11 Ways College Grads Can Get Ahead in the Job Hunt

It's a dog-eat-dog post-college world out there for new grads. It was when I graduated in 2003, and I hear the same grumblings today from next-gens looking for work.

While I can't promise that any of my advice will get you hired, I can ensure that it'll at least help you get your professional endeavors off on the right foot. As such, consider these ways to get ahead in the job hunt.

1. Explore entrepreneurship while you're still in school

Entrepreneurship isn't for everyone, but I do recommend it to everyone. I started my first business while I was still in college, which eventually evolved into a successful media business. That has, in turn, provided me with the financial and recreational freedom to pursue other interests and revenue streams.

More than that, though, trying to become your own boss at a young(ish) age, even if you don't quite know what you're doing yet, will never be considered a failure. At the very least, you'll gain skills than can help you in future prospects, learn how to interact with customers, and make connections networking with other professionals. This will give you a major edge over your contemporaries.

2. Volunteer to enhance work ethic and build references

Volunteering, especially right after college, looks great on a resume because it lets an employer know that you're committed to a cause. It's not just about listing the noble charities to which you've given your time, but rather how you turned these opportunities into in-the-field, ethic-building ventures. The experience will undoubtedly help you make contacts and build references who will sing your praises when called upon. Of course, seeing the world, meeting and helping people, and gaining a sense of purpose and self are pretty cool, too.

3. Pursue internships to gain industry experience

I held two internships at a time in college because I knew I wanted to work in media, specifically journalism. Unfortunately for me, I fell in love with a college that didn't offer a journalism major, and that meant I had to make up the difference — big time.

One of my internships was writing news for an ABC-affiliated AM news-radio station, while the other was writing about music for a local magazine. Each of these internships provided me with vastly different skills, but they both prepared me for applying to my first paid writing positions. I went into those jobs better prepared, perhaps, than other candidates.

Alexis Chateau, founder and managing partner of her own eponymous public relations firm, credits internship for her success. In addition to the internship, she suggests taking on spec assignments for free to show potential employers what you've got.

"College students should take on pro-bono work, to build their portfolio, if they work in an area that requires it," she says. "An impressive portfolio can open up almost any door in business."

I can personally vouch for this tactic. When I started my journalism career, I wrote many articles for free just to get published. When I had enough clips that showed that I was a capable and cognizant writer, editors responded in kind by hiring me for work.

4. Connect with prospective companies online

If there are particular companies at which you're interested in working, follow them online so you can get a better idea of what they're all about. When you go into an interview with something smart and relevant to say about the company, you won't go unnoticed by the interviewer.

"These days, smart companies are using their social media to have a dialogue with the public, and this dialogue is a great way for people to figure out a company's core values, their mission, and the language they use in order to connect with them, and present yourself as an ideal candidate," explains Carlota Zimmerman, a New York-based career coach and success strategist.

Zimmerman suggests also liking the company's Facebook page, as someone through the grapevine may notice and reach out. It may not be that easy, but any potential connection is a valuable connection.

5. Clean up your social media

This is the digital age, when everyone and their mother has a social media presence. Chances are, if you're fresh out of college, you've got a few things floating around your Facebook or Instagram account that may not paint the prettiest picture of you to an employer. And believe me, your prospective employers will be looking.

Before you even send out your resume, do a deep clean of all of your social media accounts. Scrub embarrassing posts, delete or untag yourself from unflattering photos, and double check your privacy settings. Then, view your profile publicly to see what information is still accessible. A tedious process? Yes, but so is unemployment. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Image on Social Media)

6. Tap into your personal network for professional tips

Nearly every single adult you know is a professional with years of experience in their field. Some of them have had the same jobs forever, and some of them have changed careers frequently. No matter the case, these folks can be helpful not only in the advice they can provide, but they may also be able to point you in the right direction of employment.

Kristine Thorndyke, who landed a full-time gig in Los Angeles before she graduated, offers advice on how to apply this principle within your own college community.

"Join a club or school committee based around a particular skill or interest you intend on pursuing in the future," she says. "For example, if you are a business major, see if there are any groups or committees that meet up or, oftentimes, a designated business fraternity. These kinds of groups usually have access to professionals in the field you intend on pursuing and can help coordinate meet and greets with these professionals or alumni."

7. Take advantage of your school's career services resources

When I was looking for a job in Manhattan, I was willing to take all the help I could get. Enter Career Services at my alma mater. These centers provides free resources that not only help students write proper resumes, but also facilitate conversations between alumni and new grads based on field of interest, skill level, and more. My own Career Services connected me with the right people so I could start putting out feelers and getting a handle on what my options were.

"Reach out to alumni from your school and ask them out for a coffee to 'pick their brain,'" Thorndyke suggests. "Oftentimes, this alumni has connections or ties to companies that are hiring and will be impressed that you were driven enough to meet and learn more about the kind of work they do and their insight and/or suggestions for you."

8. Practice how to give a good interview from start to finish

Interviewing for a job is an art form. There are a million things that go into giving a great one, from how you dress to your follow-up thank-yous. As with everything else, of course, practice makes perfect — and you have ample time to hone your skills since, ya know, you're currently unemployed. (See also: How to Answer 23 of the Most Common Interview Questions)

Thorndyke advises, "Interview with a professional career counselor. It's the best way to figure out how to most effectively convey your thoughts and accomplishments before the big interview. Oftentimes, it's difficult to get any honest feedback from HR or interviewers about notes on your qualifications or interviewing ability from a gig you were declined an offer from."

An interview counselor can point out where you need to improve before the rejections become a trend.

9. Learn how to write a resume that will get you noticed

First, let's start with the number one thing you shouldn't do with your resume: Do not send the same one to every job prospect, regardless of industry or field. Your resume should be specifically tailored to the job you're seeking. If that means changing it 57 times a week to make sure it's relevant to each prospect, that's what you need to do. Secondly, it needs to stand out. There are lots of ways you can do that, but the highest on the list is providing details about past accomplishments opposed to generic lines like, "Provided marketing assistance to the director of sales." (See also: 10 Resume Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Job Search)

You know what HR people do when they read resumes full of bland descriptors? They slam dunk it into the circular file and move on to the next one.

10. Put your GPA on your resume

Maybe I've been out of college for too long, but I don't remember including my GPA on my resume — or anybody ever suggesting I do so. But Chris Kolmar, co-founder of Zappia.com, makes a good point about adopting the practice, at least for the first couple years after graduation.

His logic?

"Any good hiring manager will ask for it because it's a decent predictor of success right of out college," he says.

Not gospel, but it certainly won't hurt.

11. Start your job hunt months before graduation

Looking for a job well before you graduate doesn't always work, but getting a head start never hurts.

"I secured a job in public relations three days before graduation because of this," explains Alyssa Pallotti, an account supervisor at Montner Tech PR in Connecticut. "I began applying, participating in phone interviews, and meeting potential employers in person as early as the beginning of my final semester. This allowed me to tweak my resume, cover letters, and interview style based on feedback from those companies. Therefore, my overall presentation and nerves were refined by the time I was actually eligible to take on a position."

Yes, job hunting takes work — and that can be an overwhelming prospect when you're still dealing with school — but don't put this off. It could potentially save you months of job-hunt headaches.

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