College of Liberal Arts

10 Tips to Land a Career in Today's Job Market

Liberal arts career coach discusses what matters most in job hunt

Photo of Dr Kate Brooks

Career Services Director Dr. Kate Brooks

Career Services Director Dr. Kate Brooks, who has worked in career services for more than 20 years and has seen the job market through good times and bad, shares her insight on landing a job in today's economic climate.

You can get more career development and job-seeking insights on such topics as handling the stress of the job search, better networking, targeting resumes and cover letters and more in her Psychology Today blog, Career Transitions.

1. What are some of the biggest mistakes recent college graduates make in their job hunt?
One common mistake is waiting until the last minute to apply for a position. Some students see a deadline at midnight and start applying at 10:00 pm. Not only will their application be rushed and likely not as strong, they are more subject to making mistakes (spelling errors, etc.) and potentially encountering computer glitches. Also a last-minute application might be too late--the selection process may have already begun. Students shouldn't wait until the last minute to ask for references either.

2. What advice would you give a student whose major isn't related to their job objective?
Majors don't have to relate to the job--in fact, many times it won't. Students must articulate the value of their major to the employer. They need to think about what mindsets they developed through their major, the perspective they gained and the skills they have developed.

3. How important is your GPA when trying to land your first job?
A higher GPA opens doors to more opportunities. Certain consulting firms, investment banks, FBI and other positions require a high GPA--3.5 and above. Some employers use 3.0 as a general cut-off. But this doesn't mean that a student with a lower GPA is out of luck. The student needs to have an explanation for the GPA (perhaps working full-time while getting an education or pursuing a particularly challenging major), and be prepared to demonstrate other strong skills. Focus on strengths not weaknesses.

4. I had to accept a less-than perfect job that's not in line with what I studied in school; how do I make the best out of the situation?
The truth is many college graduates spend their first job looking for their second job. It doesn't define who you are. You should treat the current job as a stepping-stone to a better future. Develop a mindset of constantly learning: what can you learn from the position you're in? How can you develop new skills and build your resume for the next job? Focus on what you can learn, who you can meet and what might show up. And always remember your current supervisor's recommendation for that next job, so treat the job professionally. For more about this topic, visit my Career Transitions blog, "Children in a Lesser Job."

5. How can a job seeker incorporate social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) into their job search?
Carefully. Use Facebook for information on companies. Clean up your Facebook profile if it's public; better yet, keep it private including list of friends. Just remember that even private Facebook pages can sometimes be seen by employers. LinkedIn is better for professional networking.

6. News about the economy is dire and recent graduates are now competing with more experienced professionals for the same jobs. How can recent graduates differentiate themselves from their older, more experienced counterparts?
They come with less expectations regarding salary, they usually don't have the family obligations so they can be more flexible (move as necessary and work longer hours), and they have a fresh perspective because they are just coming out of their educational program. They need to have a strong knowledge base, though, to compete with experienced people. Focus on your strengths.

7. Everyone says networking is the key to finding a job; how do you make that first step in networking? Do you cold call someone at a company you'd like to work for?
No. Look for a way to develop relationships first, then turn them into a network. Start with friendly connections wherever possible: alumni, friends, parents of friends, etc. The best way to network is just be friendly with everyone you meet and let them know (whenever possible) what you'd like to do when you graduate. You're not asking for a job, just stating what you hope to do--you never know who can help you.

8. Is the traditional resume still alive?
Sure is. It's just often sent via email now instead of mailed. But same things apply--generally one page, great spelling and format, put important information first, etc.

9. What is the best strategy for crafting a winning resume?
You need to make sure that your resume speaks to your new potential employer. To do that you have to know and use the lingo of the field you aspire to, not the field you're in. Every industry has its own terminology and part of shifting into that industry involves knowing and using the terminology. Using keywords can save you from being stuck in your past. For instance, if you are a teacher or a tutor and would like to transition to the field of Human Resources, you might want to use the word "training" rather than "tutoring" as in "Trained students in English language skills" rather than "tutored students in English." For a creative way to analyze your resume, read my Career Transitions blog, "Job Seekers: Have Your Wordle'd Your Resume?"

10. What other advice would you give to a job seeker fresh out of college?
Always have a learning mindset. Look for what you can learn from a situation--whether it's a job, an internship, a class, whatever. Focus on where you want to go and look for steps to get there even if they're not "perfect." Think of it as conducting an experiment. See what happens. Take a risk.

Kate Brooks is a nationally recognized career coach, trainer, professor and counselor. She is also the creator of the Career Coaching Intensives program for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She has a Ph.D. in educational psychology.

Visit ShelfLife@Texas to learn more about Brooks' new book "You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career."

More about Brooks' Wise Wandering system...