If you're in college and not well on the way to some interviews by June, there's not much time left. However, you needn't resign yourself to working at Taco Bell. Here are five steps you can take immediately, based on suggestions from Early Stage Careers:
1. Sanitize your social media.
To a prospective employer, social media defines you far more than your resume or your recommendations. Hiring managers and HR pros alike assume that if you've posted something stupid or immature, you are yourself stupid and immature.
You don't get a free pass for being young. Quite the contrary. Employers expect students to be social media-savvy enough to realize your skeletons won't remain secret. At best, employers will be insulted that you thought they wouldn't notice.
Go through your social media and delete every post, tweet, photo and video that doesn't relate directly to the career you're planning to pursue. Don't forget that stuff you posted "anonymously." There is no secrecy on the web, especially from corporations.
The sooner you start the scrubbing, the safer you'll be. Horror story: I know a young woman who lost a major job recommendation because her long-neglected MySpace (!) account had a photo from her high-school day with an off-color joke caption.
2. Professionalize your online image.
Once you've cleaned out the garbage from your social media, make everything that remains look as professional as possible.
First, update your LinkedIn profile so that it addresses skills that would apply to your future career. Now get your profile professionally copyedited. Do not try to proof your own writing. Your profile must be perfect; this requires outside eyes.
Now have a professional (or professional-looking) profile photo taken and use it exclusively for your online image. Get a simple e-mail address that includes your name; alumni.edu and Gmail accounts are universally acceptable.
Your goal is to have a developed, organic, and professional profile long before your prospective employers check you out. This will not happen overnight, so you need to start now. Like today.
3. Acquire some extra skills.
Here's an eye-opening statistical comparison for you:
- Percent of college students who feel prepared for a job upon graduation: 87%
- Percent of employers who feel college students are prepared for a job upon graduation: 50%
Even if the courses you've taken are on-target, you'll still be competing against similarly-educated graduates as well as people with practical experience.
So, yes, you're incredibly busy but you still need to supplement your skill set with online course, independent reading and any experience you can pick up that's relevant.
Identify subjects that pertain to your field of interest, either directly or indirectly, where your experience may be lacking. Work to fill in those gaps and (ideally) turn your weaknesses into strengths.
4. Research your target industry and companies
Start gathering and reading information on the industry and companies that you might be interest in working inside. Two quick suggestions here: 1) subscribe to Google alerts, 2) customize your news feed.
Familiarize yourself with the trends in that industry, the business models of the players in it, and the "competitive landscape" of how those companies interact with each other. Note: if you find this information boring, you're pursuing the wrong career.
BTW, even if you're in a highly specific program, and expecting to work in the same highly specialized field, you will hugely benefit by making yourself a more well-rounded candidate with a broader perspective and therefore more to offer.
5. Expand your real-life network.
Here's another eye-opener: more than 70% of jobs are filled through networking. In fact, many jobs aren't even posted to the public. Some jobs are even created with a certain individual in mind. (Yes, that could be you!)
Incredibly, many college students spend more time futzing with their resumes than building up their contacts. That's just crazy. Rather than trying to turn a minimal amount of experience into a full page resume, start building out your contacts here:
- Alumni. Focus on young alumni who are closer to entry level and have a greater understanding of where there are internships and entry-level opportunities.
- Professors. Yes, all the other students will also pestering their profs for references and contacts. Get started now before the end-of-year rush.
- Family. Canvas your entire extended family to see if they know somebody in your target industry, or if they "know somebody who knows somebody."
- Friends. Same thing with your friends, especially real-life friends (as opposed to social media contacts who are, frankly, not really your friends).
As you ask these new contacts for advice, be conscious that you are imposing on their time. Never use the phrase "pick your brain." It's insulting and disgusting.
Ask for the minimum, like a short phone conversation. Never ask for the maximum like a lunch or "take you out for coffee." People who have connections have better things to do that spend time on your job search.