With the rise of automation and the declining value of a bachelor’s degree, finding a job after graduation is not as easy as it once was.
The job market is oversaturated with qualified employees who are often competing for the same positions. So, more than ever before, college students must learn how to market themselves, seek out professional opportunities, and develop skills that will separate them from the crowd.
But we at The University Network (TUN) know how busy students are.
So, with that in mind, TUN narrowed down some universal advice to help students efficiently prepare themselves for the workforce and effectively market themselves to employers.
Here are 8 great ways for students to increase their marketability and land a job.
1. Recognize the experience you already have
Today, even “entry-level” job postings call for applicants with years of experience.
That fact, alone, is enough to drive off many students and recent graduates and cause them to utter: “How am I supposed to apply for jobs if I don’t have any experience, and how am I supposed to gain experience without earning a job?”
But students and recent graduates often fail to recognize how much experience they may already have.
“Many times, students forget that their volunteer work and their leadership in college is experience. They default to this idea that you can only put up there what you got paid for, which is not true,” said Marianna Savoca, Assistant Vice President for Career Development and Experiential Education at Stony Brook University.
Experience can come in many shapes and sizes — and it doesn’t even need to be something students do while they are enrolled in college.
“Experience could be something you did with your church youth group on the weekends,” Savoca said. “It could be your volunteer work through a club or organization. It could be a leadership role that you held in the Boy Scouts.”
“What employers are looking for from entry-level college graduates is focus and relevant experience, regardless of where it happens or in what way it was compensated,” Savoca added.
2. Don’t be afraid to explore and gain experience
In today’s rapidly evolving job market, employers are looking for well-rounded, adaptable individuals who show a willingness to grow. So, while students are still enrolled in college, they should explore as many job, internship, research and volunteer opportunities as they can to boost their resumes and prepare themselves for the workforce.
“In a way, careers have become much less of a ladder and more of a jungle gym,” Kevin Grubb, the executive director of Villanova University’s career center, told TUN in April. “There are just so many possible fields out there, and the world of work is changing so dynamically.”
But, to wander and explore does not mean to lose sight of the goal. Exploration must be done ambitiously. Meaning, students must seek out job opportunities and internships that refine their skills and teach them professional experience.
“One of the most important things students can do is go after experiences that are going to practically and relevantly prepare them for what their next step is,” Grubb said.
“Even if the internship or research experience they take on doesn’t wind up being the ultimate industry or job function that they want, the skills and professionalism they gain in those experiences are valuable to whatever that next step might be and applicable to employers of all different kinds,” he continued.
3. Create a professional LinkedIn page that displays your personal brand
Today’s competitive job market forces individuals to create their own personal brand. And like any successful brand, individuals must show that they have value, that they are unique and that they are trustworthy.
And for job seekers, the best way to demonstrate professional value is through LinkedIn.
“The more complete and professional your LinkedIn profile is, the more seriously you will be taken as a candidate ready for a professional position in any industry,” Savoca said. “Hiring managers will be looking for you there, so make sure your photo is a clear headshot of you smiling, and that your tag line and summary entice the reader to learn more about you.”
And since many employers and hiring managers will be looking through LinkedIn on their mobile devices, it’s very important to have a good personal tagline and summary, Savoca said.
Altogether, the summary and tagline should be filled with language employers would appreciate, but that varies by industry, Savoca explained.
“If (students) are looking for a software development job, their summary should indicate the software packages that they know. If (students) are looking for work in finance, and they have some licensing already — or they have taken courses in certain aspects of finance — that needs to go right up in the summary.”
4. Join professional organizations
In addition to creating a LinkedIn profile, Savoca advises that students and recent graduates join professional organizations centered around their field of work.
Nearly every job field has them. Professional and student journalists, for example, could seek out becoming members of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and student and professional marketers may consider joining the American Marketing Association (AMA).
“Professional organizations are a really impressive way for you to get known among a community of people doing the job you want or in the career field in which you wish to penetrate,” Savoca said.
5. Build your network while in college
Building a professional network is pivotal to landing a job after college. In fact, 70 percent of people earn jobs through networking.
And on campus, there are plenty of opportunities to meet people.
Colleges and universities strive to help their students excel beyond graduation. So, they often set up career fairs, social networking events and clubs that are all intended to help students build relationships with each other, alumni and visiting professionals.
It’s crucial for students to take advantage of these opportunities — even if they are an introvert.
“It’s a pity to miss out on all the opportunities for networking that are part of college life,” Tess Pajaron, the community manager for Open Colleges, Australia’s largest online educator, wrote in a previous article. “Yet, many students feel too shy to attend these social functions. But that’s not the attitude that brings you closer to professional success. Being an introvert isn’t an excuse for avoiding networking.”
Off campus — maybe during winter and summer break — students should continue to network.
Sending cold emails to professionals is difficult but impressive, and can eventually lead to jobs and internships.
Aspiring journalists, for example, can reach out to companies, small newspapers or blogs they aspire to work for, and offer to write for free. After a few months, that free work may evolve into paid opportunities, such as internships and jobs.
6. Seek out additional education
Students should consider outside-of-college education programs to beef up their resume and make themselves more well-rounded professionals.
Coursera, for example, offers online courses and degrees from the best universities and companies from around the world. There are also free courses available to students and graduates in many subjects, including business, social media, tech and more.
Some programs may even lead to employment opportunities.
Take the recent Cyber FastTrack program, for example.
The free program gives any student, no matter their experience level, the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of cybersecurity, improve their resumes, meet potential employers and compete for a share of $2.5 million in scholarship money.
Such tech-education programs can be valuable for students studying liberal arts, who may need to diversify their skillset in preparation for entering the workforce.
7. Don’t assume your career options are limited to your major
In recent years, more and more students have chosen majors, such as engineering and computer science, that are directly connected to careers. And fewer students are pursuing liberal arts degrees, presumably, because they believe such degrees won’t expand their employment opportunities or help them land well-paying jobs.
But that’s not necessarily true.
“The liberal arts are absolutely valuable to career and employability,” Savoca said. “They just aren’t directly connected. And that is OKAY.”
Take an English major, for example.
“There are so many employers in every single industry who could use people who understand how to read and analyze something written and then how to communicate,” Savoca said.
So, students need to understand that their college major does not define or box in their career options or which jobs they can apply to. Instead, students should view their major as a tool to help them gain skills and knowledge that can apply to many career paths, Savoca suggested.
8. Research the companies you apply to
Before applying for jobs — and especially before job interviews — taking time to research the company(s) you aspire to work for can go a long way.
“What sets the best candidates apart is their preparation,” Savoca said. “Researching the company beyond the front page of the website can make all the difference. What you learn about the company during your research can help you better understand how you might contribute to the organization’s goals, as well as help you form good questions to ask during your interviews.”
After taking these steps to increase your marketability, it becomes time to apply for full-time jobs. For help with the application process, check out the article: How To Get A Job: What Every College Student Needs To Know.
News & Content Manager
Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.