Land a Job Before You Graduate

Want to have a job lined up before you walk across the stage to collect your diploma? Indiana college and university career center professionals offer seven strategies most likely to succeed.

Start early

At Wabash College, students who visit Career Services in their freshman year are three times more likely to have a job offer or a place in a graduate program by commencement day,” says Cassie Hagan, assistant director of career services.

Once you’re a senior, don’t wait until the spring to start applying for jobs. Some of the most desirable employers hire in the fall, she says.

An internship is great, but . . .

More is better, says Gene Wells, senior director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Evansville. Employers expect students to have several workplace experiences.

Career centers can help students participate in field trips, attend networking events, do a co-op, shadow a professional for a day, participate in an externship or make a site visit.

Indiana State University, for example, led students on 58 employer site visits last year, says Tradara McLaurine, executive director of career services. Those events give students (including freshmen and sophomores) a chance to tour various businesses, talk with employees and learn about potential job opportunities.

Leverage all your experience

“A sometimes overlooked feature is attending class and doing well in the classroom,” Wells says. “Faculty hear from employers and make recommendations based on performance and relationships.”

Talk up your in-depth class project with potential employers, McLaurine says. A student she knows had to design a community center, develop a budget and prepare a staffing plan, valuable activities if you connect them to the workplace.

“Don’t undervalue the worth of your extracurricular activities and campus involvement!” Hagan says. It’s better to be a leader in one to three organizations than to join many clubs but not contribute much to them.

Liberal arts majors, don’t sell yourselves short!

Extra-curriculars and classroom activities are especially important for liberal arts majors, Hagan says. Students who don’t have an obvious career path can succeed in a variety of fields, but they need to be able to translate their critical-thinking skills, writing ability, emotional intelligence, flexibility and other strengths to potential employers.

Liberal arts students also may have to do more legwork to get that first job, says Tim Luzader, executive director of Purdue University’s Center for Career Opportunities and Pre-Professional Advising. Liberal arts majors frequently find work with not-for-profit agencies, business startups and publications — employers that typically don’t come to campus to recruit students. So students have to seek them out.

Network, including with other students

Success at finding a job involves not just what you know, but who you know. Networking is key. Joining a professional association, such as the American Physical Therapy Association or the Public Relations Society of America, can help you meet professionals while still a student, Wells says.

And don’t overlook your peers. “A classmate who graduated a year ahead of you can probably offer more insight into the hiring process than someone higher up in the organization who interviewed 15 years ago,” Hagan says. “Maintain those relationships and seek out advice about the application and interview process, and use that advice to help you prepare.”

Stay organized

Hagan advises making a simple spreadsheet to help you keep track of the employers you have contacted and the progress of your applications. While you wait to hear back about an interview, you can already be identifying new opportunities. A spreadsheet can help you stay focused and intent on the next possibility, rather than dwelling on the inevitable rejections. It also can help you address any shortcomings.

“If you notice you are securing a lot of first-round interviews, but can’t seem to make it to an in-person meeting, what does that mean? Perhaps you have been really successful at telling your story on paper, but you need to practice communicating your skills by phone,” Hagan says.

Don’t give up!

Those who successfully land jobs are persistent, says Liz Morehouse, assistant director of career services and employer relations at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She cites the example of a student who wanted to design surgical implants. He applied for several positions, but was passed over. She helped him develop a cover letter that pitched his potential in spite of not having a degree in the specialty a certain company wanted. The strategy worked and he snared his dream job.

Keep the faith in yourself even if you are not hired right away, Luzader advises. “Learn from your rejection and continue to move forward. The job search isn’t a contest to see how many job offers can be collected. Only one offer that represents a good fit for the candidate is needed.”