By Eric Garneau
If you just graduated college and find yourself daunted by a job market that's tough to crack, don't fret yet. There may be a few tips and tricks you've yet to employ that can help you secure a desirable job before too long. In fact, gaining experience may just be a matter of perspective.
When it comes to finding a job, your resume might be your single most important weapon. College graduates without a lengthy work history might worry about not having a lot of material to fill theirs out, but perhaps they just need to dig a little deeper.
First, instead of a traditional resume, consider a popular alternative: the functional resume. These documents focus on your particular skills rather than on your history. In other words, they highlight what you can do over when you've done it. In functional resumes, you want to be more exhaustive when it comes to your skill set, highlighting minute things that you might not even consider mentioning otherwise.
Speaking of that skill set: think long and hard about all of your proficiencies. Make sure you don't just limit yourself to things you may have learned in part-time jobs; rather, count skills you gained in the classroom, from hobbies at home and possibly even your social life (for instance, if you're really good with people, make sure you say so). And, as Lynn Friedman of The Washington Post points out, don't separate these skills into sections based on where you learned them - lump them all into the category of 'professional experience.' Otherwise, you run the risk of minimizing an important asset just because it's from a part of your life that employers might not care much about.
So what's useful to list here? If you took a lot of reading-, research- or writing-intensive classes, talk about your proficiency with the language. Mention skills garnered from any internships or volunteer positions you might have filled while in college. Extracurricular activities, too, are fair game - if you were the chair of an organization or were responsible for planning a club's events, for instance, that's something your employers should know. Basically, any skills you have that can apply in a number of settings should go into this document; it's the first thing prospective employers will see from you, and you'll want to establish yourself as desirable as much as you can.
Other Pre-Interview Activities
Several different sources recommend networking with potential future employers as a good way of getting your foot in the door - and giving employers something to remember you by when you go in for an interview. There are lots of ways you can accomplish this. The aforementioned internships or volunteer positions can afford lots of opportunities for you to make important connections. You could also work existing social contacts or the Internet to your advantage, having friends introduce you to potential employers or using the tools of the Web - forums, LinkedIn, maybe even Facebook - to do it yourself.
It's important to not come off as pushy or needy; you want to establish yourself as a helpful and versatile individual, which indicates your potential value to your employers down the line. If you really want to make a strong impression, a CNN article on the topic suggests that scoring a personal written recommendation from a mutual contact can go a long way. If someone the employer trusts vouches for your abilities, that can make up for other perceived shortcomings in your experience.
Of course, sometimes no amount of preparation matters if you can't nail the interview. Here's where an employer meets you and gets to judge you face-to-face; it's almost like applying to be in a romantic relationship, but with more money involved (maybe). If that sounds scary, that's because it is; the point is it's crucial to make a positive impression, because a negative one could wash away all the positive traits you worked so hard to build up.
The key here is confidence. That advice can be frustrating, especially because with each successive missed job opportunity it gets harder and harder to pretend like you've got it. But it's important to show your employers that you believe you're the right person for the job, which means being sure - but not cocky - of your ability to perform it ably. To help yourself, do some research on the company before you go in. Find out what they do (specifically) and think of ways that you can help (again, specifically). Generate concrete examples that show how your specific abilities (those found on your functional resume) will advance the company, and make sure it's a direction they want to advance in. Also, it probably goes without saying, but always tell the truth - if an employer catches you in a lie, you're most likely done for.
If it sounds like a complicated process, it is. Getting a job, especially in a hard labor market, takes a lot of time and effort, both physical and emotional. However, if there's any silver lining, it's that the end result can be very, very satisfying. If you're low on work experience, keep your head up - focusing on your abilities, making good contacts and feeling confident can go a long way towards starting you on your career path.
Are you an art major worried about your career prospects? Don't fret!