Graduating Soon? Why You Should Start Your Job Hunt Now!

Are you one of the thousands of students who will soon make the transition from college life to the working world? In this interview with Michael Johnson, Esri’s university programs manager, learn what you can—and should—be doing now to land your first full-time job.

How soon before graduation should a student start seriously looking for a job?

It depends on where they’re at professionally and academically. If they have internship experience, they’ll likely already have some leads. I advise students to get going as soon as school starts in the fall semester—proactively leveraging contacts, networking, crafting their resumé, and applying to the places they know they want to work. So many students make the mistake of waiting until the spring semester or even when they graduate before realizing, “Hey, it’s time for me to find a job!”

Why is it so important to start early?

They’ll have more opportunities the sooner they begin. Some employers, Esri included, will extend offers to students they meet in the fall, knowing they can’t start working until after they graduate in May or June. So those students already have an offer in hand and know where they’re going to work.

Also, by starting early you have more time to leverage all the different avenues you can—career fairs, info sessions, on-campus interviews, submitting applications . . . there are more opportunities available at the beginning of a school year.

Knowing a student is about to graduate, is there anything different they should do with their resumé?

Nothing necessarily different, but I can offer a few tips. They should include internship experience or any jobs they’ve had on campus. Some students don’t include class project and team experience on their resumé because they don’t feel it has value. It’s huge, because it shows recruiters and hiring managers they’re doing real-world-type work in their projects, especially those where they’re working in collaboration with industry, i.e., through a senior seminar class.

I think it’s best to keep your resumé to one page and then be more exhaustive on LinkedIn. Put a link to your profile on your resumé and an employer can easily get to a more descriptive explanation of your experience. Since it’s web based it’s a lot easier to follow on a computer versus sifting through multiple pages of paper.

You mentioned leveraging your network. How can a soon-to-be-grad best do that when they’re looking for a job?

Your network can literally be your parents and their network. They probably know people in certain companies and have friends who work in a number of fields. Be sure to leverage your professors—have you built relationships with them? That’s huge, because professors know people in industry. I wear a hat as a recruiter as well as university programs manager, so they’ll often refer their top students to people like me.

You can even connect through your classmates who are already working with an employer. A lot of times, companies are hiring a multitude of engineers, computer scientists, business majors, etc. so your peers could help introduce you to a prospective employer.

What are your thoughts on pursuing an internship versus a full-time opportunity upon graduation?

It depends on the employer and the industry a particular student is looking to build a career in. At Esri, if you’re a recent graduate you can apply to an internship. It’s essentially a 12-week interview and a chance to prove yourself. At the same time, it’s a great way for the student to get to know an employer and determine if it’s where they want to build a career.

A good approach is to apply to a full-time position and an internship at a company, but in your full-time application reference the fact that you’d be willing to accept an internship should you be a better fit for that. Oftentimes that’s a better option for an employer—if they don’t have the right talent for that full-time opportunity, they’ll hire interns in that capacity and see how they work out.

What do you say to students who don’t want to take an internship because they don’t see it as a way to kick start their career?

A lot of times an internship is the best way to get your foot in the door. And as soon as you’re hired, you should be proving yourself as best you can—working hard and leveraging all the relationships you’re going to establish, seeking what opportunities are available full-time, and talking to the right people. That’s sometimes how it happens here at Esri.

When preparing for an interview, how can a new grad best match their skills to a specific job description?

Very few recent graduates have a vast amount of job experience, but hopefully they have done internships. So it’s relating the work they did in their internships and class projects to the description of an employer’s post. When I read a cover letter and/or a resumé, I’ll try to equate it to the job description and the specifications that a hiring manager is looking for. Does it match up? Why would this manager want to call this person?

Sometimes people struggle with how to articulate that. They need to practice with their classmates, friends, and even family members. Not enough students utilize the career services department on their campus. It’s a great resource and, like professors, they know people like me.

Oftentimes you only get a 30-minute interview to impress a hiring manager or recruiter who probably has a big say in the decision of whether or not you’re going to be hired. So it’s important to be prepared—it makes you less nervous, and the fact you already landed an interview means you are more qualified than most. Most importantly, be sincere in your interest, be honest, and be sure to ask questions.

What if a new grad doesn’t find a job right away?

They still need to be leveraging their contacts as best they can. Be accepting of an internship. Be proactive in their job search. When you go to an employer’s website and they don’t have a careers page, I guarantee there’s a person you can contact at that company. You can send an e-mail to them with your resumé and in the body of the e-mail explain what you’re looking for in terms of work. Let them know you’re looking for a full-time opportunity but you’d be accepting of an internship, even an unpaid internship. Students should be doing these things at any point in the process, but it’s especially true for those who have not found employment upon graduation. They need to exhaust any and all resources they have.

Have a question for Michael? E-mail him at careersblog@esri.com

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