If you’re a newly minted college graduate, you’re probably going through a lot of different emotions right now – pride at having achieved your goals, relief at being done, and fear about what comes next. It’s especially scary if you don’t have any idea about that last part. The good news is that this year’s college graduates are entering the hottest job market for grads in years, with employers expected to hire 5 percent more graduates than last year. But that doesn’t mean finding that all-important first job is easy.
Recently, we spoke via email with Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, to get her advice on how the class of 2016 can boost their chances of post-graduation success.
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PayScale: What advice would you give a soon-to-be grad who’s building their professional network, seemingly from scratch?
Amanda Augustine: You’re on the right track! Studies have shown you’re 10 times more likely to land a job when your application is accompanied by a referral. However, you won’t attain those precious referrals without investing in your professional network.
Start by developing your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a great place to establish your professional brand and build a “digital rolodex” of networking connections. LinkedIn offers free tip sheets and webinars that will teach you how to set up your professional profile and use it to promote your personal brand and build your network, so take advantage of them. Don’t forget to upload a professional-looking headshot for your profile picture. Profiles with headshots are 40 percent more likely to be clicked on than those without a photo. Once you’ve established your account, begin by sending connection requests to your friends and family, former classmates, professors, and advisors, and anyone you worked with or met through your internships. Be sure to customize each message to help jog the person’s (and your) mind as to who you are and how you met.
Don’t hide behind technology. Social media, email, and other forms of technology can be powerful job-search tools, but they don’t take the place of face-to-face networking. Sending random LinkedIn connection requests to strangers is not a sound networking strategy – it’s simply a shot in the dark. Use social media platforms to build your online brand, research target employers and potential networking connections, and identify events and job opportunities, but don’t let it take the place of face-to-face interactions.
Find groups to join and events to attend. When you attended college, all your social groups were established for you. If you wanted to join a club, there were countless activities and groups on campus to keep you busy. Now that you’ve graduated, it’s time to find new groups to call your own. Check out Meetup.com to find local groups and events based upon your job goals or your interests outside the office. Remember, networking doesn’t always have to be a formal affair. Use your hobbies as a way to meet new people. You never know where the perfect job lead will come from! Also, you can search for professional associations to join using WEDDLE’s directory and keep an eye out for tradeshows and other major industry events on sites like 10times to meet as many people as possible in your desired field.
Get business cards. If you’re going to network, you’ll need an easy way to hand out your contact information and establish your personal brand at events. You can get a set of business cards from Moo or VistaPrint for around $25.
Listen more than you speak. In dating and networking, the same rule applies. If you’re attending an event, ask lots of questions to learn more about the people you’re meeting, their work, and their interests. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth – follow that ratio.
Pay it forward. Look for opportunities to provide value before you ask for favors. This could be as simple as forwarding an article you know they’d enjoy, offering a restaurant or bar recommendation to someone who’s new to the area, or sharing some industry news you’ve learned during your job market research.
PayScale: How can recent grads leverage their alumni networks?
Amanda Augustine: According to a survey by Alumnifire, 90 percent of hiring managers would prefer to hire a fellow alum, if given the opportunity. Take advantage of this fact! Run advanced searches on LinkedIn to identify people who attended the same school and now work in your field or at a company for which you’d like to work.
Master the informational interview. An informational interview is a technique professionals use when they want to learn more about a career path or a prospective employer. The idea is simple: find someone in your network, such as a friend-of-a-friend or a fellow alumnus, who works in a field or company you’re interested in and take them out for a cup of coffee to pick their brain. Remember, you’re asking for a favor, so if someone agrees to sit down and share their pearls of wisdom, take advantage of the opportunity. Do your homework, be gracious and polite, come prepared with a list of questions and a means to record their answers, and don’t forget to thank them afterwards.
Join your local alumni chapter. Take advantage of the events and activities your alma mater organizes for its alumni. This is a great opportunity to meet people in your area that are outside your usual group of college friends.
PayScale: What’s the biggest personal branding mistake new grads make at the beginning of their careers?
Amanda Augustine: TMI on social media! Be careful what you post – once you hit “publish,” it’s out there forever, even if you delete your message. Don’t post anything on a public site you wouldn’t want a prospective client or hiring manager to read.
In addition, never badmouth about a colleague, recruiter, or your boss – those things have a way of being found. Make a list of every social media site you’re currently on and decide if you want to use it as part of your professional brand. If so, then make sure the profile is current and tells the same story about your work experience and job goals as your resume. If not, increase the security settings on your account and consider changing your name associated with it to something other than what you’re using on your resume and LinkedIn profile, such as a nickname or your first and middle name.
Amanda Augustine, CPCC & CPRW, is the Career Advice Expert for TopResume. She provides job search and career guidance for professionals looking to improve their careers and find the right job, sooner. Follow Amanda at @JobSearchAmanda on Twitter and like her on Facebook for up-to-the-minute advice.
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