How Graduating College Students Can Stand Out In A Tough Economy

Just in time for spring graduation, news outlets are beginning to increase their coverage of familiar stories featuring college graduates who are underemployed or unemployed. The numbers are staggering, and it’s enough to make the class of 2013 feel hopeless. But don’t. While it’s normal to feel fear as you prepare to face one of your biggest life changes, don’t let it paralyze you. Feel it, and move on.

The truth is, even in the toughest job markets, the best candidates find great positions. As a seasoned hiring professional who’s hired many new graduates throughout my career, I can reassure you that you have more control than you realize. If you want to be the star candidate employers are fighting for, follow these tips.

1. Take it seriously.

Utilize your campus career center to make sure your resume and interview skills are up to par. Proofread and share your resume and cover letter to get as many perspectives as possible. A resume and cover letter that is well-written, error-free and results-focused are the expected baseline. Take advantage of workshops, career fairs and networking events being sponsored by your college for current students and recent graduates. Look into organizations that your college has a great relationship with and see if they are hiring.

2. Know what you want.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how do you expect to find it? As a hiring manager, I can tell you your ability to demonstrate personal vision and ambition will immediately set you apart from other recent graduates. Take some time to reflect upon what you want for yourself. Identify some professional goals you want to build towards. When you are in an interview, don’t be afraid to express it. Nothing turns off an interviewer more than hearing that you just “want a job.” You don’t want to sound like you are desperate and lacking in focus.

3. Do a personal social media audit.

Google yourself to ensure a clean presence and take down anything that shows you in a light you wouldn’t want displayed on the front page of the newspaper for your grandmother to see. Like it or not, prospective employers will oftentimes search your name online if they are serious about hiring you. Make sure all of your social media privacy controls are set so they don’t stumble upon anything you wouldn’t want your new boss to see.

4. Never stop networking.

Use LinkedIn to create a professional profile for yourself and join groups to connect with other professionals who share your career passions. Invite professionals you know to meet with you and explain your career goals. Ask them to share some wisdom and whom else they suggest you meet with. Be sure to follow up with a thank you and express how their insight and introductions have helped you. From here, you’ll start building a strong network which is how most people land jobs. Approach every meeting with professionalism because you never know who will refer you to a job. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many professionals are willing to help new graduates.

5. Go big, or go home.

This is some advice I was challenged with early on in my career. In other words, challenge yourself to be a risk taker who is not afraid to work harder than anyone else. Do something extra that the other candidates haven’t thought of or are afraid to try. Consider starting a blog to build yourself up as a thought leader in your chosen field. Every interviewer expects you to have done research about the company. Take it one step further and do research on each person you’re scheduled to interview with. Learn about their professional backgrounds. Come prepared with great questions to ask. Demonstrate your knowledge of their company, industry and their career highlights. Bring reference letters with you to the interview. Create an online portfolio with your own unique Web address for prospective employers to view after the interview. “Extras” like these are rarely used and will make an immediate statement.

Most importantly, you must never give up. Although the employment landscape may be grim according to national statistics, it doesn’t mean it has to be horrible for you. Your hard work and college degree can take you to unimaginable career heights that you will never know if you simply don’t try.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. She brings leadership experience from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at or visit her website at