

8. Make an appointment with a career counselor – Group events are great, but you also need one-on-one counseling to develop a strategy for the year. “Figure out what you will be doing between now and fall break, and then between fall break and Thanksgiving break, and between Thanksgiving break and winter break,” Flock says. “A career counselor can help you make the most of your time before graduation.”

9. Consider doing one more internship – Most large corporations prefer to hire college juniors for internships, but there are still plenty of opportunities for seniors to intern at non-profits, social services agencies and health care organizations.

10. Take admissions tests now – Many graduates go to work full-time with an eye toward attending graduate school later. But now is the time to take admissions exams like the GRE, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT. “It’s easier to study and score well on those tests while you’re still a student than to try and do it when you have a full-time job,” Flock says. “The scores are valid for several years so you can always use them later.”

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