Get More Than a Degree

5 ways to set yourself apart from the other graduates entering the work force

Your résumé probably looks great. Good school, impressive degree, high GPA and president of a campus club. However, it looks the same as the 150,000 other students graduating with the same degree you’re receiving. After reviewing thousands of résumés every year as a career consultant, I can tell you that in this competitive job market you need to do something to make your way to the front of the pack in order to land the job. Just having a graduate degree is no longer a golden ticket. So, how do you set yourself apart when you don’t have extensive work experience?

The answer begins with a basic question: Which field do you want to work in? Once you have identified what you want to do when you receive your newly minted degree, you can create a plan to set yourself apart and land a great job. Here are five creative ways to separate yourself from the pack:

Work In Your Field

Between studying, writing reports and meeting with professors, you can give yourself an edge by getting experience before you graduate. This can take on different forms. The most common type of experience is a summer internship, which is a great way to get experience and summer cash. The downside to an internship is it would likely be a short-term assignment, and you would only have time to work on a handful of projects and tasks.

A better strategy is to work part-time or even full-time in a job that would give you an understanding of how a specific industry works. In addition, you’ll learn how you can best provide value to an organization after you graduate. You may have to do work that is not exactly your dream job—however, the experience and understanding you gain at the bottom of the corporate ladder will give you an edge that 90 percent of other job applicants won’t have. For example, if you want to get a job in the public relations field, you can work as an administrative assistant for the public relations department of a company. It’s not glamorous, but you’ll learn the ins and outs of a corporate public relations department and potentially position yourself for a job with that company when you graduate.

If you don’t want to commit to working a job while you’re in school, try temping in your field of interest. Similar to the internship, the downside is you will likely only work on a small number of projects and tasks, thus limiting your experience. However, working contract temporary jobs for short-term assignments is a great way to get some experience while still providing you with the flexibility to work only when it aligns with your schedule.

Join a Professional Organization

By joining the professional organization of a specific field, you will be able to get a lot of information about that area, the latest developments and the most significant challenges the field is facing. In addition, most professional organizations have yearly conferences, which are valuable events for you to attend. Almost all professional organizations allow students to join at a discounted rate, and some even have specific student chapters.
Visit Weddles.com/associations to see a comprehensive list of available professional organizations.

However, just joining the organization is not enough—you also need to network with the members of the professional organization. Attend local chapter meetings and get to know the professionals in your area. Get involved with whatever that particular chapter is doing. Volunteer to be on the board of the organization. If the local chapter gets involved with community service events, like canned food drives, be sure to help with those. You want to make yourself known to the professionals in your area so that when they hear of a job opportunity for a recent college graduate, you are the first one who comes to mind.

Blog and Create A Professional Internet Presence

Start a blog focused on the field you are interested in. Become a resource for people in your chosen field, then guest-post on other blogs focused on the area. You may ask, “What do I know about this field?” Take a look at other blogs focused on the realm you want to break into, read books about your chosen field and fake it till you make it.

Along with your blog you will need a strong social media presence. All of your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts need a makeover so they are no longer just about where you bought your latte today. You need to gear them toward a more professional audience. Also, please remember everything you share or tweet can and will be held against you when it comes time to make a hiring decision.

Although social media is always changing, LinkedIn is currently the best place to connect with other professionals online. Be sure to join the LinkedIn groups associated with your field of interest, and get to know people that way. The key to LinkedIn, and all social media for that matter, is to be as helpful as you can be to others. Then, when the time comes to ask a favor, you have already built a positive and giving relationship with an individual or group.

Start Your Own Business

If you can’t get work experience in your field prior to graduation, create your own. You may wonder how it’s possible to start a business and go to school at the same time. But you wouldn’t be the first: ask Mark Zuckerberg, or Larry Page or Bill Gates how they did it. When you want something enough, you’ll find the time.

Thanks to the Internet you can start a business with minimal up-front cost and very little overhead. Whether you start a dog-walking business or an online store, you can create your own work experience. The key is to use your experience as leverage to prove you can add value to an organization when you graduate. You may also decide your business is much more fun and profitable than getting a 9-5 real-world job.

Starting and running a business along with going to school will be time-consuming, so you need to have a good business plan and be able to manage your time effectively. A great resource to help you navigate the start-up process is MyOwnBusiness.org.

Get Creative in Your Application Process

How does everyone apply for jobs today? On the Internet, through a company’s website. As a recruiter, how many hard-copy paper résumés do you think I receive every year? Answer: about four. When you snail-mail your résumé, you have effectively cut out 99 percent of all your competition who chose to apply through the company’s typical application process and have done no further follow-up. You still need to apply online, but the key is to also mail a hard-copy résumé to a specific person (i.e., the recruiter or hiring manager) and follow up with a phone call to that person.

It’s not always easy to determine to whom you should send your résumé, but with a little creativity and some strategic LinkedIn searches, you’ll find the right person to target. Also, even if the job posting says no phone calls, you should still follow up with a phone call. Companies put that on their postings because they don’t want to answer tons of calls about a job. Fortunately for you, most people will follow the rules and not call. However, if you want the job you need to follow up with a phone call. There’s a chance it might irritate the recruiter or hiring manager temporarily, but it will show them you are serious about getting the job.

Today’s job market for new college graduates is the toughest we’ve seen in a generation. Rather than bemoan your unlucky timing, try re-framing your situation as an opportunity to creatively showcase your abilities to future employers. Today, the jobs no longer go only to the most technically qualified, they go to those who are technically qualified and creative in marketing their value to potential employers. So stay positive, think creatively and be bold in differentiating yourself.

Adam Rico is a corporate recruiter and career coach. Check out his blog: WorkYouEnjoy.com.

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