04/01/2014 03:24 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2014

How Students Can Be Entrepreneurial in Their Job Search

Students can no longer sit around and hope that a job opportunity is going to come their way. In order to explore how students were building their career in college, my company worked with InternMatch on a new report called "College Career Center Study". We surveyed over 4,000 students from hundreds of colleges nationwide and found that almost 50 percent of students aren't using their career centers, and 64 percent turn to online resources instead. While almost all students (94 percent) think that their career service centers are necessary at colleges, almost half aren't using their career centers, and 61 percent say they are either never or rarely effective in helping them land a job.

The purpose of career centers is to help students prepare for the real world and support their internship and job searches, but they are falling short due to few resources, not leveraging social media and lacking the staff to scale. The average ratio of students to career service professionals is 1,889 to 1 (NACE) and we found that almost a third of students in our study say that centers don't have enough staff to support students.

In today's economy, there's even more pressure on schools, and their career centers, to deliver for students as both parents and students question the return on investment in higher education. Over 50 percent of recent grads are either unemployed or underemployed (The Atlantic), with an average student loan debt of $29,400 (CNN Money). As a result of students not getting enough support from their career centers, 64 percent of students are relying more on free or paid online career resources instead.

I spoke to Nathan Parcells, the Founder and CMO of InternMatch to get his insights on how students can be entrepreneurial in their job search. Nathan loves helping students hone their career goals and helping employers learn how to build exceptional (paid) intern programs. Below are some advanced tips and tricks Nathan has provided to help you get ready for the job market and compete for top internships and jobs.

1. Use online courses to develop hard-skills you can talk about in your interview.

Gone are the days when employers expect new grads to stay at the same job for years at a time. With Gen-Y known for not staying at job for more than one or two years, many employers have become reluctant to invest in training programs. Instead, they want to hire students who are already comfortable with a variety of professional software.

So how do you get experience before getting in the office? A wealth of new online sites, like Udemy, General Assembly and more, offer in-depth online courses that students can take for free. These cover how to use tools like Microsoft Excel, Salesforce, Hootsuite and more. Being able to say that you are well versed in such programs in your cover letter and in interviews will give you a big edge over your peers.

2. Work on side projects with friends and classmates.

Employers want to hire students who are passionate about their field. While taking challenging courses at school, or even doing internships, is viewed as a positive, few things demonstrate your passion more than having used your free time to work on side projects outside. This includes activities like starting your own blog and marketing it online. Selling funny t-shirts. Building a mobile app to find the best happy hours on campus. Etc. All of these projects will force you to dive deeper into your professional field, give you experience at working on a team (if it is a collaborative project), and will demonstrate that you are a self-motivated, and experienced individual.

3. Build an Online Profile

You are going to need a fantastic resume to apply to 99 percent of the jobs you see online. That said, more and more students are building online profiles to complement their resume and for good reason. An online profile you can link directly your blog, portfolio or other relevant online sites that help paint a more complete picture of why you are a strong candidate. In addition, over 80 percent of employers will Google search you during the application process. If you have a strong online profile, this will rank highly for your name in Google and will help reinforce your professionalism to employers who search for you.

Some good sites that can help you setup an online profile include, InternMatch, Github (for engineers) and more.

4. Always be improving

Preparing for your job search should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. After you write the first draft of your resume, share it out, request feedback and improve it. While you are job searching you should be taking online classes, talking to more people in your field of interest and implementing all of the new skills and advice you develop into your resume, cover letter and interviews. You should never view your resume or online profile as "complete" it should always be a work in progress that you are constantly adding to and improving.

5. Stay calm and have fun

The last piece of job search advice we always recommend is to enjoy yourself. Searching for a job or internship is challenging and stressful. But you are going to meet a lot of people along the way who are going to support you and teach you new skills and you are going to learn a lot about yourself. So while the end destination is employment, don't forget to stop and pat yourself on the back for all the growing and self-improvement you do along the way.