Finding a job can be time consuming, especially for college students who may be cramming for their last finals while also trying to enjoy the last few months before graduation day. However, you’ll find that starting your search early can reduce the amount of time you spend post-graduation without a job.
This article will walk you through five steps to increase your chances of finding a job before graduation. You’ll also learn a few job search tips to help you stand out and attract attention from recruiters and hiring managers as a new college graduate.
Five steps to find a job before graduation
Follow the five steps below and you’ll position yourself to receive a strong job offer after graduation. We’ll break down each step in detail in the sections below.
- Craft an effective resume and cover letter
- Start your job search early
- Look for jobs in the right places
- Master the interview process
- Negotiate salary and benefits
1. Craft an effective resume and cover letter
- Choose a format. As a soon-to-be graduate, a functional resume highlighting your job-related skills may be the best fit since you likely don’t have much relevant work experience yet.
- Add personal information. Don’t forget to list your full name, city, phone number, and email address. You may also want to include links to your personal website or LinkedIn profile.
- Describe your work history. You may not have much work history yet, and that’s perfectly fine. If applicable, mention any internships or volunteer work to show you have some hands-on work experience.
- List your education, certificates, and training. List all your degrees and certificates in reverse chronological order, with the most recent degree or certificate you’ve earned at the top. Mention your college degree (even if you haven’t officially graduated yet, but will soon) and high school degree.
- Emphasize your skills. This section can help you grab the attention of employers—especially if you don’t have much work experience. Talk about relevant hard and soft skills that make you a good match for the position.
Many applications also ask for a cover letter. Even if it’s not required, writing a thoughtful cover letter can be a great way to introduce yourself and express your interest in the open position. Use the following tips to write a strong cover letter:
- Begin with a warm greeting. This is your chance to make a quality first impression. Don’t go too casual; present yourself in a professional manner as someone they would enjoy working with.
- Quickly get to the point. The hiring manager doesn’t want to read a full-length novel. Make your cover letter concise, and only include relevant information (e.g., why you’re applying for the position and what makes you the right fit).
- Pay attention to detail. Some job applications contain specific instructions about what to include in the cover letter. Read the job posting thoroughly so you know what’s expected of you.
- Invite them to contact you. Close the letter by restating your interest in the position. Encourage them to contact you directly to discuss the position or learn more about you.
Remember to tailor your resume and cover letter to each position you apply for. Most employers only spend a few seconds reading over each application, so you must quickly put yourself in the best possible position to capture their attention.
2. Start your job search early
These numbers aren’t meant to scare you, but they should emphasize the importance of starting early and allowing yourself plenty of time to look for jobs. If you wait until the month before graduation to put together your resume and connect with potential employers, it may be too late.
Get started early in your senior year, and you’ll thank yourself as you get closer to the end of your final semester.
3. Look for jobs in the right places
So you’ve decided to start looking for a job, but you don’t know where to find open positions. Here are some options to help you look for jobs before graduation:
- Job boards. You’ll find a variety of job postings on general job boards. Those searching for a specific type of job can also take a look at a specialized job board.
- Company websites. If you have a target list of companies you’re interested in working for, visit their websites to find open positions.
- Career fairs. Attending a career fair in person can be a great way to make new connections and develop your networking skills.
- Past employers. Perhaps you interned for a company one summer or worked part-time for a local organization during the school year. They may consider you for a full-time position if they have one open.
- College career center. Many colleges have career services centers on campus to help you write a resume, get ready for interviews, and connect with potential employers. A career coach might even be able to help you with your resume or interview skills.
- Professional organizations. If you already know what industry you want to work in, connecting with a related professional organization can speed up the process of finding relevant job openings.
4. Master the interview process
After you start applying for jobs, you’ll hopefully receive a request to interview for a position. This is a positive development, but it doesn’t mean the job is yours yet. You’ll need to prepare to make a strong impression in the interview.
Specifically, you should address each of the following areas:
- Research the company and the position. Looking at the company’s website and social media accounts before the interview is a good idea. You can also read reviews about the company on Glassdoor to see if current or previous employees have left reviews.
- Practice common interview questions. Research common interview questions and rehearse your answers out loud. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script in the interview, but you do want to sound confident and prepared.
