A recent survey by consulting giant Accenture exposes a Grand Canyon-size gap between expectations and realities for 2014 college graduates. The most glaring discrepancy: 69 percent of this year's college grads expect to land a job within six months of graduation, but only 42 percent of 2012 and 2013 grads actually did so.
Yep, it's tough out there for the estimated 1.6 million students who'll be earning bachelor's degrees this year from U.S. colleges and universities, as well as grads armed with master's and doctoral degrees. However, the 2014 job market isn't as tough as it's been in recent years. Hiring of college grads in the U.S. is projected to rise 7.8 percent this year compared with 2013, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Whether you look at this year's job market for college grads as great or gloomy, it's important to keep in mind that a diploma doesn't automatically translate into employment. College grads must do the work to get the work. Here are four job-hunting tips for college grads that skip the usual résumé/cover letter/"dress for success" advice.
1. Don't Be a Slacker.
Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA career center at Northeastern University's D'Amore-McKim School of Business, recommends setting weekly job-hunting goals and holding yourself accountable to achieve them. If you've accomplished those goals, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy, she said.
"Resist the urge to perfect your tan or spend the summer traveling," Sarikas said. "Finding a job can be a full-time job in itself, so you need to get focused and get started."
Darrell Silver said new college grads should remain productive, especially if they're running into job-search roadblocks. Silver is co-founder and CEO of Thinkful, which offers part-time online courses for adults who are seeking career advancement.
Silver said Thinkful recently hired an engineer who moved to New York City in November 2013 without having a job lined up. The recent grad of the University of Virginia didn't know anyone in the Big Apple; as he result, he kept hitting the hiring wall. Silver initially met the grad at a New Year's Eve party in December.
"Every time I talked with him, he told me about a new workspace he found, a new project he was starting or a new tool he was learning. He wasn't seeking a job, but little by little it became clear that he had the energy to learn and improve on his own," Silver said. "That's an extremely attractive quality in new grads, who generally require more oversight and time than more senior people. We hired him immediately, and he's awesome."
2. Consider Volunteering.
Sarikas suggests approaching a local nonprofit about doing volunteer work. Who knows? That volunteer work could lead to a paying gig. If nothing else, you've got another accomplishment to add to your résumé.
"Find an organization you care about and explore opportunities to help," Sarikas said. "You can gain office, finance, marketing, sales, communications, technology or other experience while helping them address a critical need in their organization."
Another suggestion: Volunteer at a conference in an industry that interests you.
"After you are finished with your volunteer assignment, you will be free to roam the workshops and sessions on your own," said Sean Gil, director of the career center at the University of California, Riverside. "I personally think the best assignment is at the registration table, because you get to see the list of who is attending and have an opportunity to warmly greet the attendees. When you bump into participants at the conference, many of them will remember you as the person that helped them and will be open to ... questions."
3. Promote Your Personal Brand.
Aside from ensuring your LinkedIn profile is in order -- or setting up your LinkedIn profile in the first place -- you can separate yourself from the pack by creating your own "vanity" website, career coach Kolby Goodman said. If your name is Rachel Smith, then buy a domain name like RachelSmith.com so you can showcase the traits that make you hirable. Services such as WordPress, Wix and Squarespace enable you to design a website at little to no cost, Goodman said.
In conjunction with your own website, you should contemplate blogging about your professional interests or your targeted industry, said Michael Price, author of What Next?: The Millennial's Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the Real World. This will give a potential employer an in-depth look at who you are, Price said.
"It's also something that 99.9 percent of people are too lazy to do, so when you do it, it instantly shoots your résumé to the top of the pile," Price said.
4. Be Creative.
Hannah Wright, founder of online beauty and fashion magazine Makeoverly, said that any time you apply for a job, you also should submit your ideas about how you'd improve the organization. This demonstrates your willingness to "go above and beyond," she said.
"This shows you are sharp, ambitious, and that you would be a great asset to any company," Wright said. "Surprisingly, very few people do this. The ones who do grab my attention immediately."
Another brilliant tip: Read the "People on the Move" column in daily newspapers, business journals and industry publications to seek under-the-radar job openings.
"Though some jobs will be eliminated or filled internally, people who have been promoted or join a new company often leave an unadvertised vacancy behind," said Lee Runchey, vice president of Chrome PR.
John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that operates the country's largest online marketplace for self-storage units.
Photos via Thinkstock