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12 Tips on How to Stand Out in a Competitive Job Market as a College Graduate

How can college graduates stand out in a competitive job market?

To help recent college graduates stand out, we asked hiring managers and CEOs this question for their best recommendations. From being consistent on LinkedIn to demonstrating an eagerness for lifelong learning, there are several suggestions that to help you compete in the job market post-graduation.  

Here are 12 tips on how to stand out as a college graduate:

  1. Be Consistent on LinkedIn
  2. Create a Targeted Professional Resume
  3. Reach Out to Hiring Managers
  4. Show Your Interest in Supporting CSR Initiatives
  5. Lean on Your Soft Skills
  6. Research the Companies You Apply For
  7. Consider an Internship
  8. Craft a Compelling Cover Letter
  9. Build a Network of Connections
  10. Create Work for Your Portfolio Before You Graduate 
  11. Make Yourself the Focus of the Interview
  12. Demonstrate an Eagerness for Lifelong Learning

1. Be Consistent on LinkedIn

As a college graduate, you can make and leverage connections through LinkedIn for your job search. However, it is better to create some reputation first. Regularly contribute to discussions within specific industry groups; you can answer questions and showcase your understanding of relevant topics. 

Using this technique, you will be able to create your brand on LinkedIn. Potential employers can have a glimpse of your knowledge on industry-related topics. You can build a rapport with industry leaders before contacting them on the phone or meeting in person. This makes you stand out from the crowd and increases your chance of getting hired soon after graduation. Therefore, be sure to remain active on LinkedIn and use its resources to their fullest potential.

Antreas Koutis, Financer

2. Create a Targeted Professional Resume

One way students can stand out in this job market is by taking the time to create a targeted professional resume. As recent graduates, they may not have much job experience to include in a resume, but they can still get the recruiter’s attention.

First, they need to read the job description and make certain they have included the core skills the employer is looking for in their resume. These skills do not need to have been acquired through paid employment. Graduates can list skills gained through school projects, volunteering, and freelancing. They must make certain to include all relevant technical skills and to highlight their educational achievements and certifications. The graduate should also include links to their professional LinkedIn profile and any digital portfolios of their work.

Liz Hogan, Find My Profession

3. Reach Out to Hiring Managers

With recruiters receiving hundreds of applications, it’s imperative to go the extra mile and reach out to the hiring manager directly. A personal message is an opportunity to showcase your personality — you might even decide to highlight something you both have in common. At the end of the day, hiring managers are human, so the best way to break the ice is by being yourself, elegantly discussing the company, and starting a conversation.

Cesar Cruz, Sebastian Cruz Couture

4. Show Your Interest in Supporting CSR Initiatives

As more businesses implement social and environmental initiatives into their operations and interactions, they’re looking for applicants who understand these issues to help develop their social programs. Therefore, when it comes time to start a career, it will no longer be enough just to be aware of societal issues. Job seekers must have a deeper understanding of one’s role and responsibility in society. And this is where your past and present volunteer experience can help you land your first big job.

Demonstrate to hiring managers that you’re looking for meaningful employment by speaking about your passion for giving back. By doing so, you’ll be waving a bright white flag indicating your potential to help their company leave a broader positive mark on society and the world.

Maria Shriver, MOSH

5. Lean on Your Soft Skills

Rely on your soft skills. When you’re a college grad trying to stand out in a competitive job market, no one is going to expect you to have a loaded resume, so let your soft skills set you apart.

No company is going to say, “What, you just graduated and you haven’t held a job down in this field for more than two years?” No, they’re going to see you — and all your classmates — who have all gone through the same training, with the same experience, and they’re going to be looking for the person who stands out. The person with interpersonal skills, leadership potential, teamwork mentality, and a great attitude. So let your soft skills be your calling card as you enter the job market and you’ll definitely stand out in the crowd.

