Dear 100 Hour Board,
How do you have a good job lined up before you graduate?
-Net Whirr King Wear?
I got lucky, so use my answer as a beacon of hope and the answers below as more practical answers.
I had no idea I was going to need a job right out of college, so I didn't plan to work. Did no networking, did no meetups, no internships, nothing. Then, things changed and I realized I needed to come up with a way to support myself, and quick. I took a few courses in tech, revamped my resume (with honesty!), and practiced my 30-second pitch.
Then, I went to career fairs. Specialized career fairs, general career fairs, career fairs at the community level, career fairs through BYU, all the career fairs I could shuffle my bum into, I went to.
If you are good with one-on-one conversations with recruiters, even if your resume isn't the most beautiful one ever, you will find at least two or three recruiters willing to give you a chance at a full interview. I also was willing to start working before my last semester of school finished, which gave me a leg up on those who wanted to only start working once they finished the semester. With this method, I was offered two jobs within a week of the first career fair I attended, and offered interviews at many more (which I turned down once I decided on a job). My job happens to have a healthy number of people coming in and out of it every year and isn't centrally located in my current location, so by getting in the good graces of my colleagues, I'm naturally building a network of people at companies in each of my team's locations across America.
Career fairs, my pal. If you're like me and procrastinated everything until your senior year, career fairs will save your soul.
-Yog in Neverland
Internships. Starting in your freshman year, beg for internships from absolutely any company in your field, whether you want to work for them long-term or not. If you absolutely can't get an internship, ask literally every professor in your department for a paid research job: get a list, read a bit about their research & rank them best to worst, and then work the list. (Dr. [#X on the list], I read your paper on [topic] which really interested me because [have a credible story about why] and I would love to do similar research with you...do you have any paid research assistant positions available?)
Research job will give you interview stories, relevant to your field, so that you can get an internship. Internship at some random company will give you stories & experience so you can get an internship at the company you want. And then that internship gets you the job.
I got a paid job doing research through this strategy. Telling good stories about that experience in my interview basically got me an internship. And then I had a job offer (which I accepted) from the company where I interned by about October of my senior year, and I think this is reasonably common for my major (mechanical engineering) and industry (oil). Probably also for STEM-type jobs in general.
Now I both moonlight as a part-time recruiter (at the BYU STEM fair) and participate in hiring decisions, and I can tell you my company's policy is to recruit full-time hires EXCLUSIVELY from our past interns. And if you get an internship from us, you are about 80% likely to receive a full-time offer. So the internship is a much bigger deal than you might assume.
Dear Mad Lib:
You should also look into BYU Bridge (or a similar site for your university). Create a LinkedIn profile and get endorsements. (I'd suggest only connecting with those who are already on LinkedIn and whom you know in the real world.)
I graduated from the French and Italian department in '13, which that year boasted 100% employment rates for graduates looking for work. Any market is prone to hiring ups and downs (during the dark days of '08-'10, many newly minted graduates struggled to find any job).
I have always had a connection to my places of employment, whether through employee referrals, shared high school or college connections, or taking internships. (I had two my last semester, a tutoring gig, a full course load, and a boyfriend. Got the formal offer from a job that had only provisionally offered me the slot the day I walked.) I think being outgoing and genuine has helped me interview well.
Also, don't be afraid to negotiate salary and join Facebook groups or Meetups for your field.
I failed at networking as an undergrad. I graduated unemployed. And that is the story of how I ended up in grad school.
Now that I'm in grad school, though, I've been pretty aggressive about networking because I refuse to let the same thing happen to me twice. Here are a few things I've found helpful:
- Talk to the graduating seniors in your program. Odds are most of them have done an internship (which, like Kirke says, is a Really Big Deal in networking and career-building terms), and they'll be able to tell you what their experience was like and how they were hired. You can get an idea of what the application and interview process was like, and if you ask (and you should definitely ask), they can probably get you in contact with their supervisor.
- Speaking of which, once you've got a potential contact, follow through. Ask for an informational interview. Make yourself visible without making yourself obnoxious.
- And then when you're done with the interview, follow up the next day with a thank you email. People notice things like that.
- There is probably a professional organization for your field. In my case (city planning), it's the American Planning Association. Join the organization. Find the local chapter and get on its email list. (Your professors can help you with that part; odds are that some if not all of them are members of the chapter too.) Go to their social events. Even if you don't like social events, it will be worth it.
- On a related note, if you live outside of Utah (which you probably will at some point), you need to be comfortable with the idea of going to events at places where alcohol is served. These events are professional in nature, and people will be completely respectful of your decision not to drink - most of them won't even notice. The point isn't the drinking, and nobody will get drunk. It's just an excuse to socialize.
- Social events are really awkward and I hate them. This is where typical introvert strategy pays off, though - if one of your professors or classmates with connections is there, find them and ask them to introduce you to people they know, especially people in the specific area you'd like to work in. It's a lot more effective than just approaching people at random.
- These are specific tips, but here are the two general principles that they are all based on: First, people are more likely to remember you if they've seen or heard from you multiple times. Second, hiring is not objective, it is not purely by merit, and it is absolutely not fair. It's done by humans, who are incredibly biased creatures. If your prospective employer has met you and received a good impression, they will almost always prioritize your resume over an identical resume from someone they haven't met. Networking is all about using the first principle to take advantage of the second principle as much as possible.
That's what I've learned so far. Does it actually work? Come back in a year and hopefully I'll be able to tell you.