Bliss fills your heart as you throw your graduation cap in the air. Four long years of all-nighters, tough professors, and copious amounts of caffeinated beverages to keep you awake in class are finally coming to an end.
But wait. As your graduation cap falls back into your hands, you see that it has morphed into something entirely different: stacks of resumes, job applications and newspaper classifieds marked up in red.
The past few graduating classes have faced a dismal job market — so grim that the Classes of 2015 and 2016 are concerned about finding any jobs at all.
However, data shows that things seem to be getting better.
In June, employers added 288,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.
The unemployment rate actually dropped to 6.1 percent this past June. These are the best statistics since Sept. 2008, when the banking collapse led to the U.S. economic crisis.
But even though the job market may be looking up, college graduates can’t take future employment for granted. They still have to do whatever it takes to make themselves more marketable to prospective employers. Here are a few tips to consider if you know you’re going to be job-hunting — and, in the sidebar, some alternatives if you don’t want to jump in to a job just yet.
1. Intern during your college years — and maybe even afterwards.
College is a time for students to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives. What better way to do that than work in a field that interests them? It’s one thing to learn about a profession in class and on paper. It’s a whole other story when you’re actually shadowing doctors, writing marketing plans or filming a video shoot for a commercial.
An internship is supposed to help students learn more about their prospective careers, gain experience in that field and increase their education, says Heather R. Huhman in her book Lies, Damned Lies & Internships. Getting paid, she says, should be a “bonus.” At CL, internships are unpaid and available only to currently enrolled students, whose colleges must agree to give academic credit for the hours worked.
But you have to judge your financial needs carefully. Fellow CL intern Cody Smith puts it succinctly: “Non-paid internships can really put a damper on a grad’s post-college life” — especially if they take as much time as a full-time job or eat into the time you need for a part-time paid job.
But sometimes unpaid internships can prove to be just as good — or even better — than a paid position. For instance, paid internships don’t always give you as much experience as an unpaid internship does. It’s better to learn something new and do something you love for free rather than get paid to do what you hate.
Also, interning can lead to a job. According to internships.com, “69 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered full-time jobs to their interns.”
2. Build your personal brand.
More and more college students are showing prospective employers their versatility by creating their own websites, blogs and public profiles.
A website can show the world your particular set of skills in ways a resume doesn’t necessarily allow. Website builders such as Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and WordPress have tons of themes and ready-to-go templates.
LinkedIn offers another avenue for expanding your profile, giving you more leeway to show who you are and what you do and making it easier for prospective employers to look you up.
The social media sphere is another avenue for self-promotion. Tweet about a controversial issue, post videos teaching people how to do things, blog about the restaurant that you just went to. There are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say.
It also shows employers to get to know you on a more personal level. That can be a double-edged sword, though. If you use social media, your life is pretty much an open book. If there are any chapters you don’t want prospective employers to see, take the necessary security precautions — or don’t post those drunken party shots.
3. The real world doesn’t start once you graduate. It’s already begun.
“The earlier you stop thinking about college as a break from ‘real life’ and start thinking about it as a stage of real life, the better,” Dustin Wax said on Lifehack.com.
Some college students grow so accustomed to the college lifestyle that when it’s time to go into the so-called “real world,” reality slaps them in the face. They don’t know how to pay the bills, how to cook anything other than ramen noodles or how to wash their own clothes.
Start preparing yourself now. Find out how to do the simple things, like using public transportation or balancing a checkbook.
When the time does come for you to leave the world of education and enter the workforce, the transition will be a lot easier because you’ve already adapted your mindset for it.
4. No matter what, do not become disheartened. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Senior year may be coming to a close and you still haven’t found a job for your post-graduate life, but you still have time.
Compile a list of jobs that you can apply for, and just do it. Apply to five companies a day.
Network to see if your friends and connections know anyone who is hiring. Talk to the career resources office at your school, professors, even your fellow classmates. You’ll never know who might know someone who might be hiring.
Don’t set too high a standard for yourself either. If you want to work at a big corporation that is really competitive, apply for it. However, also make sure that you apply for smaller businesses and startups where you are more likely to get hired. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working for a company that isn’t well-known. You can still get loads of experience. It just all depends on how much work you put into it.
Just remember to take a deep breath. It isn’t the end of the world.
Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a journalism major at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Her passion for journalism started when she was 11 years old after a tour of the
Miami Herald. The 20-year-old Miami native is known for her tendency to take photographs with her Nikon DSLR camera, her addiction to tea, and her extra-bouncy, curly hair. Zebrina hopes to one day launch her own publication to showcase the untold stories of everyday people.
CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVES
So your mom, your dad, your cousin and your aunt’s neighbor’s dog are constantly asking you what you’re doing after college but you’re not quite ready for the job hunt? Here are a few alternate routes to consider. —Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy
First, do the research. I’m not just talking about Googling, “Should I go to grad school or not?” Don’t get me wrong. You can do that and read other people’s opinions on the matter. But it is also important to ask yourself that same question, along with a few others: Do you feel like grad school will help improve your career in the long run? Will it increase your income substantially? Is it necessary for your field? Are you willing to get deeper into debt? One thing you have to make sure of is that you’re not going to grad school to delay your entry into the real world. Because let’s face it: you can only avoid the real world for so long. Grad school may not be for everyone, but there are many benefits. You will have an ample amount of research opportunities. You can advance in your career. Just make sure it’s the best option for you. —Z E-M
Taking time off
Still have funds left over after school is all said and done? The smart thing to do would be to save all that money and pay back your debt immediately. Well, we millennials think in the now. Why not escape from everyday life and take some time off to vacation? You deserve a treat after all the hard work and dedication you put into school. Imagine the initial excitement, the rush of exploring unknown territories or experiencing something old and historic. Take a train, carpool with your closest friends, or try a lengthy lonesome journey to any part of the world. Let’s call it your last hurrah. Want something relaxing? I recently visited the Sante Fe River in Northern Florida. A couple of my friends and I paddled our canoe down six miles of water for some peace and relaxation. Blue Springs was like nothing I have ever seen. Or how about an Amtrak ride to Miami? Pack a suitcase, bring a couple of friends, split up the price of the hotel, and go wild for the weekend. Don’t think about it, just do it. —Mario Baez
More students than ever are taking a gap year, abandoning the States for short-term, culturally enriched jobs. Instead of a five-figure income, jobs like teaching abroad and au pairing pay in adventure. The experience of getting to travel the world, live in a new place and immerse yourself in an amazing culture will no doubt make you a richer person than money ever could. With online resources, attaining that overseas dream is easier than ever. Jessica Crouch, a recent FSU graduate, is going to spend a year au pairing in Switzerland. "I knew I was the type of person who could get caught up in advancing a career very easily and postpone travel, but I did some research in au pairing and thought it was the perfect alternative,” she says. “I get to stay in the Swiss countryside for a whole year while making decent pocket money, and I’ll have the experience of a lifetime.” —Amy Daire