Graduating college this year? Start your job search off right

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Of all the parties the class of 2011 will be attending in honor of their graduation this spring, a pity party probably won’t be one of them.

That’s because, after three years of dismal hiring and salary reports for new college grads, things are finally looking up this year.

“Employers are more optimistic overall, and as a result, are looking to bring in entry-level workers to build their workforce for the future,” says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. “Companies are adding jobs in a variety of areas and need fresh, educated talent to fill those roles.”

Indeed, numerous recent reports show positive hiring trends for this year’s graduates. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, for example, 46 percent of employers plan to hire recent college graduates this year, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009.

Additionally, a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that, not only are more companies planning to hire new graduates this year, but those companies are also planning to hire in larger numbers. Employers expect to bring on 19.3 percent more new college graduates this year than they did in 2010, the first double digit percent increase in anticipated hiring since 2007.

Besides a better hiring outlook, annual starting salaries for the class of 2011 are also expected to increase. The NACE survey reports that the average anticipated offer to this year’s graduates will be $50,462, a 5.9 percent increase from the $47,673 average annual salary offer made to the class of 2010. Plus, the CareerBuilder survey found that, of companies who plan to hire new grads, 26 percent will offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2010.

Regardless of the health of the economy, though, the entry-level job market is always competitive, and new graduates will need to work for their job offers.

If you’ll be looking for your first job in the real world this spring, follow this expert advice in order to stand out from your competition in all areas of your job search.

Your résumé

Most recruiters spend less than a minute looking over a résumé, so make sure that your most important and relevant skills and experiences stand out. While those will vary depending on the job you are applying for, there are certain things all employers look for in job candidates.

According to CareerBuilder survey respondents, following are the five most important skill sets and experiences they are looking for from new grads.

Skills sets:

  • Strong written and verbal communications
  • Technical skills
  • Project management
  • Research
  • Math

Experiences:

  • Internships
  • Part-time jobs in another area or field
  • Volunteer work
  • Class work
  • Involvement in school organizations

To ensure potential employers see your crucial qualifications, create a career summary at the top of your résumé that speaks to your “selling points,” and use bullet points when listing accomplishments so that they’re easy to find.

Your interview

Interviews can be anxiety-provoking, but remember to be yourself, no matter how nervous you may feel, says Jenny Blake, author of the book “Life After College,” a resource guide for college graduates, as well as a blog of the same name. “Take three long, deep breaths before your interview to work out any nervous energy that might be building. The more natural and authentic you can be, the better. And don’t forget to smile.”

Whatever you do, avoid making the following mistakes, cited by CareerBuilder survey respondents as the most common slip-ups entry-level job candidates make in interviews:

  • Going to the interview with no knowledge of the company
  • Acting entitled
  • Dressing inappropriately
  • Not asking good questions during the interview
  • Forgetting to turn off their cell phone before the interview

A little preparation can go a long way in avoiding these mistakes, though. For example, “Spend time researching the organization ahead of time by checking out their website, press room and other articles that might be written about them,” Rasmussen advises. “Going to the interview prepared is a great way to impress a hiring manager.”

Your attitude

Your job search might get frustrating or take longer than expected, but don’t give up hope.

“Even though the job market is gradually improving, it is still a highly competitive job environment,” Rasmussen says. “[But it's important to] stay positive and make sure you show that enthusiasm during your search.”

To maintain an optimistic outlook while you find a job, “Focus on creating value in your life even outside of your job search,” Blake says. “For example, start a blog, take some classes, join networking groups — find activities that will add value to your résumé and your life — which will hopefully take some of the pressure off of relying solely on your job search to provide validation and satisfaction. Besides, you never know when you might meet a fruitful contact through any of those venues.”

Your approach

You’ll get a lot more leads in your job search if you vary the approach you take in looking for work. Rasmussen suggests using social media and in-person networking to supplement an online job search, for example.

If you job search seems to hit a stagnant point, don’t be afraid to look for a job outside of your preferred industry, either. “Consider taking a job outside of your desired field if it will help you gain experience and learn new skills,” Rasmussen says. “Plus, you may discover that what you originally planned wasn’t as good of a fit as a different path.”

Agrees Blake, “The important thing to remember is that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t end up madly in love with your first job — focus on the skills you are learning that will serve you for the rest of your career, and know that you can always correct course with the next gig. While you may not see every step of your path defined at the outset (in fact most of the time you won’t), if you can start small and start somewhere, things will unfold naturally. Dream big, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to take great leaps.”

Graduating this spring? Check out CareerRookie.com for entry-level job and internship listings.

23 Comments
  1. You mention that the outlook looks great for the young rescent graduate. What about the seasoned rescent college graduate. How would they go about listing school and skills on a resume? Should education be at the top of the resume and skills follow or should skills lead? What does the future look like for us?

    thanks,
    Old School

  2. I don’t know where NACE is getting this ridiculous number of $47,673 salary for 2010 college graduates. Maybe for 2010 graduates with their Master’s degrees, but definitely not their Bachelors. Those jobs are being filled by veterans who are taking less money for the sake of working. Yes, hiring trends seem to be on the rise, but let’s be honest..job’s are still not coming back as fast as they disappeared.

  3. I completely agree with Josh. The only time I’ve seen salaries of over $40,000 is for jobs that require 3-5 years of experience. I recently obtained a MA in Economics, have worked full-time since 1999 and I haven’t yet found a job that pays over $45,000 a year that does not require way more experience than what I have. I think the researchers and writers at careerbuilder are either delusional or they just write for 4.0 students graduating from top-tier universities.

  4. I am glad to hear that things may finally be turning around for our country but it’s still rough out there. I have worked full time for almost 20 years putting myself through nigh school until I just finally graduated with my MBA this last Aug (with a 3.86 honors) after three years of grueling night school only to be laid off in Nov. and after sending out about 350 resumes and only getting 3 interviews im a little frustrated. I realize I could have it a lot worse and am not looking for sympathy but just agree with the post’s from everyone, what about those of us who have put our time in the trenches taking what ever work we could to put ourselves through school only to get told we don’t have the right kind of experience or we are overqualified with our recent degrees. I would love an opportunity to show a company what I am capable of but can’t get past the 3-5 years experience required in a specific field, how do you get the experience if you can’t get a chance?

    Keep your chin up everyone this generation has to be the one to turn it around!

  5. I am STILL looking! Thankfully, I am working but I am long on moving on (and up) but companies here just don’t want to pay! So here I sit waiting for things to heat up … In the news, they claim that our (local) economy has created more jobs than anywhere else but what they don’t tell you is that most are minimum wage service jobs! Too many people still looking and employers know they can offer bottom dollar ,,, and people will jump to take anything.

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