This year sucked. Working in Career Services, I am acutely aware of how difficult it has been for people to find jobs. I’ve seen perky, intelligent grads become sullen and jaded after six months of unsuccessfully searching for employment. I’ve seen employer participation in career fairs drop, as companies laid off employees and put a freeze on hiring. And I’ve seen this year’s crop of seniors panic at the thought of being thrown into this difficult job market in just a few months.
It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom, but this Thanksgiving I’d like to suggest that college seniors focus on some positive things. Believe it or not – you have a lot to be grateful for!
You Have Six College Months Left
If you are graduating in May 2010, you have a solid six months left to enjoy the college life. Drink it in (no pun intended), enjoy having all your friends in one place and take advantage of the niceties your college campus has to offer. More importantly, you have six months for the economy to rebound. With many industries already beginning to show signs of life, your job prospects will likely be much stronger in May than they appear to be now. Don’t panic.
Though time is working in your favor, it is critical that you take proactive steps to advance your job search during this six-month stretch. Depending on your industry, you may be able to directly apply for jobs now. But if you want to go into a field like communications, you’ll probably need to wait until April.
In the meantime, network your brains out; talk to everyone you know about what you’d like to do after graduation, and see if they can put you in touch with any relevant contacts. Set-up informational interviews and try to find a lot of information about the organizations where you’d like to work.
To make yourself an even more marketable candidate, consider taking a spring semester class that will complement your existing skill sets. Pursuing a PR career? Take a class in social media or web design. Planning to work in finance? Add a refresher course in Spanish to your schedule to aid in your ability to do business globally. Also, think about taking a spring internship in your college town; this can be a great way to gain experience.
There are other things you can do too, such as developing a professional blog or joining a professional association. The possibilities are endless. Think of this six-month window as a time for you to sharpen your personal marketing package (your “personal brand”) while you execute the steps of your job search.
Winter Break is Coming Up
With classes winding down, you will soon have the opportunity to head home for the holidays. Not only is winter break a respite from the rigors of schoolwork and a chance to spend time with loved ones, it is also a wonderful opportunity to do some networking!
During family gatherings, the question will inevitably come up, “So, what are you going to do after you graduate college?” As annoying as it may be to have distant family members pry into your life, take this opportunity to inform them about your plans and see if they know anyone who works in the industries you’re interested in. Try to get referrals to people who may be able to help in your career pursuits. Touch base with former supervisors, teachers, and friends from high school, who may also be able to help you.
Another way to take advantage of winter break is to line up a short-term internship, job shadowing opportunity, or work experience. Most organizations don’t have formal internship programs from mid-December through mid-January, but this shouldn’t stop you. Identify an organization where you’d like to work and approach them with an internship proposal. While a three week internship would be ideal, sometimes just being able to shadow an employee for a few days can build your understanding of a profession.
A different approach is to offer your services to a hometown organization in need. For instance, you can offer to design a website for a local non-profit, or teach a Mom ‘n Pop restaurant how to use social media to grow their business. The key here is to be doing something over the break to develop yourself professionally.
Social Media Sites Put the World at Your Fingertips
Now that the concept of social media has really blown up, you have access to exponentially more people than ever before. When I was job searching (just two years ago) I felt limited to networking with people I already knew and people I could see face-to-face.
Now, sites like LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to search for and connect with all sorts of interesting folks. Send tweets to the CEO of Dream Company X, or shoot a LinkedIn message to an alum of your school who’s now a recruiter for Dream Company Y.
On my campus, I see a division between students who have embraced social media for career purposes (about 25%) and those who are completely oblivious (the other 75%). I firmly believe the future belongs to those in the first group — those who are resourceful and those who are able to harness the power of social media for their careers.
Another cool aspect of social media is the abundance of young professionals blogging and tweeting about their lives after college, their search for employment, and workplace issues. There are many lessons to be learned from people who were in your shoes just a few years (or months) ago. Career and human resources professionals are another very active group on Twitter and in the blogosphere.
My recommendation is to soak in all of the information that you can from all these people. To make this easier, I’ve compiled a starter list of some really awesome Tweeps (Twitter users) who I am thankful for, and who you should check out this Thanksgiving:
In addition, I recommend reading from all of the contributors here at the Student Branding Blog. We have many different perspectives and experiences that shape our work.