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6 tips for college students entering the job market

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So you’re done with school. Now what? We asked several mid-career, late-career, and retired professionals this question. Their responses echoed a few common refrains: Don’t worry so much. Just get out there and get going. Build your character. Be good with money. Do something beautiful — or, do something practical, then do something beautiful.

“Welcome to life. Don’t rely on credit cards. Pick up an extra job if you have to,” said Tom McCarry, Director of Substance Abuse Prevention at a New York community healthcare non-profit. (Many responses mentioned not racking up debt like this one.)

Or, there’s the do-something-you-don’t-like-in-order-to-do-something-you-love type of advice: “[I’d tell myself to] go to Paris, enroll in the Sorbonne, learn everything I could about my art from a totally different perspective,” says Jim Ure. “What I actually did is disgusting: I got married and went to work in a cubicle at Proctor and Gamble.” Ure is a successful (and award-winning) Utah author, so we’re going to take that ‘disgusting’ as tongue-in-cheek.

Despite this wisdom, you still have to actually get a job first, so here are a few tips we gathered for making the transition from college into professional life a little less painful:

1. Don’t spend all your time formatting your résumé, but abslutely derstroy typos

(Yes, we did that on purpose.) Do your best to get your experience down on paper in a sane manner, model one from an industry you're applying in and make sure to take it to your career services center for advice. Or at the very least, show it to a couple other people to get a second (or third) set of eyes on it. Your résumé is important, but it’s not the most important thing. However, typos on your résumé are the equivalent of showing up to an interview with shaving cream in your ear or a dryer sheet stuck to your sweater.

2. Pump up your “soft skills”

“Motivated self-starter with an aptitude for collaboration.” Every entry-level résumé should have a few bullet points stating “soft skills.” Soft skills are things like communication, writing, organizational ability, and interpersonal skills. You’re not going to have a lot of experience so don’t try to pretend you’re a mid-career professional.

Employers want you to be adaptable and teachable. You don’t need to pass yourself off as something you’re not. Even if you do sneak your way into the job you think you want, it’ll only end badly if you can’t perform or if you totally hate what you’re doing and quit in a couple months. It’s always wise to focus on demonstrating that you can write, learn quickly and get along with people.


3. Create a LinkedIn presence and scrub down your social media profile

Several people we talked to who had interviewed in the last two or three years said their interviewers had definitely looked at their LinkedIn profile. (LinkedIn will notify you if people have looked at your profile if you have that setting turned on.) One person even said that in the final group interview for their current job, everyone in the room had printed out a copy of their LinkedIn. So make sure it’s updated and even somewhat tailored to that big job for which you’re in the running.

We could fill a book with ways recent grads have sabotaged themselves online, but the main thing to keep in mind is that you are easily Google-able. It’s not unusual for employers to review an applicant’s social media as they consider him/her for a job. Pretend you’re an interviewer and research yourself online. We’re serious. Go onto a computer (that is not your own) for a couple hours and search as hard as you can. Anything compromising on Facebook? Will your future boss think your Twitter joke is funny? If you don’t have time to clean up everything that looks iffy and manicure your online persona, at least make your accounts private.

4. There are other ways to think about networking

If you’ve talked to anybody about looking for work after college, you’ve likely heard advice that extols the virtues of networking. The concept conjures images of firm handshakes, blazers, pantsuits and handing out business cards in convention centers. But real networking is just getting out there into the stream of life and keeping career prospects in mind since most good jobs don’t come solely by filling out online applications.

“You are more likely to find a job through your college professors, parents, friends of parents and parents of friends, pastors, former babysitting clients and anyone else you know,” says this US News article. Look into professional meetups and sponsored after-work events. Do anything you can to get yourself in front of actual people and don’t spend all your time using the machine gun approach to online applications. More isn’t necessarily better.


5. Practice being interviewed and asking questions

All interviews are, at the very worst, practice for other interviews. Most of us will never get to a place in our lives where we stop interviewing. It’s a lifelong skill. (That’s another thing you might get tired of hearing your parents’ friends say.)

It’s true though. Do what you can to get more comfortable talking about yourself professionally. Practice with a mirror or a friend. Also try putting yourself in the position of the interviewer and see them as a human being who needs to connect with you. And if they can’t, they might not be the best fit for you, anyway.

Remember that you have valuable things to offer. Your main drawback is professional inexperience, but you have many attributes that can overcome this flaw: the expertise you gained in school (or other projects), your ability to learn quickly, your drive to succeed etc. Also, even if you’re short on money, do your best to avoid entering a toxic work environment. If your interviewer can’t or won’t answer a question like: “What does success in this position look like?” you might be better off moving on.

6. Be the kind of person you would want to work with.

Here’s a dirty little secret: The professional world is stocked full of regular, not-exceptionally-talented people who might not be perfect at their jobs, but they’re positive and fun to be around. Hiring managers are human beings (for now), and besides your qualifications, they’re also looking to determine if your future coworkers will be able to rely on you, if you’re easy to be around and if you aren’t going to be that lonely guy who ends up with his face in the punch bowl at the office Christmas party.

Ready to go? Find your first professional job today on KSL jobs.