This article was written by Sheila Curran, CEO of the Curran Consulting Group, on behalf of the Happy Grad Project.
You’re in your final year at college, and you don’t have a job. You’re not alone. Most of the Class of 2014 will cross the graduation stage without firm plans for the future.
Related: 7 Common Job Hunting Mistakes Students Make
It’s not enough to have great grades and a passion for medieval history; you have to find a way to transform your educational experience into a job lucrative enough to repay your college loans.
What you need is a plan to set yourself apart from all those other procrastinators who were either too busy studying or partying to camp on the doorstep of their career services office.
Your ace in hand? To think like an employer. Here's how...
Step 1: Know the rules of the game
The first thing to recognize in the job search is that—for the most part—it’s not about you.
Sure, you’re in control for the first 10% of the search: You get to decide where you’re going to apply, and to what kind of work you’re suited. It’s up to you to determine whether you can imagine a life North Dakota—a fertile area for job growth--or if you must accede to your family’s demand that you stay in Boston.
Once you’ve been offered the job, and before you’ve accepted, you’re in the driver’s seat again. That’s when you get to negotiate for more money, a better title, or time off for your best friend’s wedding.
But, for the middle part of the job search, the focus is entirely on the needs of the employer, and whether they think you’re the best person for the job.
Step 2: Mold yourself into the candidate of choice
Most graduating seniors treat resumes like a college application: they list all their memberships, jobs, and activities—and often a copious number of supposedly relevant courses. Then they employ a shotgun approach to the job search, applying to every job on Craig’s List or on their college’s website, regardless of their interest or qualifications for the position. None of this will impress an employer.
The person reading your resume will likely make a decision in 10 seconds whether to put it in the “read twice” pile. Some employers demand cover letters; others never read them. But all employers will look for you to make the case why you want to work for them and what value you bring to the table.
To show value, you have to put in time and effort to connect the dots for the employer. That means researching the organization, focusing on the job requirements, and finding examples to demonstrate how your specific background and experience meet their needs. Relevant work experience, with good supervisor evaluations, is golden; it gives you credibility in the employer’s eyes. But you can also use the volunteer trip you planned to India to demonstrate skills like resilience or creativity.
Step 3: Find advocates
Most people—whatever their age—hate applying for jobs. Too often, they send off their documents, and hear nothing back. It’s both discouraging, and unhelpful.
To improve your chances, you need an advocate. Ideally, that person is someone who can vouch for the fact that they’ve rarely seen someone as good as you at, say, taking initiative, or getting things done, or demonstrating commitment.
If your circle of high-level acquaintances is small, start going to local association meetings of the industry in which you’re interested, and talk to as many people as possible about the work you’re trying to do. Ask for an introduction to someone at the company where you want to work. And, make sure you use LinkedIn to promote your personal brand and your aspirations.
Another strategy is to find alumni from your university, who work in the relevant field and can intercede on your behalf. These connections won’t get you the job, but they can at least secure a second look for your application, or—better yet—an interview.
The hiring manager wants you to be the “no risk” candidate, who is going to going to impress everyone, and make them look good. If you think like an employer, you’re more likely to convince the organization that the ideal candidate is you!
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