- Write down questions for the interviewer. This isn’t only about getting more information about the job. It’s also another chance to show the interviewer how you prepared for the conversation and how you present yourself.
- Dress to impress. When you research the company and the position, you’ll likely learn about their expectations for dress and appearance. Plan accordingly, and don’t dress too casually or too formally.
- Act professionally. Arrive on time, be polite, and act with professionalism before, during, and after the conversation.
5. Negotiate salary and benefits
Hopefully, you’ll receive a job offer before graduation, especially if you follow each of the steps above. However, your work isn’t finished once you receive a job offer. Once you have an offer, remember to:
- Thank the employer for the offer. The company has put significant time and energy into the hiring process. Whether or not you plan to accept the offer, acknowledge and validate their work up to this point.
- Get the offer in writing. This allows you to review the full package and understand all of the details regarding salary and benefits.
- Ask when they need an answer. If you’re excited about the position, you may want to say yes right away. However, asking for time to think gives you a chance to review the position one more time and ask any remaining questions.
- Decide if you will negotiate salary. Some people accept job offers outright, but many will negotiate the salary offer before accepting the position.
- Accept or decline the offer. Once you’ve decided to accept or decline the offer, let the employer know so they (and you) can decide on the next steps.
Job search tips for students
Now that you know what it’s like to look for a job, you may feel more confident about starting your search. Before wrapping up, let’s review a few more tips to help you get a great job offer as soon as possible.
Update your social media profiles
Two-thirds of employers check potential hires’ social media accounts during the interview process, and 54% of employers say they’ve eliminated candidates from consideration based on what they find.
Before applying for jobs, clean up your social media accounts and present yourself professionally. If your account is public, delete any photos or posts that could be viewed as inappropriate
You might also want to create (or improve) your LinkedIn account to prepare for your job hunt. Over 133 million people have LinkedIn accounts, and almost 90% of employers use LinkedIn when filling open positions.
Don’t forget to network
Hiring often happens through connections and personal relationships, and the only way to learn about these opportunities is through networking. Consider attending a job fair or networking event to connect with other professionals in your field.
If you decide to attend a job fair, do some homework before the event. Research the companies that will be present to prepare for your conversations. Print several copies of your resume to share with employers. Practice a 30- to 60-second introduction to share when you meet someone new.
These steps will help you make a strong first impression that may result in a follow-up conversation or interview after the event.
Perform practice interviews
Practice makes perfect, especially for job interviews. Find a partner (like a classmate or friend) who can help you get ready. Give your friend a copy of the job description for the position you’re interviewing for, and have them ask you questions related to the position.
Once you finish the mock interview, ask your friend what you did well and where you can improve. If you have time (and if they are willing), repeat the process and see if you can do better the second time.
Stay open to different job opportunities
Most people prefer to apply for jobs within their area of study. Don’t neglect this area, but also consider job opportunities in additional fields you may excel in based on your skills and interests. As you apply for these jobs, emphasize the skills you bring to the table and use your cover letter to sell yourself and explain why you’re a good fit.
Another possibility is to land a part-time online job to help you develop additional skills while earning some extra cash. This is something you can even do while still in school.
Don’t stop working on your skills
You should continue looking for opportunities to build new skills even after finishing your degree, especially since employers always review your skills when analyzing your job application.
Perhaps you’re interested in a position but don’t have the employer’s required or preferred skills. Even in this situation, showing that you’re making an effort to expand your horizons and grow your talents can communicate a positive message to the employer.
Stay positive and don’t give up
Searching for a job before graduation can be physically and mentally exhausting. You can go through several rounds of an interview process only to see the job offered to someone else. Unfortunately, this may happen more than once before you land a position.
The best way to deal with this situation is to stay positive and keep your focus on the end goal. Don’t let a rejection get you down. Instead, remain optimistic and keep putting yourself out there. You’ll have an offer for your dream job before you know it.
Use Upwork to find job opportunities
Searching for a job takes a great deal of time, energy, and planning. However, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of landing a job before graduation if you start early and commit to the process. You’ll also enjoy a smoother transition from college to life after graduation.
As you think about searching for jobs before graduation, check out all of the exciting opportunities for full-time and independent talent work on Upwork. You’ll find plenty of job options that fit your skills, passions, and interests.
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