College tuition — and, consequently, student loan debt — is on the rise, and the pressure for college students to secure a good job after graduation is rising right along with it. But even as the economy improves, new grads are finding that full-time employment is hard to come by. A 2012 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that nearly half of recent graduates with bachelor's degrees were underemployed or working jobs that didn't require a degree.
"An advanced degree gives college graduates a tremendous leg up compared to those without one," said Matt Stewart, co-founder of National Services Group, which operates an entrepreneurial internship program called College Works Painting. It's just a matter of how much of an advantage students have right out of college, Stewart said.
How can college students gain that advantage? Stewart said that the answer lies in pursuing opportunities while still in school, so students graduate already armed with experience and connections. Part-time jobs, internships and freelance work are all options for current college students who want to build up their pre-graduation resumes. Dan Schawbel, author of "Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success" (St. Martin's Press, 2013), agreed, adding that freelancing can even lead to the full-time job you want. [The Best Jobs for College Graduates]
"[As a freelancer], you get to leverage your strengths to do projects, measure your success and wrap up your work into a case study to prove your worth," Schawbel told Business News Daily. "If you go into a job interview with several successful freelance projects, you have a great chance of being hired because you're eliminating the perceived risk from the employer's perspective."
Even if the internship or job you take during college isn't directly related to your career goals, it can still help you in your job search, said Stewart. A management role can demonstrate a strong work ethic, risk-taking attitude and leadership skills that will translate into any industry. However, make sure the time you spend in these positions is really worth your while.
"Many businesses simply want [interns] to do their lowest-level work," Stewart said. "Grunt work is a fact of life in most professions, but students probably aren't looking to gain experience in coffee making or cleaning. Consider an internship that gives you real responsibility and provides experiences that will definitely come in handy in your future career."
In addition to finding resume-building opportunities as an undergrad, here are a few more things you can do during college to improve your chances of securing full-time work when you graduate:
Know where your skills can take you. The best way to stand out in the job market is to figure out what your strengths and passions are, and then connect those with open positions, said Schawbel. Research the kinds of jobs people with your degree or career interests have been able to secure, and see if you have the necessary skills and experience for those positions.
Talk to people who have been there. If you've identified a company that you want to work for, whether as an intern while still in college or as a full-time employee after graduation, Stewart advised speaking with current or former interns and employees of the company. This way, you can find out firsthand what the experience was really like and determine if it's right for you.
- Make and utilize professional connections. Nearly all job seekers get advised to network through industry events and social media like Twitter and LinkedIn. Creating a professional online presence should start while you're still in school. Once you've made some strong connections, Schawbel recommended finding a mentor who is on the career path that you want to pursue, and learning about what they had to do, step-by-step, to graduate with a job.
Originally published on Business News Daily.