8 Tips to Help New Grads Land a First Job

Here are eight essential job-search tips every new college graduate should know to help stand out to prospective employers.

As recent college graduates set out to make their mark on the world, they’ll be happy to hear that the job market is picking up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that private-sector employment has increased by 2.1 million since February 2010. Also, Kiplinger’s Economic Outlook reports that the manufacturing, health care, and hotel and restaurant industries have added a combined 112,000 new jobs in 2011.

While having new-grad status may signal to hiring managers a lack of professional experience, that does not mean you can’t still “wow” them during an interview. Grades are not the biggest factor in landing a first gig. A great attitude, determination and self-awareness are far more important to most hiring managers than the world’s best GPA. Remember to keep in mind that a job search can be difficult -- especially for someone straight out of college. At minimum, it can last about three months, according to

Here are eight essential job-search tips every new college graduate should know to help stand out to prospective employers.

It’s Who You Know

You’ve got to network your socks off to build up a job-search army of friends, family, neighbors and others who will clue you in when job opportunities arise. Reach out to all of your old contacts -- from your scoutmaster to your high school drama coach to your parents’ friends. They’ll likely be thrilled to help a young professional just starting out, so don’t be shy. If you haven’t spoken to them in a while, trying finding them using social networks, such as Facebook, or contact them via snail mail or by phone. Let them know you’re out of school and in the job market.

Get Connected

A LinkedIn profile is critical for a new grad and every other job hunter or professional. Use the headline on your profile page (located directly underneath your name) to make it clear who you are and what you’re after. Use the words “seeking” or “looking,” or the acronym ISO (in search of), to let LinkedIn users know what types of jobs you’re targeting. Add a bit of personality to your headline to separate yourself from the crowd.

Here’s an example: “New Howard Univ. grad with a journalism major and graphic arts minor looking to make a splash in online media.”

You get 120 characters in the headline field, including spaces, so you’ve got room to be human -- and different.

Break the Resume Mold

The traditional resume with a boilerplate summary doesn’t tell a hiring manager who you are. Your resume is the first opportunity to have a conversation, so to speak, about why you should be considered for the job.

So instead of starting off your resume with a generic summary statement, such as “Results-oriented marketing grad seeks a challenging position with a growing firm,” explain why you are interested in the position:

“I studied sociology to learn how people act in groups and handle conflict. I’ve already used my people skills as a river-rafting guide and a nanny, and now I’m looking to learn more about business communication as an entry-level salesperson.”

Give the hiring manager a feel for where you’ve been and how you think. Don’t sound like every other Pringle in the stack.

Revamp Your Cover Letter

After you’ve ditched your traditional resume, you’ll want to update your cover letter. Introducing yourself by saying, “I saw your opening and was intrigued,” won’t make a hiring manager want to give your application a second look.

Try starting your cover letter off with a compliment. You’ll want to first acknowledge any good news that you are able to find on the employer’s Web site in their “press” section. For example, writing something like “Dear Jason, Congratulations on the Green Building Award the city bestowed on your new headquarters” is more likely to get a manager to keep reading than the usual cover letter mush.

Be Direct

We can understand why process-minded human resources departments set up bureaucratic systems to screen job candidates. But remember, just because they exist doesn’t mean you have to use them to find a job. Avoid the black hole by reaching out to the hiring manager directly. You can find out who this person is by using the advanced people search function on LinkedIn. Ask yourself what is the most likely job title for the manager of this open position. For example, if you’re going after a marketing job, you’ll want to search for the marketing director or vice-president of that company.

Mention briefly in your cover letter potential business problems that might have caused the need to fill the position in the first place. Say something like, “I can imagine that given your new distribution deal with Wolfgang Puck, your inside sales reps are stressed to the breaking point.” Use your knowledge of the business world, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from trusted friends and family members. Talking to the hiring manager about potential business issues, rather than touting your own fabulousness, is a smart way to snag an interview.

Gather Your Stories

Job-seekers need evocative stories to bring their power across to hiring managers in the job interview. Prepare at least ten stories that can help illustrate why you’d be the right fit for the position.

Remember to include some stories about the following:

1. A time you overcame adversity (at a part-time job or at school).

2. A time when you had to work on a team with difficult people.

3. A time when you had to face a difficult situation alone without direction.

4. A time when you learned from a mistake (don’t make it a huge mistake, like setting your house on fire).

5. A time when you had to multitask to meet multiple deadlines.

6. A time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker.

7. A time when you had to think on your feet as a situation changed.

8. A time when you had to go against the majority and push an unpopular position.

9. A time when you had to go outside of your comfort zone.

10. A time when you dealt with a crisis.

When you go on a job interview, bring a portfolio with a notepad and pen in it. Jot down a couple of notes to remind you of these stories.

Consider the Hiring Manager’s Perspective

In your correspondence, on a phone interview and in your live interviews, take into consideration the hiring manager’s point-of-view. Instead of saying, “I had a 4.0 GPA,” which may or may not be interesting news to the manager, you’ll say, “So, as I think about your business, I can see how getting promising sales leads to the outside sales force could be an issue. Is that the case?” Show that you’ve thought through what the job might entail before the actual interview.

No Response? Try Again.

If after sending your initial cover letter and resume you get no response, you’re not out of luck. You can e-mail the hiring manager; reach him via LinkedIn or Facebook or call the hiring manager to let him or her know you’re interested and eager to talk. Be persistent, but don’t be a stalker -- one contact per week is enough.

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