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Victoria Peng

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For the Unemployed College Grad, Increase Your Chances of Getting That Job Offer

Posted: 06/09/11 12:50 PM ET

Facing a tight job market, recent graduates have become accustomed to sending out résumés and cover letters without ever getting a response. A human resources (HR) recruiter for a top law firm told me that he received around 2,000 applications during one hiring year. For every wave of a few hundred applicants, he chose fifteen to interview. And out of those fifteen interviewees, he extended a job offer to one person. He did this until all of the openings were filled, so those whom he didn't select for interviews as well as those who applied late never received a response. So oftentimes, a job applicant's chances of getting an interview fall on fortunate timing -- that her email to a chronically flooded HR mailbox gets noticed before it gets buried.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an 8.7 percent unemployment rate for May, which also means that unemployed college graduates better start thinking outside of the box to get their foot inside of the door. Career centers across campuses vary in their available resources and connections, and thus, effectiveness. But many students have found the old tricks and trades provided by job counselors to be less effective in the current, intensely competitive labor market. So if one's approach to applying for jobs has proven to be ineffective, it is important to restrategize.

From helping several peers with their job searches, I have discovered that many qualified young people are losing at the game of job hunting because they are not playing it strategically. The advice I gave my peers still playing the game came as a surprise to all of them. But it didn't take long for them to realize that it makes intuitive sense.

Always call the hiring manager before submitting your application. Keep in mind that we are the first generation to grow up in the digital world with continual distractions. Because we check Facebook and Twitter religiously, we overestimate the attentiveness of hiring managers in navigating through their e-mails. Call the contact person for the position or HR to tell them that you are applying for a job, and ask them to look for your e-mail. This gives you an additional opportunity to make an impression, and increases the chances that your application will be selected to be considered. Don't feel embarrassed to make the call. Realize that we rely too heavily on social media or texting, whereas those before us are more accustomed to and appreciative of phone or in-person conversations.

Prepare for your interview like it is an exam. Larger applicant pools create more competitive job candidates at the interview round. So interviews hold higher stakes for determining who gets the job. You may have excellent interpersonal skills or declare yourself a natural salesperson or debater, but do not plan on winging your interview. If you don't know your résumé like the back of your hand, or haven't figured out how your previous experiences tie into the current job position, another candidate will, which undercuts your competitiveness. So prepare in order to rest assured that you can answer the interview questions without breaking a sweat, and practice so you can deliver your answers articulately.

Don't hold back from convincing the interviewer that the shoe fits, and that it fits well. In this economy, college graduates are very likely to be overqualified for their first job. Yet, too many young people sell themselves short in job interviews. Oftentimes, the reason is that they don't want to come across as arrogant and overconfident. But there is a difference between telling the interviewer that you are overqualified for the job, and assuring them that you hold the relevant skills and values that make you a good fit for the job. Take the latter mindset, and remember that it's a conversation, not an interrogation.

Always ask for the job. Tell your interviewer that you want the job. It is assumed throughout the application process, but saying, "I really want this job" can only make someone consider you more seriously. And the worse case scenario is that doing so has no effect. Being straightforward is not easy or comfortable for everyone, but again, if you don't ask for the job, somebody else will.

Don't forget to send a thank you note. Call it old fashioned, but it is still in fashion for some, and those are the people who matter in the hiring process. You have one week after your interview to send the interviewer a quick "Thank You" note or e-mail before it is overdue. The message can be short, but demonstrate that you are appreciative of their time. If it's a large establishment and you want to send a handwritten note, then send an email first, in case the postmarked note gets lost. This is the third opportunity for you to make an impression, and it is one that most young people forgo.