The class of 2016 - 1.8 million bachelor's degrees will be awarded this year - will face the best job market for new grads than we've seen since the Great Recession. But it will still be a competitive market with more qualified job seekers than entry-level jobs. With the stress of carrying more than $1.3 trillion in loans around their necks - the typical grad carries $30,000 in debt - it's not surprising that a record number of young adults - as many as 1 in 3 - are living at home despite an improved job market according to a Pew Research Center study of millennials ages 18 - 34.
To succeed, you need to market yourself better than your competitors. Based on research for my new book, Graduate to a Great Career, here are the top four blunders recent college graduates often make and what you should do to market yourself instead:
1. Being wishy-washy about what type of job you want. Okay, you may be unsure about your job direction, but don't tell HR professionals that. Rather than saying you're not sure, you need to specify a career path or say that you are interested in x and y. Not having a clear idea of their career path is one of the biggest complaints HR professionals make about new grads. It's your job to know who you are and what type of job and career path you want. It's not the employer's job to try to figure it out. Take the time to do a personal brand audit. What are your strengths and preferences? Do you want to work at a large corporation, a dynamic startup, or something in between? Realize that your first job is not a life sentence. Very few people get it right straight out of the gate.
2. Flaming out in interviews. If you can tell an employer why you are better, different or unique, you will get them interested. But if you can tell them how you can solve their problem, the job offer will likely be yours. Do a little research about the company and position your strengths in terms of meeting company needs. Realize, too, the important of making a great first impression. The first 10 seconds are the most important according to research done by the University of Toledo. The decision to hire you or not may be made by the end of the handshake! The good news is that you can prepare to make the most of your entrance and your first words. Make sure you dress the part so you look like you belong. (Dressing inappropriately is a complaint 75% of hiring professionals have about millennials job seekers according to an Adecco study.) You need to project energy and confidence, so walk in standing tall, shake the interviewer's hand and look her in the eye. Plan an answer to the likely first question, "How are you?" with an enthusiastic response. You can say something like, "I'm great and I'm really eager to learn more about the job and talk about how I can add value to the role."
3. Doing too much online cruising of job boards and not enough networking. In academia, success is determined by objective measures like doing well on exams and assignments. In the career world, who you know is important in getting a job and for succeeding at the job. So don't just fill out outline applications and expect a job to land in your lap. Remember, online job applications only work when you have a near perfect match with the keywords in the job listing, which is difficult if you have limited job experience. Some 70 percent of jobs are gotten through networking according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. So go forth and network more! Tell everyone you know about your job hunt - everyone. Don't forget to utilize the network you already have in place: your parents and their contacts, your college friends, their siblings and parents, your professors, even your high school tennis coach. You can expand your network the old-fashioned way by going to events and calling people or the modern way by networking online through social sites like LinkedIn. When you network, you can find jobs in the "hidden job market," the majority of jobs that are unadvertised and can only be learned about through networking and marketing activities. Many career experts believe that the majority and the best jobs are unadvertised. So you don't want to miss out on the hidden job market
4. Not running your job search like a "business" The "product" you are selling is Brand You. Thinking like an entrepreneur means developing a marketing plan and a system for keeping track of job-hunting activities and next steps either on contact management software or an excel spreadsheet. Key items to keep track of are the dates that resumes and pitch letters were sent, the dates of interviews, follow-up calls and your notes. Put together folders for career paths, pitch letters, resumes, target companies, and the like. If your "brand" isn't selling well and you're not getting interviews, thinking like an entrepreneur means evaluating your cover letters and marketing materials along with your self-presentation in interviews. Consider crafting a new pitch and staging mock interviews to improve your interview performance. You may decide to enhance your "product offering" with an online certification to acquire a needed skill. Your evaluation could even lead to a new career path that is a better fit for you.
Learning how to conduct a successful job hunt and pitch yourself well are important skills for job seekers to learn. Since you don't have a strong track record yet, you will have to use a little artifice and thought. After all, if you can't articulate your value, who will?
Catherine Kaputa is the author of the recently published, Graduate to a Great Career: How Smart Students, New Graduates and Young Professionals Can Launch Brand You. She is also the author of two award-winning books, You Are a Brand and Breakthrough Branding. She is the founder of Selfbrand, (selfbrand.com)