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When Should College Seniors Start Looking for a Job?
In an unforgiving job market, college upperclassmen no doubt have serious questions about when it's appropriate or desirable to begin hunting for jobs. Education Insider considers the pros and cons of starting early, waiting until graduation or even taking some time off.
by Eric Garneau
During Your Senior Year
If you really want to get a leg up on the job hunt, you might think that your senior year of college is a good time to start looking. Depending on who you talk to, you could be right. Certainly there's something to be said for trying to secure a job as soon as you possibly can - after all, unemployment's at record high levels; in November 2011 The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that college graduates face at least a five percent unemployment rate, though that number's likely low. If you don't want to be part of the one in 20 without a job, giving yourself a few extra months to look before you have to start paying back your loans might be a great idea.
On the other hand, there are some serious downsides to looking for a job while you're still in school. For one, hunting for jobs can feel like it takes about as much time and effort as actually having a job, except you don't get paid to look. That situation becomes even more difficult when you consider that you've still got classes to attend and grades to earn. Even though you're a senior, you don't want your academic performance to fall off a cliff in your last semesters at school - if you can't get a good job now, future employers will notice that drop-off. Employers might also be put off by the fact that you're applying for positions you won't be able to fill for months. If they need to fill an immediate vacancy, is what you're offering really impressive enough that they'll wait for you?
Whether or not you've decided to job-search during your senior year, there are some strategies you can follow to help you land a desirable career that almost everybody would agree on. Many colleges offer you a wealth of options designed to make preparing for the hunt easier - take advantage of them! If your school has a career center, for instance, stop by and let them help you spruce up your resume. Also, network! Make connections with other students, professors, campus personnel and alumni who share similar career interests. Wake Forest University's Andy Chan (of the Office of Personal & Career Development) noted in his blog last year that college seniors overvalue the Internet when it comes to finding employment. 'The number one method to obtain a job is by networking.... Your persistence and creativity to get in the door will make a difference.'
Immediately After Graduation
Give or take a few weeks, this is probably the most popular option among college graduates. No doubt the summer after graduation can be filled with applications, interviews, disappointment and stress - or maybe not. In May 2011 The San Diego Union-Tribune noted that career prospects for college graduates were currently the best they'd been since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. San Diego State University reported that 46% of their graduates secured full-time employment right after graduation, with another 21% looking. More than two-thirds of the graduates who wanted quick employment, then, got their wish.
But let's say you're not part of that two-thirds - what can you do? You might consider taking less direct routes to finding a job, such as securing an internship (paid or even unpaid, if you can swing it financially) or, if your interests lie in more creative fields (art, music, writing, etc.), producing items to put in your portfolio. That way you can at least spend the summer doing something productive, and if it doesn't pay immediate monetary dividends, it has the potential to do so eventually.
Take a Year (or More) Off!
The idea of taking time off between high school and college - a so-called 'gap year' - has become a pretty popular one recently. Gap years give students a chance to settle down and reconsider their priorities after four or more years of constant schooling; in doing so, they can provide eye-opening experiences for graduates who feel somewhat directionless or lacking in motivation. That can apply just as much to college graduates as high school ones.
If you're worried about a post-college gap year damaging your job prospects, you probably don't need to be. The knowledge you gain about yourself and the world in your off-year adventures can actually prove invaluable in finding a job when you do decide to enter the labor market. An article on the career website Monster.com confirms this; there the director of Caltech's Career Development Center tells the website 'If an employer thinks you wasted a year by biking in Eastern Europe or tutoring children at a homeless shelter, then why would you want to work for that employer?' Education-Portal.com also reported on this trend earlier this year; CEOs were quoted there as saying college gap years were 'positive,' 'fantastic' and 'honorable.'
Of course, not every student has the means to take a year off after college, especially financially. Many no doubt feel the burden of paying back student loans right away. But if you do have the option to wait a bit before entering the job market, you ought to consider that a reasonable choice as well. Jumping into a career haphazardly could end up wasting your time more than a few months off ever could.
Another possibility after earning your bachelor's degree is graduate school. But is grad school right for you?