Job Advice for New College Grads

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How to make myself a better candidate (less than 1 year remaining)

Posted by James M on May 17, 2010

This post is dedicated to all the college students out there who are near graduation (less than 1 year remaining before the big day).  The strategies for college seniors to improve their employability and career stock is a lot different than a college freshman for example.  (If you have more than a year before graduation, try reading this post).

For better or worse, for this moment in time you are who you are.  You can’t significantly change your GPA or get any more work experience–you simply don’t have enough time.  But that’s OK.  The one thing you can do to give yourself an advantage is to out prepare the competition.  Here’s a few tips about how to differentiate yourself in your final months in college.

GPA

If you read the previous post written for those who have at least a year before they’ll graduate, you already know what I’m going to say here, namely, that your grades are the number one thing that employers look at.  That isn’t to say if you don’t have a 4.0, you can’t get a job.  You most assuredly can.  However, your situation is a little different than those that have more time until they graduate.  You do NOT have enough time to significantly alter your cumulative GPA.

However, you may have enough time to show positive trends in your academic performance and alter the GPA of a subset of your classes such as senior-level classes or classes within your specialization.  You should concentrate on ending your academic career on a positive note and focus on emphasizing this upward grade swing when applying to jobs.  So, in an interview you might want to highlight this by saying something like, “Although I struggled early on in college and only achieved a 2.8 GPA going into my senior year, I was able to focus and achieve a 3.4 GPA in my 400-level classes.”  You can go on to highlight what brought about this improvement—finding classes you were passionate about, gaining maturity, reading this amazing blog post 😉 , etc., and then, if possible, linking that attribute back to the position in a way that demonstrates why you’re the right person for the job (it shows maturity, ability to spot your weaknesses, initiative, whatever).

On your resume you can highlight your improvment by borrowing a trick from one of my other posts and use a dual-GPA strategy on your resume that may look something like this:

GPA: 2.96; senior-level GPA 3.41

Volunteer Experience

I said in an earlier post that if you have more than one year until you graduate you should focus on work experience.  This is generally not true with less than one year, and there are a couple of reasons for this.  First, with less than a year left it is difficult and impractical to try to acquire meaningful work experience.  Most internships and co-ops take place during the summer and it is extremely difficult to get such a position during the school year.  That being said, if you do have the opportunity to partake in an internship opportunity I would fully endorse doing so.

The second reason is that volunteering offers quick ways to demonstrate key skills that employers look for in job applicants, most notably leadership and teamwork.  So while it is quite unlikely you will, say have an internship managing a team of 10 coworkers, it is quite easy to find volunteer experience which allows you to immediately jump into such a role.

There is one thing to note which is that when listing volunteer experience on your resume employers will obviously be able to determine the approximate date when you started and if you suddenly became “Mr. or Mrs. Volunteer Activity” in your final quarter or two it may ring insincere with them.  One way to counteract this is to face it head on.  A simple statement like the following will work wonders during your interview, “While researching your company 2 months ago when starting my job search I noticed that leadership skills are a key component of a successful applicant.  After evaluating my own background, I noticed I had a hole in this skill set which led me to seek a leadership position with a volunteer organization to address this weakness area before graduation.”

But remember, not all companies are created equal, some may be more interested in leadership, others in team work, or facilitation skills, or even a particular knowledge set.  The point is to combine a volunteer experience that you’re passionate about with one that will fortify the core competencies desired by your potential employers given your time constraints before graduation.

There is no secret about how to go about finding a volunteer opportunity (craigslist, school job boards, churches, etc.) and it might take a few hours of research, but is well worth the effort.

Student Government

Student government offers another opportunity to gain internship-type experience closer to home.  Student organizations differ from school to school, but here again leadership opportunities are often in no short supply.  For those who are interested in a career in the corporate world, many schools often have some sort of student run businesses such as a school paper, radio station, any one of a number of different types of stores, community development programs, etc.

Research

Undergraduate student research is yet another great way to quickly differentiate yourself from your peers.  At many universites research opportunities are available all year round and in nearly every academic discipline.  In most cases you will be assisting a graduate student or professor in whatever research project they are currently undertaking.  Undergraduate research not only gives you practical and unique experience, but also shows your passion for your academic major.

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