Eight Things College Graduates Can Do To Land A Dream Job

Graduating college is no longer a golden ticket to economic security. As the economy continues to struggle,  many recent graduates are being forced to live with their parents as they compete for jobs with older, more-experienced workers.  All hope, however, is not lost. The key to landing a job in the ever-changing global economy can be summed up in one word: Persistence.

But, even if three out of ten or four out of ten members of Class of 2011 are unemployed, well more than half people did find work.  Some have jobs because they went to prestigious schools such as Harvard University or left school with highly marketable skills like engineering. Some got lucky. Some had family connections. Some looked harder than others. And, some settled for jobs that paid less than the graduates expected or were not in their field of choice.

However, college graduates from solid schools with respectable grades can increase their odds of finding work, even in an economy where the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 21% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed. If the number of people in this age group who have stopped looking for work is added, the number is much higher.  For those lucky enough to find work, the outlook is improving.   A survey by the National Associations of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found the average starting salary for the Class of 2011 was 50,462, up 5.9% from 2010.

The most important thing 24/7 Wall St. heard from experts is that people who have a job in or near fields of their choice will have an easier time advancing in their careers in the coming years.  Waiting for a dream job is a bad idea because there are plenty of people, even some with experience, who will gladly accept the position that the graduate snubbed.  Here are the tips we received from experts on how to make the job-hunting process easier.

1. Don’t make salary the determining factor. 

A person who wants to be in the PR business and sets a minimum starting salary of $45,000 may never get a job. And, being unemployed doesn’t pay very well. A $35,000 job at a PR firm of in the PR department of a corporation could be available. Most young people believe that if they start at a low salary, they will never make much more money.  That’s not true.  Salary advancement has as much to do with talent as it does with preset pay scales. The best people, over time, will always be paid well.

2. Learn a Foreign Language.  

Knowing a second or even third language can help land a job as a translator, a field where good-paying jobs go begging.  For instance, Arabic translators with security clearances can command starting salaries of $125,000, Kevin Hendzel of the American Translators Association.  Translators with specialized technical knowledge in sciences or computers can earn big bucks too.  “No one knows these jobs are out there,” he says.   The picture is less certain for people wanting to work in the private sector.   Though Fortune 500 companies are expanding rapidly overseas, many prefer to hire local people for these jobs, according to Edwin Koc, NACE’s director of research.  Having these skills, however, certainly doesn’t hurt.

3. Work for the Peace Corps.

This is only one example of dozens of government programs that send people into areas of the country or the world to provide local help. People who work for organization like the Peace Corps can often show a strong work ethic. Jobs in organizations like the Peace Corps can teach a range of skills from construction to office administration–graduate school without the costs.  Among the former volunteers who have parlayed their Peace Corps experience into career success are MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX).

4. Understand Social Media.

A graduate can start a blog for free on a blog platform like Google Blogger. It is hard to get a thesis published, at least in a journal that matters. It is not hard to put a thesis online and expand on what else the author knows about the subjects related to a career goal. A blog has to be well-written, and well–researched or it can hurt someone’s job prospects. Few things impress a potential employer as much as expertise demonstrated online, particularly if the blog has any following.  It helps to understand Twitter too. Companies are using the site to directly communicate with students.   One recent University of Kentucky graduate landed a job at a Fortune 100 companies because he followed it on  the Twitter, says Lenroy Jones,  Associate Director for Employer Relations at University of Kentucky.

5. Be Professional.  

Anyone tired of working dead-end jobs to pay for college may take comfort in knowing that it may help you land a job after graduation.   According to a statement from Penn State Career Services ,that may demonstrate precisely the type of professional work ethic they want to see in a new hire.  What they don’t want to see is evidence of someone’s poor judgments on social networking sites.  That means that students may want to edit incriminating photos or anything else that might derail your job candidacy from their Facebook profiles. Recruiters and HR departments thoroughly vet all applicants,  says Marnie Harris of Harris McCall & Associates, a recruiting firm which focuses on the investment banking, private equity, corporate development and consulting industries.  “They do a complete background check,” she says, adding that companies are conscious about protecting their image.   Job seekers should be mindful of their “brand” as well.  Jones suggests losing the goofy email address and be mindful of your outgoing voicemail message, particularly if it advises people to their number after the beep because they “what to do.”

6. Left brain. Right brain.

A liberal arts major may not know much about accounting or how to use essential business tools like Excel. Engineering majors often have limited writing skills. Those weaknesses cannot be fixed overnight, but they can be mitigated. A paralegal who can take 100 cases and make analysis based on spreadsheet skills may get a job over someone who can’t. An engineer who can be counted on to write crystal clear reports to management has a special value.  What can be polished is interpersonal skills.  These days, companies want workers who know how to handle themselves like a professional even when things go wrong.

7. Plan Ahead. 

The worst time to begin your job search is when graduation looms and panic sets in.  Job seekers need to make themselves as competitive as soon as they know what they want to do through internships and summer jobs.   Remember that companies use internships to find potential future employees.  Getting paid internships is far more impressive than an unpaid job, according to NACE’s Koc. Competition for high-paying jobs, not surprisingly, is fierce.

8.  Accepting  Reality.

Liberal arts majors can take comfort in knowing that their job prospects are not entirely hopeless though they are difficult.  For instance, English majors may be able to break into finance through networking with alumni at firms where they want to work.  No one is “going to listen to a recruiter who is trying to market an English major to an investment bank,” Harris said. “It’s not as easy if they were a finance major.”  Indeed,  a NACE survey found that more than 56 percent of  graduates with computer science majors who have applied for a job have received an offer, the highest of any major.  Accounting majors had an offer rate of 53.8%, the second highest in NACE’s survey.   The offer rate for English majors was 23.5%.

“Overall, job offers are up. This year, 41.2 percent of the members of the current class who applied for a job have received at least one offer, compared with 38.2 percent of the Class of 2010 at this time last year,” according to NACE.

–Douglass McIyntre, Jonathan Berr

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