By Paula Pant, WiserAdvisor contributor
Congratulations! After years of hard work, you've finally accepted your diploma, crossed that stage and entered the Real World.
And you have zero job prospects lined up.
The thought of finding a job out of college can be a scary one, especially with all the talk about the Great Recession and how hard it is for millennials to find a job in today's economy. But don't let it get you down. You can find gainful employment -- you just need to be smart about it.
Time to apply your college-educated brain towards your job hunt. Here's how:
Target Your Job Search
The "spray and pray" method of job application -- where you send out a million resumes to anyone who happens to be hiring -- won't get you very far. Instead, come up with a list of targeted companies and positions, and customize your resume and cover letter for each one.
You want to spend your time wisely. Apply for the right positions, and put extra effort into showing your potential new employer specifically why you're the guy (or gal) for the job.
Expand Your View
While you want your search to be targeted, you don't want to limit yourself to a narrow range of possible jobs. Open up your search to wider possibilities instead of being so laser-focused; you don't have a ton of experience right now, so you may need to accept something that's a little less-than-perfect.
Consider industries and positions that are similar to your "dream job" and will still make good use of your skills and interests. You may find them to be great stepping stones to bigger things -- or you may wind up liking them even more than your ideal job.
Tap Into Your Network
It's true that "who you know" can make a huge difference. As a recent grad, your network is bigger than you may think -- it includes everyone from past professors to other alumni to your parents' friends and business associates. Spread the word about your skillset, your education and your ideal job.
Set up informational interviews with people in your target industry. Ask them if you can buy them a cup of coffee and ask questions about how they got where they are. Set up a professional profile on LinkedIn and connect with as many people as you can. The more feelers you put out, the better your chances of scoring a great gig.
Clean Up Your Online Image
Whether you like it or not, prospective employers will Google you. Do you have any idea what they'll find when they do?
Be proactive and search for yourself (using a Google Incognito tab) to see what comes up. You may need to increase your security settings on social media platforms, remove some photos of you at that frat party or change your Facebook profile image to something a little more professional. Consider setting up a basic personal website or blog to showcase your portfolio and expertise. Make sure that anything that's publicly visible paints you as a responsible adult any company would love to have.
Practice, Practice, Practice for the Interview
No matter how confident you are in your skills, do not go into any interview cold. This is your one make-or-break shot to get the job, and you can't afford to blow it.
Before each interview, run through a list of common questions you can expect to be asked -- like "What's your biggest weakness?" and "Why should we hire you?" -- and practice your answers to make sure you convey everything you need to. Tailor your responses to the particular traits being sought in each job ad. Find a partner who can help you run through some mock interviews and provide you with feedback on the areas you need to improve.
Consider an Internship / Volunteer Work
If you're having trouble finding paid employment, don't dismiss the option of an internship. It's a good way to build experience and hone your skills while still searching for something else, and there's a chance it could lead to full-time employment, either with that company or with another contact you make while working there.
Volunteering is also a great way to make connections and add to your skill set. The important thing is that you're making productive use of your time while you're job hunting, instead of sitting on the couch comforting yourself with Mad Men marathons. (It's tempting, I know, but you can do better.)