How to beat the competition: 5 steps to land a job out of college

High unemployment and competition for jobs are the two main obstacles you face as a new graduate leaving the world of academia for the workplace. Although the national unemployment rate dipped slightly to 8.1 percent in April (down .1 percent from March), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, much of that modest decrease can be attributed to a seasonal rise in construction and farm labor.

Getting a job in today's market requires careful planning. By following these seven steps and initiating a pro-active strategy for success, new college graduates can better position yourself as a potential employee and increase your chances of landing work right out of college.

Five job-seeking strategies for new grads

Alexa Hamill, U.S. campus sourcing leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world's largest professional services firm, says the company hires several thousand new graduates each year. There are plenty of job opportunities out there, Hamill says, but new college graduates need take certain steps to help their cause.

1. Be proactive. Most major companies, such as PwC, regularly visit schools and college campuses. Work with the counselors in your university's career center to set up times for meetings and interviews to gain valuable exposure to corporate recruiters and potential employers.

"It is important to leverage your networks to identify opportunities that don't always come through career centers," Hamill says. "Those relationships can help you land a job. You never know where those relationships can lead you."

Join appropriate work groups and make connections that showcase your interests. PwC routinely seeks student candidates that have demonstrated dedication and passion in building a skill set, be it in athletics, academics or as a member of their university's band. Those traits, Hamill says, help candidates be successful during job interviews and can lead to work with a firm.

2. Define your online brand. You may be supremely proud of those photos on your Facebook page that show your chops at flawless keg stand execution during spring break, but certain images and postings could be harmful to your image if you have your profile set to public viewing. Potential employers may sneak a peek to get a better feel for a candidate, and the content on your social media pages can make or break your chances at landing a job.

"How we identify candidates definitely has changed over last few years," Hamill says. "We encourage people to make sure they look at what their brand is online; that is extremely influential. You have limited opportunities to make an impression. We encourage students and potential candidates to make sure you identify who you are and who you want to be represented as to an employer."

3. Cast a wide net. Ray Rogers, director of career services for Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., says new graduates may need to expand the scope of their job searches, especially in a tight job market. Apply for jobs in more than a singular career field and at multiple levels, Rogers says.

Don't shower employers with generic resumes, Rogers cautions. Instead, develop targeted resumes for each type of position. New college graduates should focus the contents and presentation of the resume toward specific career fields. Getting hired also may take you out of your hometown, but that type of move also could lead to increased career opportunities and personal growth.

4. Be open to different career opportunities. Many successful business people have followed a very circuitous path in their careers, and it's rare to find someone in an established career that was planned from his or her first years out of college. Be open to following paths you had not previously considered, Rogers says.

"Even if new graduates finds themselves in positions that are outside of the field they initially sought, they should take advantage of whatever opportunities may exist in that current position, including networking opportunities, pursuing extra training, joining professional associations and taking on new projects that may be more relevant to a longer-term career goal," he says.

5. Think Ahead. Be strategic about the positions you accept. You may need to take a lower-level position as a new graduate and build skills crucial to success in your field. Exhibiting excellence in an entry-level position can lead to a more lucrative job in the future.

"The next step of moving into more competitive positions relies on networking and learning more about the requirements of the position," Rogers says. "This is much easier to do when you are already part of an organization or working within an industry and is not often something college graduates consider when looking for that first job out of college."

Remember, the jobs are out there. You may need to move or shift your career focus for a time, but by employing a job-seeking strategy you can separate yourself from other job seekers and snag that first job out of college.