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Career Coach

Grade A job advice for new graduates

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Catch the eye of employers, even as a new graduate. (William Thomas Cain/Getty)

Catch the eye of employers, even as a new graduate. (William Thomas Cain/Getty)

Depending on where you live, university graduation season is approaching — or already in full swing. Those who have already nabbed job offers will greet graduation day with joy. But many others, who have not nailed down a job yet, face it with dread.

In 2013, there were 74.5m unemployed young people aged 15 to 24 worldwide, according to the International Labour Organisation, and that number is expected to grow this year.

The good news? It is never too late in the game to land that dream position — or at least an interim one that can help get you there.

Become an expert

“Identify companies or organisations that [you] would like to work for and use all appropriate channels to target them and find out as much as possible about them,” wrote Sally Walker, a UK-based career coach with SW Career Coaching, in an email. The easiest way to do this is through LinkedIn, she suggested. “Follow the company, join relevant interest groups that they might monitor, follow them on Twitter, try to engage with the organisation in a professional way. [This] shows the organisation that you are truly interested, shows initiative and differentiates you from others.”

If there aren’t any paid positions, see if you can volunteer with the organisation in order to gain some work experience, Walker suggested. An alternative: find volunteer work at a different company in the same field. That could help you build relevant skills, extend your network and “show that you are doing something constructive rather than just sitting at home reacting to job adverts,” she wrote.

Don’t give up

“Keep talking and keep interviewing,” wrote Ben Carpenter, author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life, in an email. “As the school year winds down, you need to attempt to exhaust all your possible campus contacts.”

Think beyond the school’s career services department. Talk to coaches and professors and ask them if they can put you in touch with alumni who have gone into the industry (or industries) in which you are interested. “Contacts generated this way are incredibly valuable since you don't only share a college in common, you share a mentor,” wrote Carpenter.

Don’t stop at mentors. “[Talk] to all of your senior classmates who have gotten jobs in your chosen industry,” wrote Carpenter. Finding these classmates shouldn’t be too hard: ask the school’s career services department, or just ask around, he suggested. Once you find them, “arrange to have a cup of coffee with them and pick their brains on how they accomplished what you want to do. Since the pressure is off these students, they will likely have plenty of time to talk and would be happy to tell you to what they thought they did right, and what they did wrong, during their job search.”

There’s nothing wrong with inquiring about contacts they used to get their foot in the door and, in a tactful manner, whether they’d  be willing to introduce you to those same contacts. Finally, ask them if they would be willing to meet with you again after they’ve started in their new jobs, Carpenter suggested.

Staring you in the face

Many soon-to-be graduates don’t take full advantage of their school’s career services office despite the fact that it’s expressly designed to help them. One of the best resources it offers is the alumni directory, according to Carpenter. First, search for alumni who work in your industry and who have a shared interest with you, whether it’s the same major, sport or other activity. Second, look for alumni who either work in your industry, or work at companies that appeal to you. Request informational interviews.

A creative approach

At Sonoma State University in Northern California, some 44% of graduating seniors won’t have a career job when they graduate, according to Ken Heinzel, a marketing and management lecturer at the school and a former executive headhunter.

While statistics like this may make you feel better to know that you are not alone, it also means that there are a lot of people competing for the same jobs.

“I tell students that it's their value to a prospective firm that will get them hired,” said Heinzel. “However, before they can explain their value, they must get the firm's or hiring manager's attention.” In a tough job market, like today’s, that can be difficult.

Heinzel recommends students take a creative approach and make an information packet that they can send to the hiring manager or manager in the department where the target job opening is. The packet should contain a short cover letter, a resume and a creative item designed to get the manager's attention. For example, one candidate who was applying to a position at a firearms company included his highest scoring paper target from a target-practice range, according to Heinzel. He got the interview.

Standing out

Attention is the scarcest commodity in the new economy,” wrote Ritvik Lukose, CEO of Vahura, India's leading legal and governance search firm with headquarters in Mumbai. Therefore, it’s imperative that you make yourself stand out.

Lukose suggested getting the attention of your top-five target employers by giving them something useful to their line of work: a piece of research, a marketing pitch or a new product idea, for example. “This shows both a deep interest in that employer as well as your competence on the job,” he wrote.

It’s up to you to grab their attention, he said, adding: “Remember, if they don't call you, it’s because you are not on their mind.”

Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at careercoach@bbc.com.

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Attention is the scarcest commodity in the new economy — Ritvik Lukose

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