Congratulations, you graduated! Now what?
Finding a job post-college is daunting, and stepping into the "real world" means you have to be a whole new level of adult, and face more competition in the job market than maybe ever before.
According to an American Student Assistance study, nearly 1.9 million students will graduate from college this spring. That's a lot of people looking for jobs. While they won't all be looking in the same industry, 2017 graduates all have a good reason to be optimistic.
Across the country, employers and recruitment analysts are calling the 2017 job market one of the best in years for recent graduates. Along with this, starting salaries are expected to rise 4 percent over 2016, according to a report by Michigan State University.
"We have not seen this level of employers raising salary offers since 2006-07," Phil Gardner, an economist at Michigan State University and the director of the institution's annual Recruiting Trends employer survey, said in a statement.
Here are a few things you can do right now to make yourself marketable to employers as a recent college graduate.
1. Don't delay your search (if you haven't already started)
The most important job search advice for college students is to start early, according to 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 said.
Geoff Gross, president and CEO of Medical Guardian, said that 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.
"When it comes to applying for jobs, don't hold back," Gross told Business News Daily. "Even if the job description doesn't sound exactly like the type of work you want to do, it never hurts to apply [if you're qualified]."
2. Show what you've learned
Recent grads are mostly lacking in professional experience, but even if you've had only one of two brief internships or volunteer opportunities, you can still be a valuable employee.
"When I'm hiring, I'm impressed by candidates that highlight life experiences over skills," said Cynthia Davies, managing director at design collected Safari Sundays. "[Demonstrate] what you have learned about life and how you can apply what you've taken away from your background to your job – what makes you a well-rounded person."
3. Polish your social media presence
Since social media will be involved in your job search, recent grads should build a strong digital presence to make yourself findable online, advised Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer of applicant-tracking system iCIMS.
"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."
Students should keep in mind that hiring managers are on social media too and will most likely search for a candidate's profile, according to Alexa Merschel, national talent ID leader for PwC US.
"Students should not forget that some of those people [on social media] are potential employers and future colleagues," she said. "The best personal brands include a professional and appropriate online presence." She added that because of this, job seekers should be aware of questionable tweets and party photos.
4. Do some offline networking
Digital networking is booming, but 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. "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."
5. Know where you want to go
It is a very lucky few that go into college knowing exactly what they want their career to be. However, by graduation day, you should have some idea of where you want to land, said Monica Smith, founder and CEO of Marketsmith Inc. 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."
It's important not to stress if your first job isn't your dream job, or a job you thought you'd ever find yourself in, but has immense value. 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.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon and Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.