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Top 10 job search tips for college grads

By Christine Bolzan
Boston.com Correspondent / September 15, 2009

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More than 1.5 million men and women graduated from college this spring and fewer than 20 percent had a job on graduation day. With national unemployment looming at 9.7 percent, it's no surprise so many recent graduates have yet to obtain meaningful employment.

Here are 10 strategies for jump starting your search and landing the job you want.

1. Identify the roadblock

Are you landing interviews but failing to convert them into offers? Still waiting for the hiring manager to call? Struggling to even find positions to apply for?

If interviewing is your greatest challenge, arrange for a few mock interviews. If you have not heard back from employers, take careful stock of your cover letters and resume. Ramp up your networking efforts. If you are spending your days trolling job boards for open positions and continue to come up empty, reevaluate what it is you seek.

2. Cast a wider net

A focused job search will yield better results than the carpet bomb approach by the job seeker willing to take anything and everything. That said, successful job applicants are willing to look more broadly geographically and explore roles in thriving industries where they can use their transferrable skills.

Consider healthcare, big pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and education. Identify roles within healthy companies that will develop your skills and build out your resume. The CIA, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the State Department and Teach for America were four of this year's biggest campus recruiters. Were they on your list?

3. Go back to campus

Feeling nostalgic for your alma mater? Return for a visit, but with a purpose. Schedule time with an alumni career services counselor and book an appointment with your former academic advisor. They may have insights and connections which could help reboot your stalled search.

They may also have up-to-date information on fellow alumni who are hiring or companies recruiting on campus. Homecoming is a fun time to go and also provides a great networking opportunity.

4. Mock interview

You can never get enough practice telling your story. A filmed mock interview is a great tool and will help make you aware of filler words you use unknowingly or distracting hand gestures that have become habit. Ask your roommates, parents, a mentor, or neighbor to lend a hand.

Turn the tables and become the interviewer for fellow job seekers. Take careful notes of the answers you responded well to and those that need more careful thought and preparation.

5. Network, network and network

The vast majority of jobs are being filled via word-of-mouth and employee referral, which means networking should be your biggest priority. Make certain those you know are well-informed about what you seek and your qualifications. By "those you know" we mean anyone and everyone: friends, friends' parents, parents' friends, neighbors, relatives, former classmates, teammates, co-workers, teachers, coaches, and bosses.

Meet people for coffee and set up informational interviews wherever possible. One meeting will lead to another, and you should keep careful track of your contacts and conversations. Social media can help you nurture your offline relationships online.

6. Assess your online presence

Google yourself. Employers are doing it, often before they even call you for an interview, so you might as well see what they see. If need be, un-tag photos, tighten your privacy settings on social networking sites, and think before you tweet.

Be proactive about putting positive material online for employers to see including a professional LinkedIn profile complete with recommendations from former managers or co-workers. Consider blogging to share your voice and demonstrate your writing skills.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering for an organization that has meaning for you will lift your spirits and get you out of the house. It's also a terrific way to develop resume building skills and could be a potential networking opportunity. The full-time job search never seems to have a schedule and a volunteer commitment might give your day a bit of well-needed structure.

8. Take a class

Take a good look at the job descriptions for positions you desire. Are there requirements that appear time and again that you lack, such as technical or language skills?

Consider taking a class at a local community college or continuing education center. See if there's a relevant online certification you might obtain. Mention your enrollment in your cover letters and update your resume when the class is complete and the skill mastered. Should an interview come up before you've finished, the interviewer will be impressed by your determination and willingness to improve your skills.

9. Temp

If your savings have dwindled and the Bank of Mom & Dad is tightening your margin, meet with a recruiting company that can place you in a temporary position.

Many positions are only part-time so you will still be able to dedicate time to your search. Often you can indicate to the placement agency an industry preference, thus setting up a good networking opportunity for yourself or a potential temp-to-hire scenario. At the very least, you'll earn a paycheck and potentially develop transferable office skills.

10. Take care of yourself

You are not alone in your frustration. The job market's recovery is lagging behind the rest of the economy, but early indicators show entry-level recruitment will improve before the year is out. Stick with it and take care.

You need to keep both your attitude positive and your energy up. Give yourself scheduled breaks from the process, being certain to spend time with friends, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Your good health, both mental and physical, is vital to a successful search and transition from college to career.

Christine Bolzan is founder of Graduate Career Coaching, a personal counseling firm specializing in helping college students and recent graduates successfully launch their careers. She can be reached at Christine@graduatecareercoaching.com.