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The 15-Point College Grad Job-Hunting Study Guide
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

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Landing a job—a job you want with an employer you respect—is the ultimate final exam for most college students. Are you the type of student who likes to score well on exams and quizzes? Or are you simply looking for key tools to improve your post-college job-search? Whatever your motivation, this guide contains key tools and resources to help you ace the quiz and have better success with your job-hunting. Understanding and perfecting these 15 areas related to your job-search -- from identifying specific jobs and careers to researching salaries—will give you both greater confidence and success as you seek the best job offer upon graduation.

  1. Identifying Specific Jobs/Careers
    Even though most college students finalize a choice of major by the junior year, there often seems to be a disconnect between choosing the major and then choosing a specific career path within that major. Internships, job-shadowing, informational interviews, and career research are steps you can take to learn more about specific careers and jobs—in or out of your major. You need direction if you want to find a job that you will enjoy; just having an idea of “something in marketing” will lead to a frustrating job-search with few or weak job offers.

  2. Narrowing Geographic Locations
    Whether you plan to live back at home initially or live on the other side of the country, having a geographic focus allows you to really narrow your job search to a select group of employers. Even if you are open to relocating for the right employer, narrowing your initial search will help you identify prospective employers located in the areas you wish to live.

  3. Developing a Basic Resume
    Your resume is a vital component of your job search. In fact, it's probably your most important self-marketing tool. Yet, many college seniors still struggle with developing a resume that is both visually appealing and content-rich. Once you develop the core of a basic resume, remember that this version of your resume is really just a starting point—because you should be adjusting each.

  4. Finding Prospective Employers
    Even better than having a geographic focus is developing a list of ideal employers. You can develop your list in any way you wish. It may be to round up the leaders in your career/occupation, the best companies to work for, companies whose corporate values/culture you admire, companies for which you have a previous connection—decide on the criteria and run with it.

  5. Seeking Career and Job-Search Advice
    If you're struggling in your job-search, turn to the many resources available through your college or university—specifically your professors and your career center. Consider reading: It's Never Too Early—or Too Late —to Visit Your College Career Office.

  6. Using Network for Uncovering Job Leads
    The collection of people you know—and who know you (or know other people in your network)—amounts to your career network. And while the concept of networking is sometimes a mystery to job-seekers, it shouldn't be. Networking, by a very vast margin, is the very best way to track down job leads and career opportunities.

  7. Building Career Network
    Even if you already have a great network of contacts, it never hurts to keep adding to them through informational interviews and professional associations. Informational interviews are a fantastic tool for learning more about careers and companies, but they are also great for networking. Read more in this article: Informational Interviewing: A Powerful Tool for College Students.

  8. Identifying People to Serve as References
    More than ever, employers are conducting background checks and asking job candidates for references. References are people who can speak to your strengths and abilities—and help sell you to the prospective employer. You should choose your references carefully—and ALWAYS ask people whether they would be willing to be a reference before you list them.

  9. Attending Job-Hunting Events
    Some students rely only on campus recruiting events to help them land a job while others totally ignore them. The best solution is to attend recruiting events that make sense to your career goals while also undertaking other job-search activities. Even if you do not see any specific employers that excite you in an upcoming career fair on campus, attend it anyway. It will give you plenty of opportunities to practice and perfect your elevator speech and gain confidence in speaking with recruiters. A career fair may also lend itself to developing additional networking contacts.

  10. Using Strategic Online Job-Searching Strategy
    While networking is still your most likely source for finding a job at graduation, you can devote a small percentage of your job search to using a few niche or specialized job boards. You can find at least one job board for just about any occupation and profession, as well as for any geographic location. While the major job boards get the majority of brand recognition through their advertising, most experts agree that they do not hold as much value as niche boards. That said, it can't hurt to pick one to search job leads and post your resume.

  11. Preparing for Job Interviews
    Preparation is key to interview success, and the more you do, the better you should perform in the actual interview. The largest section of Quintessential Careers is our interviewing resources. Some suggested reading are the Job Interview Questions Database, the Job Interview Questions for College Seniors/Recent Grads and Best Bet for Interview Prep.

  12. Gathering Work Samples
    One of the best methods of reinforcing your previous work experiences is by showcasing some of your best examples. These samples can be from previous class projects, internships, volunteering, and any other situation. If you have a large number of samples and awards and recognitions, you might consider creating a career portfolio, which you can then bring with you to job interviews. Web-savvy grads can also create online career portfolios.

  13. Strengthening and Protecting Online Identity
    There's no question many employers are looking at each job candidate’s social networking profile as a tool to making employment decisions. While tightening security features is the minimum you should do to protect your profile, you may also consider cleaning it up once you start job-hunting—just as you should change your voicemail message to something professional. But don't just stop at tightening the privacy settings on your accounts; take the next step and Google yourself. If nothing significant comes up, consider posting some thoughtful responses/reactions on prominent blogs in your career field—using your full name. While employers typically do not expect much for college grads, having any kind of (positive) presence in search engine findings can give you an edge over other job candidates.

  14. Researching Salaries
    One of the biggest employer complaints about recent college graduates is that many have unrealistic salary expectations. Don’t base your expectations on what your classmates or alumni tell you; instead, use your professional association's salary survey and sites such as and to provide more realistic expectations.

    It’s also important to know when and what to expect when the salary topic arises in the job interview -- and how to negotiate the best job offer.

  15. Learning Job-Hunting Etiquette
    Just as with so many things in life, first impressions are critical in job-hunting. Your cover letter and resume make the absolute first impression of you as a job-seeker. Once you get invited to an interview, the keys to a good first impression come down to dressing for the interview and knowing job-search etiquette.

    Finally, the best way to cement the great impression you made in the interview is by writing thank-you letters. Find articles and sample thank-you letters in this section of Quintessential Careers: Thank-You Letter Resources for Job-Seekers.

Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)

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