THE BLOG
06/05/2014 02:05 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Job Search Tips for New Grads

To the roughly 1.6 million college graduates in the class of 2014: You have my heartiest congratulations -- and my sympathies. I graduated during the early 1990s recession when finding a decent job was very difficult, so I have an inkling of the challenges many of you now face.

Although the job-search technology available has changed considerably since then (more on that below), as someone who is now on the other side of screening candidates, I can tell you many of the underlying principles for waging a successful search remain the same. Let me share a few:

Stand out from the crowd. You'll probably be competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants for most jobs, so:
  • Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight education, skills and experience relevant to the position -- check out Monster's Resume Center for writing tips.
  • If your work history is brief, play up education highlights, volunteer or internship positions, awards, organizational memberships, etc.
  • Have strong references -- and make sure they're willing to speak or write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
  • Proofread everything carefully and ask a trusted acquaintance to review. (Typos and poor grammar don't instill confidence.)
Do your homework. Before applying, research the company to make sure it's a good fit. If you do get called for an interview, kick it up a notch:
  • Make sure you understand the company's products, services and customer base and prepare several questions along those lines.
  • Examine their business structure and how your potential department fits in. (Hopefully their website includes an organization chart.)
  • Research competitors so you understand the business environment in which they operate.
  • Investigate their social media presence for clues on how they interact with customers.
Demonstrate professionalism. Employers are forced to do more with fewer resources, so they seek employees who are focused, polished and willing to work hard. I've spoken to numerous hiring managers who say many candidates they see don't convey those qualities. A few tips:
  • Google yourself. Review your social media footprint and remove photos or other materials that portray you unprofessionally.
  • Show up -- on time -- for interviews dressed appropriately, with copies of your resume, work samples and any requested materials (e.g., a completed employment application).
  • Be prepared to answer a barrage of questions about yourself and how you'd react in different situations. You'll probably encounter behavioral questions like, "Discuss a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback." Check out this list from Monster for good examples.
  • Make sure you can back up any claims made on your resume or during interviews. Believe me, someone will check on your references, degree and former employers.

Lower your expectations. You may have to settle for employment in an unrelated field or at low wages while continuing your search. But it's easier to get a job when you have a job. My first career-related position was in public service and paid poorly, but it gave me an opportunity to build my contact network and gain new skills that I knew would lead to more lucrative and fulfilling positions later on.

Use the right tools. Many job search engines are available. Some list positions for which employers have paid a posting fee. Others aggregate job postings from company websites, other job sites, newspapers, recruiters, etc. Site features vary widely and may include tools that allow you to:
  • Search for positions by job title, career level, full-time/part-time, industry, location, pay range, relevance, key words and age of posting.
  • Post your resume or create a profile outlining what you're looking for so employers or recruiters can find you if you're an appropriate candidate.
  • Create and save custom searches. For example, create one search that looks for all jobs in a particular field, and another targeting specific geographic areas.
  • Set up alerts so you'll be contacted when new jobs meeting your criteria are posted.

Some sites like Monster and Careerbuilder include additional services such as resume and cover-letter writing assistance, tips for conducting a job search, interview preparation and follow-up advice, salary and cost-of-living calculators and articles by career professionals. Be aware that there may be fees charged for some services.

Other popular job search sites (many of which include smartphone apps) include:
  • AfterCollege, which features entry-level jobs and internships for college students and recent graduates.
  • USAJOBS.com -- the U.S. Government's official job site.
  • LinkedIn -- a professional networking site that also includes a job search engine.
  • TweetMyJOBS -- which provides instant notification of job openings to Twitter members.
  • Hound -- shows jobs from employer websites only.
  • Indeed -- an aggregation site that posts jobs from thousands of company career sites and job boards.
  • LinkUp -- contains only job listings sourced from company websites.
  • Dice -- targets technology jobs.
Perseverance is key. Landing a good job can take months or even years, so be persistent and tap all available resources. For example:
  • Contact your school's career office to see which services are still available to you as a recent graduate. Many will help by reviewing your resume, conducting practice interviews and connecting you with alumni volunteers willing to meet for informational interviews.
  • Build and maintain a profile on LinkedIn. Many employers and recruiters go there first when looking for suitable candidates. Also, join LinkedIn groups for your field of interest and partake in their discussions.
  • Contact and join professional organizations in your field. Weddle's online association directory provides links to thousands of professional organizations.
  • Many companies use automated tracking systems to scan incoming resumes for skills and job-appropriate key words before a human will ever see them. Make sure your resume includes these key words -- provided your experience is relevant, of course. Check out this Monster article on key words.

Bottom line: You worked hard to earn your degree. Unfortunately, you may have to work equally hard to get your career going, so take advantage of the available tools -- and good luck.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.