How college students can prepare for the job market

2012 Syracuse University Commencement
Syracuse University graduates sit and read programs during the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement at Syracuse University on May 13, 2012 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.
Nate Shron/Getty Images

At last week's presidential debate, college student Jeremy Epstein asked President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney about his prospects for finding employment once he graduates.

"As a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment," he said. "What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?"

Lindsey Pollak, career expert and author of "Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World," joined The Daily Circuit Wednesday to offer advice on the job search once you've graduated from college.

"I thought it was really interesting how Jeremy phrased his question in that debate," she said. "It was more the vibe out there, which is incredibly negative."

Pollak said the attitude on college campuses is much more positive. Students today just have to work harder and stay focused to get jobs in their field, she said.

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of, also joined the discussion.

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When you're choosing a major, learn more about job prospects after graduation. Pollak said it's important to push your advisers for honest information about job prospects in your major and what kind of positions you'll be qualified for. Your school's career services office will also be helpful for this information.

Classroom experience doesn't cut it. From Emily on the blog: "Don't think that because you are a college grad you have years of experience. Classroom experience does not equal work experience. Be patient. I thought I easily was qualified for the '5 years+ experience' jobs I was applying for, when truthfully, I was not. It is humbling, because I truly thought that my four years were an instant qualifier. Don't be ashamed to start at the bottom and gain experience, and work your way up in a few years."

Sitting behind your computer looking for job openings isn't good enough anymore. "Probably in an economy like this, roughly 80 to 90 percent job openings are unadvertised," Rothberg said. "If you're in that 80 to 90 percent who only apply to the advertised openings, you're with the masses chasing after a very, very small pool of openings."

Network, network, network. Pollak recommends sending individual emails to friends and family in your field of interest when you are in the search for a job or internship. Join LinkedIn, follow companies on Twitter, attend career fairs and networking events, and take part in alumni groups at your school.

Resume and cover letter formatting is key. "One of the deep dark mysteries, especially with large employers, is in how they find candidates," Rothberg said. "Virtually no human is ever going to look at your resume... You can be by far the most qualified candidate for the position, but if you're using a resume with two or three columns, you can kiss your resume goodbye." Make sure to include keywords from the job posting too.

A resume handed to a recruiter by a trusted colleague still works best. "If you have a real person who you know, who knows you, and can vouch for you and recommend you, who personally hands your resume to that recruiter, you are suddenly at the top of the stack of resumes," Pollak said.

Be adaptive. Take a job in your field that might not cover all your bills, but gets you in the door. Find a second job to help fill in the pay gap.

If you take a job outside your field, be smart about it:

@kerrimpr I'm a barista turned bartender turned hedge fun analyst. It's about being where the bosses are: the right bars, shops etc.

— Justin Holinka (@jpholinka) October 24, 2012

Apply when the companies are looking to hire. Competitive industries like accounting and engineering will often be on campus in the fall for recruiting events. Other companies might only hire when they have a position to fill.

Practice talking about yourself and your strengths. Put yourself in a recruiter's shoes, Rothberg said. Learn to talk about your strengths and how your skills will benefit their company.

If you can't find a job in your career, volunteer there. You'll gain contacts and experience that will help you land a job in the future.

What advice do you have for new college grads who are on a job hunt? Comment on the blog.