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10 ways to ace your post-college job search

young professionals with job signs

Gone are the days when college graduates could expect large corporations to come to them with amazing offers simply because of their degrees. Today's new job seekers must be more aggressive in order to discover and vie for the best opportunities, and be proactive about standing out (in a good way!) in the competitive job market. Here are some often-overlooked job search strategies that can potentially help new graduates find and land great first jobs.

1. Get on LinkedIn.

You might be social media savvy, and that's great, but don't think that LinkedIn is only for professionals who have been working for some time. "If you're not on LinkedIn, you're missing the boat," says Vicki Salemi, career coach, public speaker and author of "Big Career in the Big City." "College grads need to be on LinkedIn to not only have an online presence, but to connect, build and nurture budding professional relationships." Her best tip is to choose a professional-looking photo for your profile page.

2. Use social media to help — not hurt — your career aspirations.

Salemi says she found and made a hire from Twitter last year. "A candidate was persistent by showing his passion for the company and stood out from the 500 other candidates who applied for the job," she says. "He was the only one to leverage Twitter to get a foot in the door."

The idea is you always want to be visible, says Lynn Berger, a New York-based career counselor and coach, since you never know where a job lead is going to come from. "I encourage Twitter, but be really careful on Facebook," says Berger. Recruiters can — and will — look at all of your social media pages, so try to maintain a consistent and professional persona across the board.

3. Go back to college.

Your college's career center and alumni services office, that is. Think about it: What alumni wouldn't want to help a new college grad from their very own alma mater? "Your school's career center and alumni offices are amazing, untapped resources," says Salemi. It's a fantastic way to network and conduct informational interviews, she says.

The best way to get started is by making a simple phone call to the alumni office or career center, and ask them to run a list of alums (possibly checking names, companies, titles, contact information) in your geographical region and the industry you're pursuing, suggests Salemi. Then you can begin reaching out and asking for advice.

4. Join a club.

If you thought clubs and organizations were just a fun way to pass the time when you were in school, think again. In your post-grad world, joining industry and professional organizations can be your ticket to success. "In the associations I'm a member of, I always see interns and grad students walking around," Berger says. "It's a great way to meet people, and you could volunteer at some events. How else can you put yourself in front of all of the people in your field?"

Salemi agrees, saying that professional organizations can give you an advantage. "It not only shows your commitment and dedication to the profession, but it gives you an in," she says.

5. Talk to everyone you know.

You might feel funny going around asking people for a job, but don't think of it that way. "Approach it like you're asking for advice and brainstorming together," says Berger. "Who doesn't like to be asked for their advice?" Say something like: I know you're working in XYZ, and I'm interested in pursuing that type of work. I'd love to explore some ideas you might have.

You never know who could turn out to be a connection to your next job opportunity, adds Salemi. "Tap into your roommates' parents' contacts, your sorority president's older sister who is an executive, your friend from another school who you met while doing study abroad. Talk up your job search and what you're seeking with your inner circle — you'll be surprised how many people already have viable connections for you."

6. Follow up.

So many job seekers make a fantastic contact at a job fair or have a great email exchange with a recruiter, but then they get discouraged because they never hear back. Salemi says the onus is on the job hunter to follow up. "One of the biggest mistakes is to drop the ball, or expect recruiters to call you back immediately. Recruiters are extremely busy, literally with hundreds upon hundreds of resumes and names swirling around," she says.

One tactic that Berger suggests to keep the process moving forward is to always ask about how and when to follow up. "At the end of the conversation, ask: 'Can I call you in a couple of weeks?'" she says. Then, set a reminder to actually follow through, and be politely persistent.

7. Say thank you.

It seems like a no-brainer, but so many job interviewees never take the time to say thanks, says Berger. A note can go a long way toward helping you stand out from other candidates. Berger recommends gauging the age of the people you meet with, since an older person might appreciate the level of thoughtfulness that a handwritten note offers, whereas email may suffice for a younger interviewer. When in doubt, do both — an email on the same day of the meeting, and a snail-mail card to follow.

8. Get access to secret job postings.

One of the biggest mistakes new job hunters make is applying online and expecting to get a call, Salemi says. "That's one of the least effective ways to pursue a job." Just because a job posting is online doesn't mean the company is actively recruiting for it, she points out, as it may be in the last stages of interviewing and not even open to new candidates. Instead, job hunters need to find the hidden jobs before they go public. "That's why networking and making useful connections are the key, so you're top of mind and in the door before an official job description is posted," says Salemi.

9. Cultivate your brand.

You may have heard the term "personal branding," and that it's an important component of your job search, but what is it exactly? "Personal branding involves being consistent online and offline, having an effective yet succinct elevator pitch, being specific in your search, and creating a professional persona," Salemi explains. In other words, whether you're conducting informational interviews, meeting new people, attending a job fair, or commenting on an industry blog, you should act polished and professional, as opposed to informal and casual.

10. Know yourself well.

Along the lines of the aforementioned "elevator pitch," it's important to have a clear handle on what your skills are, says Berger, that go beyond the fact that you have a degree. "Where have you had accomplishments? You need to be able to verbalize that, and try to be specific. Back it up from examples from school or summer jobs," she says. In what context have you been able to apply the skills you've learned? This is what employers really want to know.

By putting yourself out there professionally, taking advantage of the resources you have, and actively seeking job opportunities — even the unadvertised ones — you can graduate with honors from the job seeker class of 2014.

Sources:

Lynn Berger, Career coach & counselor, Interviewed by the author, May 30, 2014

Vicki Salemi, Career coach & author of "Big Career in the Big City," Interviewed by the author, May 30, 2014