In today’s economy, there’s a lot pressure on colleges and their career centers to help improve studentsâ€™ chances of landing internships and job opportunities. According to a piece in The Atlantic from 2012, more than 50 percent of recent grads are either unemployed or underemployed. A recent CNN Money report revealed the average student loan debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400.
Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research and consulting firm, and InternMatch, an online platform for companies to find and hire top students, surveyed 4,150 college students and recent graduates from a diverse range of U.S. colleges and universities for their “College Career Center Study.” They found that 64 percent of students rely more on free or paid online career resources instead of their career centers to help them identify internships and jobs.
How can applicants boost their odds of landing internships? Nathan Parcells, founder and chief marketing officer of InternMatch, suggested these steps:
1. Network, network, network. Before you hit the “submit” button, build or extend a relationship with an insider at every company where you apply, especially large Fortune 500s. Experience indicates that candidates who are referred for opportunities are more likely to win the opportunity to interview for jobs.
Connect with friends, professors or family networks to see who knows someone at your company of choice. â€œYouâ€™ll be surprised at how connected you are,â€ Parcells says. Another good idea is to use LinkedInâ€™s â€œEducationâ€ tool, which allows you to view contacts who attended or graduated from your college or university.
Itâ€™s a mistake to assume that someone who has something in common with you or who referred you will automatically want to make time to see you. Hopefully, sharing an alumni affiliation or mutual friend will inspire people to want to go out of their way to help you, but never assume that is the case.
A better approach? Use social media to learn more about new potential contacts. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all provide terrific ways to connect with and get to know people you donâ€™t already know. The trick is to avoid cold contacting anyone. How can you use social media to job search? Warm up your leads by getting to know people online. For example, join groups where your potential contacts participate and add to the conversation. Ask and answer questions so people will notice you and remember your name. Then, reach out with a specific inquiry.
A good reason to use social media is the pool of contacts who actively use these tools tend to be more open to networking. When people tweet up a storm or engage regularly in groups, you can assume they appreciate opportunities to network and may be more likely to agree to speak with you than someone else who does not use social media.
2. Build an easy-to-find online presence. â€œThe materials you submit to an employer online are just a portion of what most employers use to evaluate you,â€ Parcells says. The vast majority of employers will use Google to evaluate applicants before requesting interview. Taking the time to build a strong online presence that illustrates your expertise will help increase your chances of landing interviews and opportunities. â€œA strong online profile should show some personality,” Parcells says. “It should have links to projects and work you have done to give employers more substance about you to explore.â€ He also suggests you use the same avatar on all of your online profiles to help maintain a consistent brand.
3. Follow up. If you really want the job, donâ€™t forget to follow up after you apply. â€œWith many employers getting thousands of applications for positions that have just a few openings, the competition is stiff,” Parcells says. “Many candidates donâ€™t get selected simply because they get lost in the noise.â€ He suggests you follow up with a short, targeted note about 10 days after applying, unless a role has a specific application deadline, in which case you might want to wait until after that date before checking-in with employers. Express your strong interest in the position and reiterate why you are a good match based on the job description.
Originally appeared on U.S. News & World Report.