While most college students are headed for the beach this spring break, graduating seniors should use their week off from school to open new career doors and ensure they don't fall victim to one of the toughest job markets in decades. Doors that are open to students now may start closing once they graduate. That's the message from Andy Chan, vice president for career development at Wake Forest University.
He suggests that students spend spring break and the months leading up to graduation going on informational interviews and laying the groundwork for their job hunt. "Because they're students, they have special status in the eyes of most people, so they should use the alumni network, adult family and friends, friends' parents and other networking connections to schedule informational interviews with as many people as they can," Chan says. "In a few months, they'll lose that 'student card' and just be another unemployed graduate."
Because many students are not aware of the variety of different jobs and careers available to them, informational interviews can lead to opportunities they never imagined. "They might need to talk to 100 people through informational interviewing and go on 30 formal job interviews before they find a job, and that could take up to six months," Chan said. "People don't like to hear that, but if you understand that it's a long, challenging process, you can pace yourself like you would in a marathon and do something every day to finish successfully."
Another thing students should keep in mind is that many organizations are now making hiring decisions in the spring and summer that they traditionally might have made much earlier. "There's a lot more 'just-in-time' hiring these days so students need to be on their toes and be aware that employers could be hiring just a month or two before the job starts," Chan says. "So it's important not to miss this window of opportunity."
Chan counsels students to think of their career strategies as a chess board, not a dart board. "Students should consider getting where they need to be in several moves, not just one," Chan said. "Know that your first job is just that. There will be future opportunities that you can't even see today."
The good news is that even in today's job market, many organizations are eager to hire new college graduates. Says Chan: "Employers are actually very interested in hiring young people with a lot of energy, intelligence and drive who are willing to learn and do whatever it takes to get the job done."