It’s been reported that more than half of the nation’s recently minted college graduates are either jobless or underemployed. That’s the highest percentage in over a decade. Some grads, though, have landed their dream jobs with great companies. What sets these applicants apart from the pack?
My company, Millennial Branding, partnered with Experience, Inc., to find out. Our study on the student employment gap asked 225 employers what they look for when hiring for entry-level positions.
Among the findings, while internships are important, they’re not everything—and having an internship is certainly no guarantee that you’ll get a job offer. The majority of companies surveyed want students to have one or two internships, yet most internships don’t turn into full-time positions. Furthermore, only about half of the companies said they’d hired at least one intern in the past six months.
In order to get a job out of college these days, new grads should be overachievers with internships and other real-life business experience, and they should expect to have to go above and beyond the typical job search. Based on our findings, here are some ways to build your resume and position yourself to create the best odds of getting a job offer:
1. Develop your “soft skills.” Sure, technical skills and experience are great. But in the study, we found that when hiring for entry-level positions, almost all employers view communication and teamwork skills, as well as having a positive attitude, as being important or very important. These “soft skills” demonstrate how well an applicant will fit into the corporate culture, and give an indication of how long a new hire will stay at the company—and whether or not the individual is management material down the line. “Employers understand that everything else can be taught, so they look for the most promising raw material to work with,” says Jennifer Floren, the Founder and CEO of Experience, Inc. The best way to develop your soft skills is to become more self-aware, and to get feedback on how you come across from the people you trust who work in your desired field. Also, actively put yourself in situations where you’re communicating with others in-person. Interacting online isn’t enough.
2. Search using every resource possible. A lot of students and young professionals think that social networking via Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like is the best route to finding a job. Yet our research reveals that only 16% of employers recruit on social networks all or most of the time. Nearly half (48%), meanwhile, utilize job boards, and 44% use employee referrals. My advice is to use all of the above in your job search—social networks, job boards, career fairs, your personal and professional network, and every other option under the sun. What works for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa. Ask family and friends for referrals too, and don’t feel embarrassed about it.
3. Focus on the jobs you’re most passionate about. If you’re not eager to work with a company, it’ll show in the interview—and according to our study, 26% of employers have been turned off by an entry-level applicant’s bad attitude during interviews. If you want to be more positive during interviews, the best approach is to only apply to jobs you’re really excited about. Use this approach and you will exude a positive, if possibly nervous, energy during interviews, showing you care. And if this is something you care about, you’ll be more prepared for the interview, and you’ll follow up faster with hiring managers, all of which will boost your chances. If, on the other hand, you’re just applying to a job because it’ll pay the bills, you probably won’t get it. Someone else will want it more than you do, and it’ll probably show.
4. Prepare yourself before interviews. This is standard advice for job applicants, but too often new grads don’t bother to prepare—and 42% of employers say they are turned off by how unprepared students are in interviews. At the very least, do some research on the company at its website. It’s wise to take things a step further, though, and review the hiring manager’s profile on LinkedIn. They will be reviewing your online presence, and it’s expected that you will do the same for them. By learning about their work history, you will be able to better connect with them during the interview. You should also search the company’s name at Google News to get up to speed with recent announcements and industry trends. Doing your homework will show you care, and the employer will be impressed.
5. Have an entrepreneurial mindset. I spoke to two executives the other day and I asked, “Who would you rather hire: a recent graduate that started a business or one that had five internships?” They both chose the entrepreneurial graduate because anyone who starts a business is likely to be a creative, gutsy self-starter who thinks outside the box. Overall in our study, almost one-third of employers say they are looking for entrepreneurship experience when hiring recent graduates. You don’t necessarily have to start a business as an undergrad, though. What’s key is that you get your ideas out there and make things happen instead of waiting to be told to do something. One approach is to start a blog around a topic you enjoy, and make sure it’s updated at least weekly. This will get you into the mindset of having to explain your ideas and gather your thoughts. Ideally, you’ll get feedback from people who comment, which will strengthen your ideas. Companies have to focus on innovation to survive and thrive these days, so entrepreneurially minded graduates are important to them.
6. Get your eggs out of any one basket. The workplace is constantly changing, as are the needs of corporations. That’s why it’s important now, more than ever before, to spread yourself out and get as many internships and experiences under your belt as humanly possible. I had an internship in high school and seven more in college. Try to get a range of different experiences as well. Diversifying will increase your chances of success in at least one line of work. In the stock market, if you only invest in one stock and it doesn’t do well, then you’re broke. Similarly, it’s unwise to only have one internship or only pursue one narrow career field.
Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research-and-management-consulting firm. He speaks on the topic of personal branding, social media and Gen Y workforce management for companies such as Google, Time Warner, Symantec, CitiGroup and IBM. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.
MORE: The Jobless Generation