After your graduation cap has been tossed and you've said your final goodbye to college life, you must prepare to make the transition into the "real world." And if you're one of the many recent grads who have not yet landed a job, you may be starting to panic.
But fear not, recent grads: The forecast is good. According to Michigan State University's (MSU) 2015-2016 Recruiting Trends report, hiring will increase by an average of 15 percent across all degree levels, including associate's, bachelor's, MBA, master's, doctorate and professional.
"Most signs point to another explosive year of growth in the job market for college graduates," Phil Gardner, an economist at MSU and the lead author of the report, said in a statement.
Some students may have started searching for their first postgrad gig months ago, but if you waited until the last minute, here are a few things you can do right now to make yourself marketable to employers. [See Related Story: 9 Expert Tips for Landing Your Dream Job]
Get going today
Famed poet William Butler Yeats once said, "Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking." The same applies to your job search.
"The most important job search advice for college students is to start early," said Jason Weingarten, co-founder and CEO of talent acquisition software Yello. "If soon-to-be grads are just starting their job search, they are already behind. As early as freshman year, college students should begin building their networks by attending club events, networking with faculty members, securing leadership roles within campus organizations and lining up internships," he told Business News Daily.
In addition, you shouldn't necessarily wait until the perfect job listing comes your way, said Geoff Gross, president and CEO of Medical Guardian, a provider of personal emergency response systems.
"When it comes to applying for jobs, don't hold back," Gross said. "Even if the job description doesn't sound exactly like the type of work you want to do, it never hurts to apply."
Even if you're not keen on a particular career opportunity, the job application process can still be helpful. Get as much interviewing experience as possible, so when your dream job does come along, you'll know exactly how to impress the hiring manager, Gross advised.
Show what you've learned
As a brand-new college graduate, you're not going to have a lot of professional experience under your belt. But even if you've had only one or two brief internships or volunteer gigs, you can still be a valuable employee.
Entry-level workers tend to focus on what employers want to hear about their industry-related qualifications, but Erin Keeley, chief marketing officer of creative agency mono, said she's more interested in hearing about what a candidate learned from his or her experiences, professional or otherwise.
"When I'm hiring, I'm impressed by candidates that highlight life experiences over skills," added Cynthia Davies, managing director at design collective Safari Sundays. "[Demonstrate] what have you learned about life and how can you apply what you've taken away from your background to your job — what makes you a well-rounded person."
Polish your social media presence
In today's world, it's more or less expected that social media will be involved in your job search in some way. Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer of applicant-tracking system iCIMS, advised building a strong digital presence to make yourself findable online.
"Social networking sites are great ways to show off your professional skills and expand your network," Vitale said. "They also offer candidates opportunities to connect with, and interact with, companies to increase their chances of being noticed."
Alexa Merschel, campus recruiting leader for PwC US,reminded students that hiring managers are on social media, too, and will most likely search for candidates' profiles. Therefore, those questionable tweets and party photos you've posted might not be the smartest way to present yourself.
"Students should not forget that some of those people [on social media] are potential employers and future colleagues," said Merschel, whose company offers a resource for job seekers called CareerAdvisor. "The best personal brands include a professional and appropriate online presence."
Social media can also be a research tool. If you know the name of the hiring manager and/or key people at the company you're interviewing with, you should use social media to prepare, said Nathan Moody, design director of smart-space design firm Stimulant. However, during the interview, ask questions based on the conversation you've had with the interviewer — not what you've dug up on their social media accounts, he said.
"There's a fine line between research and stalking, reasonable inquiry and [invading] privacy, being curious and being creepy," Moody said.
Do some offline networking
Social media has made it easier than ever to connect with others, but don't be afraid to network the old-fashioned way, too. Speaking with like-minded professionals or seasoned leaders face-to-face may help influence your ultimate career path.
"[In-person] networking might be the biggest thing that makes students feel uncomfortable, but doing so will set you apart from the crowd," Gross said. "Create an elevator pitch to sell yourself, but be sure to ask the other person questions, too. Keep up-to-date resumes and business cards with you wherever you go — you never know when an opportunity to network will happen and what could come of it."
Keeping up with industry trends is important, too, because having industry-related information handy for conversation is a great icebreaker when networking with new contacts, said Courtney Buechert, CEO of advertising agency Eleven Inc. Make it clear to hiring managers that you're not only up-to-date on industry news, but also have an opinion on it — employers are looking to add well-informed individuals to their organizations, Buechert said.
"I'm impressed by candidates that share relevant observations or a unique point of view about the industry," Buechert said. "It shows ingenuity and self-confidence."
Know where you want to go
It's OK to go into college not knowing what you want out of your career. But by graduation day, you should have some idea of where you want to land, said Monica Smith, chairwoman and founder of MarketSmith Inc. and its sister companies. She encouraged new grads to create personal road maps for the next one, five and 10 years. It may change as you go, she said, but it will at least help you get moving on your journey.
"Define what's important to you," Smith said. "Pitch your plan to anyone who will listen, and before you know it, you'll acquire the interviewing skills you need to put your plan into action."
"Having a strong personal brand involves knowing where you're going in life," Merschel added. "Recruiters want to hire young people who have put serious thought into their futures."
Joe Weinlick, senior vice president at career network Beyond, reminded new grads that, regardless of where they end up, their first job often becomes a gateway to every job afterward.
"Value the potential of the first job to lead to other jobs down the road," Weinlick said. "That aspect can be more important than salary and other more immediate considerations."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon Taylor.