When recent or soon-to-be college graduates begin to seek employment, many inevitably turn to job-search and networking platforms on the internet.
The platforms include some that are college-based—such as Handshake, Symplicity, GradLeaders, and 12twenty—as well as networking platforms like LinkedIn and PeopleGrove. With COVID-19 having moved job searches more and more into the virtual realm, these platforms are playing an increasingly crucial role in the quest for employment.
From my vantage point as a veteran college-based career services counselor, I have also observed that many students and recent graduates don’t make the most of what these platforms have to offer.
With that in mind—and in light of reports of bleak employment prospects for new college graduates—here are six tips for recent or soon-to-be college graduates who hope to make the most of their virtual job searches.
1. Use multiple platforms
Start with the platform that has a partnership with your college. The reason is because campus-based platforms, such as Symplicity or Handshake, often list jobs that are not available on other sites.
At the same time, I recommend that college students set up profiles with one or more of the “big board” employment job posting sites, such as Indeed, CareerBuilder, SimplyHired, ZipRecruiter, or Glassdoor. Among other things, these sites allow job seekers to create job search agents that push email notifications whenever new jobs that match search criteria are posted.
2. Apply frequently
Students who are new to the job search may not be applying for enough positions. I’ve recently worked with several students who have become discouraged when they applied to a few jobs and didn’t get the response they wanted.
While the number of positions a college job seeker should apply to will vary by industry, I suggest that an applicant should apply to at least two or three positions a day.
The reason I say this is because employment experts, such as Biron Clark, founder of CareerSidekick.com, estimate that only 2 to 3 percent of employment applications result in an interview. For that reason alone, job seekers have to step up their search and networking efforts in order to increase their odds.
3. Set small daily goals
Real and perceived economic challenges created by the pandemic have led to a great deal of anxiety for job seekers. Studies have shown that extended periods of unemployment—and the risk of unemployment and underemployment—can be distressing.
Many college students with whom I have worked have expressed feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed about their employment prospects. Some have even stopped searching for a job altogether.
To guard against giving up, I recommend that college students and recent graduates focus on small steps and daily goals. In addition to applying to a few positions a day, these goals can include conducting research regarding possible careers or networking with at least one person daily.
4. Track your progress
Create a spreadsheet to keep track of your job applications.
I believe a spreadsheet can be a motivational tool to ensure daily job hunt activity. I’ve even created a sample spreadsheet that I share with the students and alumni with whom I work. The columns on my sample spreadsheet include categories such as “Date of Application,” “Date of Screening Interview,” “Thank You Note Sent?” and “Salary Offer.”
A more sophisticated spreadsheet might include columns for when the time comes to choose between offers, such as length of commute or average rent in the city where the job is located.
5. Tap into alumni networks
Surveys indicate that up to 80 percent of people secure employment opportunities through networking and personal connections. For that reason, connections with alumni and others with ties to a particular school can be the key to a successful job search.
Many colleges and universities have programs to help students and alumni make connections. Some of these are closed networks exclusively for current students and verified alumni, often through service providers such as PeopleGrove and Graduway. Others are through LinkedIn, including specific university-affiliated LinkedIn groups and the popular LinkedIn Alumni Tool. This tool allows job seekers to research and connect with alumni from their alma mater based on search criteria that include geographic location, current employer, job function and industry, academic major and skills.
While networking strategies can feel like a lot of work, they are proven. Sometimes the progress is incremental. For instance, networking can lead to informational interviews, which are opportunities for job seekers to get insights from someone already working in a field or at a company of interest.
I have seen the power of networking and these informational interviews firsthand. A 2020 graduate from the school where I work landed a position as an area manager with a major logistics company in Orlando after we connected him with an alum who works for the same organization. The alum offered him an informational interview and made an internal employee referral. A formal job interview and, ultimately, a job offer soon followed.
6. Take advantage of career services
As a career services professional, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that almost every college and university has some sort of career center to help students find jobs. The vast majority offer services to alumni for life for free or for a small fee.
Evidence shows that visits to these centers are worthwhile. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, college graduates who use their college career center are more likely to obtain full-time employment—67 percent, compared with 59 percent for graduates who did not visit career services.