Staci Brinkman, Sips by

6. Research the Companies You Apply For

To stand out and leave a strong first impression, show the interviewer that you’ve done proper research into the company. By educating yourself on the company’s history, culture, and mission statement, it demonstrates your willingness to pursue knowledge and go the extra mile. During an interview, you can expand on that knowledge by asking questions relating to your research discoveries. This is an excellent quality to have in any candidate, and as a college graduate in particular, it’s a great way to get ahead of the competition when you don’t have much work experience.

By doing this, the dynamic of the interview changes. You’re no longer answering questions one by one and qualifying yourself to the interviewer, hoping that they give you a chance. Instead, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you, and you can use their answers to determine whether the role is a good fit. This demonstrates your value and makes you the obvious choice for employment.

Max Wesman, GoodHire

7. Consider an Internship

Although internships are often thought of as a way to gain experience for students and recent graduates, they can actually be a great way to make connections and learn about potential full-time opportunities. In fact, many internships lead to full-time job offers. If you are interested in pursuing an internship, start by doing your research and identify organizations that interest you.

Once you have narrowed down your list, take the time to reach out to your network of family and friends to see if anyone has any connections at those companies. Utilizing your personal network is a great way to get your foot in the door. After you have identified a few companies, reach out to their HR department or recruiting team and express your interest in interning with their organization.

Todd Saunders, BIG Safety

8. Craft a Compelling Cover Letter

Your cover letter is the first official form of communication with the organization you’re applying to. It needs to leave a long-lasting mark in the minds of your employers and effectively express your enthusiasm for the job, the value you aim to add, and how your college achievements and projects could make you an ideal fit. If your cover letter misses out on crucial details or comes across as lackluster, it could be one of the reasons why you don’t get a follow-up interview. Leave no stone unturned while crafting your cover letter, even if it means thinking out of the box and being bold in your statements.

Brian Casel, ZipMessage

9. Build a Network of Connections

In a competitive job market, making the most of every opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition is essential. One specific way college graduates may do this is to build a network of connections within their chosen field. It can be done by attending industry events, reaching out to professionals on social media, and even volunteering their time to work on projects related to their career goals. By building a strong network of connections, they will make themselves more visible to potential employers and gain valuable experience and insight to help them succeed in their chosen field.

Kev Tilley, Mortgageable

10. Create Work for Your Portfolio Before You Graduate 

To stand out in a competitive job market, you cannot wait until you have experience to create work for your portfolio. Do mock-up campaigns, curate a social media presence with consistent and deliberate branding, and track your analytics for your blog so you can [show that you] have experience optimizing content. These are all things you can do on your own, in your spare time during school.

When you graduate you will have an impressive portfolio that will show hiring teams what you can do already, and that you have the potential to grow with the company. If you wait for your first jobs to have anything portfolio worthy, you will be stuck in a loop of entry-level work for years. Don’t show them entry-level material — show them material from an experienced self-starter!

Grey Idol, altLINE Sobanco

11. Make Yourself the Focus of the Interview

One great way for college graduates to stand out in a competitive job market is to make themselves the focus of the interview, rather than their grades. A lot of students fall into the trap of placing all emphasis … upon their academic achievements — which, while impressive, does not help the candidate stand out from a swarm of other graduates with similar results.

Instead, lead with achievements and interests that make you stand out from the crowd — what makes you different? Sporting achievements? Hobbies? What interests do you have that others may not? A former colleague of mine spoke at length regarding a “Dungeons & Dragons” podcast he founded while at university. Whilst unrelated to his degree, it demonstrated enthusiasm and proactiveness, two highly desirable traits that any employer is looking for. Let your academic achievements be the cherry on top of the cake, rather than the entirety of your application.

Luke Smoothy, Get It Made Ltd

12. Demonstrate an Eagerness for Lifelong Learning

Learning shouldn’t stop once you graduate. There are plenty of free and affordable resources for up-leveling your professional skills, such as MOOCs offered by top universities, or online courses on e-learning sites like Udemy. Consider adding a section to your resume highlighting your extracurricular learning activities, such as “Courses in Progress” or “Books I’m Loving Right Now.”

Chloe Brittain, Opal Transcription Services

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