There is no doubt that today’s job market is very competitive. Some estimate that more than half of college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. There continues to be a demand for those with skills in science, education and health fields. Opportunities in the arts and humanities fields are limited, however. In the flooded market of job seekers, employers are looking for applicants with the specific skills they need for their company. There are some concrete steps you can take to ensure that you have the skills you need to secure your first job.
1. Have a Plan
This plan starts before you apply to your first college. It includes knowing what you want to do when you get out of college and then seeking the education that will best prepare you for that career field. Many students used to start school without a clear goal in mind. The increasing cost of higher education makes that a less desirable option now.
There are several things to think about when choosing your future career. The first is knowing what the job is now and how it can progress in several years. The US Department of Labor produces a very useful Occupational Outlook Handbook. This resource provides a breakdown of more than 900 different jobs in the United States including:
- job descriptions
- entry-level pay and education
- projected number of jobs
- projected growth rate for the field
The second consideration when choosing your career field is what you are skilled in. This means more than just what you like to do, but also what you are good at doing. Finally, you’ll want to consider your willingness to relocate. Basically, you’ll need to be willing to go where the jobs are for your chosen field. If your field is less regional – like law or medicine – you’ll have more flexibility in this area.
2. Set Yourself Apart From the Pool
This can be done through the use of advanced or specific degrees. The more specific or specialized your skill set is, the fewer people there are who can compete with you. One way to do this is to get a degree for a specific job like a nurse, doctor, lawyer, engineer, nutritionist, etc. Another option is to get a general degree with specific certifications that can make you more marketable. Finally, you could choose a technical training program in areas like:
3. Write a Great Resume
Once you’ve completed your education – or most of it – you’ll need to highlight your skills on a resume. Spending time writing a quality resume will pay off in the end. You’ll want to have a general resume listing all of your:
From that general set of information, you’ll want a separate resume for each different position you apply for. If you’re applying for different positions at different places, make your resume job specific and highlight only relevant skills for each employer. Keep a copy of which resume you submitted to each potential employer, along with their job listing so that if you get several interviews, you don’t get them mixed up.
The sole purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. It’s not a statement of self-expression that tells an employer about your life history. It’s an advertisement for you showing an employer that you have the specific skills they are looking for. Rockport Institute has some great free tips for writing an effective resume.
4. Complete an Internship
Let’s say you’ve done everything right so far and have the education that is needed in an industry. Many employers still like to see relevant job experience. This is where an internship or job shadow can come in handy. An internship can be a great way to get your foot in the door in an overcrowded market. If you have the ability to start an internship while you’re still in college, that’s even better. However, if you’ve already graduated and find yourself in the ranks of the underemployed or unemployed, this might be a great way to take a step in the right direction. There are many ways to find relevant internships. Intern Match is an internet based option that can link you to hundreds of jobs and internships in your area. It also provides resources such as resume samples for specific positions and career fair listings.
5. Nail the Interview
There is a lot of resource material available on this subject. There are some general guidelines about good interview practices and etiquette as well as some helpful ways to think more like your prospective employer.
There are some basic best practices like being on time and dressing to make a good first impression. However, there are also a few things that many job seekers forget, like:
- sending the interviewer a thank you note
- researching the company
- being prepared to ask the interviewer questions
There are some guidelines to asking these questions and Forbes published a great list of Do’s and Don’ts on the topic.
It can also be helpful to put yourself in the mind of your potential employer by thinking about what they’re looking for and being prepared to answer their questions. Spend some time looking up what questions they might ask and practice your answers. Employers want people who have the skills necessary to fill their positions. They also want a personality that fits the culture and atmosphere of the company. They may ask scenario based questions to help them decide if you are that person. It’s ok to talk yourself up, but don’t lie. If you’re not a good fit for the company, it’s better for everyone to know it up front and look for something more suitable.
Finding a job in a competitive market is never easy, even when you do everything right. However, by taking a few sensible steps from the beginning, the process can become much less stressful. The great news is that these tips make sense regardless of your stage of life, whether you’re entering the job market for the first time or re-entering after many years.