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How to Present Yourself to Employers as a New Grad

New college graduates can use a variety of tips and techniques to present themselves to employers.

The COVID-19 job market is as scary as it’s been since the 2008 recession, especially for recent college graduates. With millions of qualified Americans walking the unemployment line, many graduates are struggling to decipher how they fit in a tough economy. Yet even without relevant job experience or a lengthy resume, finding a job is closer than some may think, even in a down job market. With these tips, you can present yourself to employers as a new graduate in a positive light and land a job—even in the remote world.

Network as Much as You Can

New college students can network online to help present themselves to employers.

Although job boards certainly have an upside and give you an idea of what jobs are available, networking reigns supreme. According to a LinkedIn study, 85% of positions get filled through networking, meaning that they never show up on job sites. Therefore, networking is perhaps the most valuable tool available to the freshly minted college graduate. And although networking is traditionally a face-to-face enterprise, online networking still presents you to potential employers.

As a college graduate, you may have a limited professional network—or so you might think. But don’t let this detract from your networking pursuits. Remember that friends, family members, former co-workers, college roommates, and acquaintances all fall under the umbrella of networking opportunities.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: If you aren’t sure where to start networking, begin with the major social media platforms. LinkedIn and Facebook have a plethora of enthusiast and industry groups that can help you meet other like-minded individuals. Even if you don’t land a gig or full-time employment in one of these groups, you can still pursue professional relationships and even gain friendships that may benefit you in the future.

Consider Temporary Work Outside of Your Major

New college grads can gain work experience outside their major to build their resume and soft skills.

College isn’t cheap. As of the beginning of 2020, student debt hovers around $1.6 trillion among 45 million borrowers. This translates to $32,731 of debt per student. And while you can continuously defer your loans, the interest racks up over time. Plus, the amount of debt owed to creditors can prevent you from future purchases such as a car, home, or even a credit card.

So as much as it pains you to admit, you may have to find a job outside of your major to pay your bills. But that doesn’t mean that this experience is wasted time. Finding a job in a position that doesn’t require a college degree can still provide you with experience and expertise to bulk up your resume, cover letters, and soft skills, as well as helping you present yourself to employers. Plus, you can earn some cash to help pay down student debt or pay rent without asking for help from your parents.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: Even experienced individuals cite a timeframe of four to six months for a job search in a non-COVID-19 market. Although studies don’t yet exist examining the length of job searches during COVID-19, you might be talking about eight months to a year to find a job in your field. In the meantime, search the Virtual Vocations job board to find thousands of jobs for those with little or no experience. You just might find that the position gives you the experience to fuel your post-graduate job search.

Keep Applying

In a COVID-19 job market, perseverance is key. Even when you apply to 100 jobs only to receive rejection letters or no response at all, dig in and keep applying. When you continue to apply for jobs, you trigger a motivational factor inside yourself. And if you instill this idea in yourself early, you won’t feel nearly as overwhelmed applying to jobs now or in the future. Again, remember that you might have to “settle” for a job that’s outside your major or doesn’t require a college degree. But in a lot of ways, this isn’t exclusive to the COVID-19 market. Just ask your parents about the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: Again, take a look at the Virtual Vocations job board. With over 30,000 listings at any given time among a wide variety of job types and experience levels, it’s a great way to start your career and gain experience writing cover letters or interviewing. In addition, try hitting the pavement and applying to jobs in person. Not only will this show employers your enthusiastic attitude, but you can also gain face-to-face experience with employers for future endeavors.

Build a Portfolio

In the creative and tech industries, a well-constructed portfolio can often mean the difference between an interview and a rejection letter. So while your 400-level projects may provide a satisfactory display of your skills, a job-specific portfolio can add some extra pizzazz. For example, a computer science major could put together a website to showcase their design skills. Or a journalism or English major could write pieces about a wide array of subjects that demonstrate their diversity. Regardless of what major you have, a portfolio can help present yourself to employers and provide some insight into how you’d perform on the job.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: If you have the budget, create a professional website that contains a portfolio and a little blurb about yourself. If you don’t have the budget, consider a free site from Wix or Squarespace to construct the same idea. You should also consider using Virtual Vocations’s online portfolio builder, which allows you to put relevant work in front of an employer without directing them to another site.

Consider Continuing Education or Certification

There’s no shame in getting a job as a cashier, waiter, or bartender while you attempt to find a college-level job. But during COVID-19, this has become increasingly difficult. Fortunately, you can remain productive and boost your job profile by taking extra classes or gaining certification. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go back to school for a master’s degree. Much to the contrary, you can utilize the internet to find an array of free and low-fee courses.

One way that many recent college graduates are gaining more knowledge and building a hot resume is through massive open online courses or MOOCs. These platforms provide learning modules in hundreds of different professions and concentrations, effectively allowing you to learn industry-specific skills that will entice future employers. Some of the most popular MOOCs include:

  • Coursera
  • Udemy
  • edX
  • LinkedIn Learning
  • Khan Academy
  • Kadenze

In addition to MOOCs, you can supplant your lack of experience by gaining certification in any number of fields. Some employers even use these certifications as a necessity or preferred skill for their hiring process. Therefore, you give yourself an advantage over other college graduates and present yourself to employers as a professional rather than simply a college graduate. While some of these certifications come with a hefty price tag, others are 100% free. Digital marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization, and tech/programming have an endless amount of options. Just make sure to see if the certification is industry-recognized before plopping down payment or investing your time.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: If you have idle time, sign up for a university class, a MOOC, or a certificate. The time invested in such courses will push you toward employment and give you insight into the latest technology and trends that can propel you to employment.

Use Job Descriptions to Your Advantage

Job descriptions are more than just the roles and responsibilities of a prospective hire. They provide insight into what’s expected on the job and the knowledge you need to become a successful applicant. So use these to your advantage. If you have an idea of the job you want, look at all the skills you need and your current weaknesses. Whether this consists of soft skills, hard skills, or both, making a vested effort to learn these goals is essential to the recent college graduate. If you haven’t yet graduated, start to gather this information now to get a leg up on the competition and further present yourself to employers.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: When you’re searching for a job, take notice of the skills you lack in a particular job description. Write these down and make a point to take the steps to learn these skills. How you become versed in these skills is entirely up to you. But you’ll at least have an idea of what employers are searching for in a job candidate.

Pitch an Internship Idea

Internships are more important now than ever. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an internship can be a deciding factor in the hiring process, even between two otherwise equal candidates. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a dent in internship opportunities and possibilities. But you can still find an internship. You just have to be creative.

If you can’t find an internship through your university, you have other options. Volunteer at a local business or pitch ideas for a remote internship to companies you want to work for. The worst they can do is say no.

Actionable Steps

Actionable Steps: Don’t give up on your pursuit of an internship. Instead, pitch companies or individuals within your professional network with ideas to help them get work done. The experience you gain is sure to make you a more attractive candidate in the future.

Finding a job as a fresh college graduate during COVID-19 isn’t an easy journey. It requires dedication, perseverance, and even taking another job in the meantime. But the effort will be well worth the reward. By demonstrating your work ethic and persistence, you’ll effectively present yourself to employers. Hopefully, you’ll find the job you want—and deserve.

Are you a college graduate who’s worried about finding a job during COVID-19? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you! 

iStock Image: sdominick, fizkes, SDI Productions


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