How to Strategize Your Senior Year Job Search

Robert Willey
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We know it’s hard to even think about the job search during your senior year of college, let alone do anything about it. When we surveyed students in April for our annual job-seeker survey, 80.2% said they hadn’t lined up a job yet. So what are some strategies you can use to successfully approach the job search while also balancing your studies, social life, and extracurricular activities?

Robert “Bo” Willey has a few ideas. Bo graduated from Santa Clara University with a major in Finance and minor in Economics in June 2013. He lined up his job as a Financial Services Representative at MassMutual while he was still in school and started his new job in July 2013. We chatted with Bo to learn more about how he approached his job search and what tips he has to help you through the process.

How did you approach the job search senior year? What did you learn from that experience that you think would be of value to current college seniors?

The job search can be a daunting task for many college seniors. In my experience, many college seniors do not even know where to start as far as looking for a place to work, where to find jobs, and just getting started in general. In my case, getting started was the hard part. I spent a lot of time thinking and researching in the fall of my senior year but not much time planning. Then I would become busy with school or extracurricular activities and become distracted. I went to the career fairs, applied to a few jobs on the school website, but that did not really get me anywhere.

I also spent a lot of time planning and trying to utilize resources I had through my school. I met with staff from my career center and they directed me to their resources. I took a few personality tests and browsed job categories and that was helpful. However, I spent a lot of time planning, but I did not finally take action until a later time.

What I lacked was consistency and activity in my search strategies. I would just do a few things here and there and hope for the best. Two quarters of school went by and I started getting nervous. I finally sat down one day in March thinking: “It’s go time, no more procrastination, I’m getting a job before I graduate.”

So I set a goal to get a job before graduation and worked hard trying to land many interviews—even for jobs I was not very interested in, just so I would get some practice. It was a tiring process balancing school, my social life, and interviews all at the same time. I stuck with my plan with the attitude that failure or coming out of my search empty-handed was not an option. I went to a lot of seminars hosted by local companies just to meet recruiters and people who worked for various companies face-to-face. I believe that is the most powerful way to stand out to recruiters.

After a period of consistency and sticking to my goals through my process, I was finally able to get hired for a career after college. Here are a few things that I learned:

1. Have a plan and set goals—know what you want and how you are going to get it. Have short-term goals (small wins like getting to the next interview round) and long-term goals (getting a job) within reason.

2. When going to a career fair, make sure you stand out to the recruiters. You can stand out by showing them you researched the company, having interest in the recruiter themselves and their experiences or goals in the company, showing them your true personality, and having a casual and easy conversation, a firm handshake and eye contact when talking. You want to have a stunning first impression.

3. Always follow up after a career fair, meeting or interview. Ideally by the next morning/afternoon.

4. Try to attend company seminars put on locally or at your college. Meeting a recruiter face-to-face is the most powerful way to get through to them. It’s a great way to start building relationships and to learn about the company.

5. Be persistent. Always follow up after a meeting or an interview. Thank them for their time and effort. Keep in contact and checking in. A high frequency of communication with recruiters keeps you in their mind.

6. Never give up. There are a lot of ups and downs in the job search. Especially if you get far in an interview process and lose the job to someone else or you can’t seem to even get an interview. Assess yourself to find out what is not working and learn from your failures. Do not be afraid to fail, just learn from them. Finding a job is not something that usually happens in a day. It takes time, patience, and determination.

7. Be confident. Believe in yourself, get things done, and impress others by your confidence. You have to sell yourself—grades and qualifications aside. People like confidence, but not arrogance. Do not be a know-it-all or think you are too good for something.

8. Practice. Know your qualifications, how to sell yourself, weaknesses, answers to questions like “Why should we hire you?” or “What sets you apart from others?” Be able to hold a conversation in an interview with confidence.

9. Your résumé should never be more than one page (especially as a college student or recent graduate). If you are interviewing for a specific company, tailor your résumé so it has the information they are most interested in.

10. Do a little bit all of the time, rather than a lot some of the time. Make sure to manage your time well. When balancing school, social life, and the job search, you need to know when you are going to accomplish your tasks, how you are going to accomplish them, and then do them when the time comes. Chances are, if you are getting in front of enough recruiters, you are bound to find something sooner.

What advice would you give to other college students to make the most of their time at a career fair?

College students can make the most of their time at a career fair by having a plan before they arrive. Take advantage of the list of companies that will be tabling that should be provided to you ahead of time. If you can get your hands on these lists, you can search through and target the companies you might be interested in working for and save time and energy. It gets tiring talking with so many recruiters in a crowded room so you want to be fresh and have a positive mindset. You should always research your intended companies first because that shows that you are interested in working for them. You want to stand out in a room full of people as much as you can. Recruiters can meet so many people in one day, and you can stand out enough for them to make note of you or remember you right away if you send a follow-up email or call.

People go into a career fair thinking that “they don’t work” or “I never get anything out of them.” I think people make those excuses because they don’t try or do their homework before coming. Make a plan, impress people, and follow up. Try to distinguish yourself above others, qualifications aside.

Try not to walk around with your friends. Just go off on your own and get out there. The worst that could happen is the recruiter never talks to you again. Build up the confidence to go out on your own to make an impression on the recruiter. Don’t wimp out.

You do quite a bit of networking. What advice would you give to college seniors or recent grads to help them feel more comfortable in networking situations?

People network for different reasons, usually for business or for social reasons. My advice for networking is that you should have a plan and stick to it. The most important thing about networking is to be yourself and to have fun. You may have a plan and end goals in networking, but you aren’t going to get anywhere unless you gain the trust of others around you. When I say gain trust, I simply mean get them to like you and see you for the honest person that you are. Never go into networking expecting people to just give you what you want. People are probably less inclined to help you unless you can provide value to them first. Remember, it’s not all about you, it’s about them. You never know what you might learn from someone you meet. There are so many interesting people with so many backgrounds and experiences and it’s fun to learn from them. You just have to remember to breathe, relax, and have fun. Building relationships through networking takes time and you can’t expect results right away.

If you are networking to get a job, don’t overwhelm the recruiter or person of interest by spewing out everything that makes you great. Just have a conversation and get to know them. If they like you, they will want to meet and get to know you better.

My advice is to get their contact information and to be the first to contact them with a personalized email reminding them of your interaction and career goals (what you might want from them). This is important because the recruiter may have met many people, depending on the event, and it could take a long time for them to sift through contacts and call you back.

What is something you wish you knew about the job search or working world when you were still in college? Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it over again?

Make sure that your résumé is only one page. Make it neat and concise so the recruiters can scan through it and find what they are looking for right away. There is no reason for any college student to have a résumé longer than one page. If you are sending a résumé via email or posting it to a website, make sure that it is in PDF format and not a Microsoft Word document (unless the employer has specifically requested a Word doc).

If I could do it over again, I would have started much earlier in the process. Statistics show that it takes more than a few months on average for a college student to find a job. I would have started early and interviewed at as many places as possible to get practice, insight, and experience. Do a little bit all of the time rather than a lot some of the time.

Homework time! Bo stresses the importance of consistently doing a small amount rather than trying to get everything done at once and building your confidence. Think of one or two small things you could do today (like sign up for a career fair, make an appointment at your school’s career services office, or do a practice interview) and get going!

P.S. Are you currently a college senior? If so, be sure to create a profile on AfterCollege. We’re launching the Job Search Survival Kit on Friday, August 30. Any college senior who signs up with us will receive a weekly email (for the duration of the school year) full of activities and advice to guide you through the job search one step at a time.

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