How to Stand Out in Your Job Search during and after Your Academic Career

Written by
Sofia Olvera-Sandoval

Aug 10, 2022

Aug 10, 2022 • by Sofia Olvera-Sandoval

Finding a way to stand out to potential employers is a perennial challenge—one that may feel magnified if you’ve graduated from a school that’s not a household name. By making the most of resources on and off campus, however, you can boost your chances of finding a rewarding first job. Whether you are coming from a larger or a smaller university, here are some tips on how to use these resources to ensure your success beyond college.

Form Relationships on Campus

Connecting with your professors and other faculty members early in your academic career can help you think about potential career paths or understand what a future in your chosen field might look like. They can not only offer advice and direction but also introduce you to more people on and off campus. Getting to know these professors will help them write recommendation letters for you that are specific to your unique qualities. Connecting with your professors in person, such as by participating in class and following up during office hours, can help build your relationship. An article from Towson University offers tips on how to approach communicating with your professor.

Forming relationships with other students can provide support and encouragement to enter new experiences, like taking a leadership position on campus, with confidence. Everyone needs a support system. Having a group of students who understand the rigors of university life as they experience it alongside you can help you remain focused on your goals while still having fun. In addition to connecting with students your age, you can seek out informal mentors like upper-division students with whom you share classes. You can also participate in a mentorship program on campus.

Go to Career Fairs

Another way to build your network is to attend career fairs. Here you can gain a better understanding of companies that interest you. Attending career fairs and speaking to a representative of a company might also give you a better sense of the work environment and what kind of people the company hires.

Career fairs are also a great way to improve your communication skills, prepare you for interviews, and become more confident in your pitch to potential employers. “Putting a face to the name” as an applicant can make you feel more comfortable going forward in the interview process and might help your résumé stand out, since you are no longer just a name on a piece of paper. When you approach a potential employer and ask questions, you become someone engaging and genuinely interested in the company. 

Diversify Your Experience

Building your résumé with a variety of experiences helps you stand out to future employers. This experience does not have to come only from “traditional” jobs. It can involve volunteering, internships, or taking online trainings that strengthen your skills and prepare you for presenting yourself to potential employers. LinkedIn has courses such as Delivering an Authentic Elevator Pitch and Personal Branding on Social Media. Any experience can benefit your future career, as you gain skills from various outlets. Start where you are, but start somewhere. CNBC writer Evy Poulis suggests making your own experience.

Although gearing your experience to your future plans is important, allow yourself room to pursue other passions and to embrace the stepping stones: “A stepping stone job can be viewed as a short- or medium-term learning experience that allows you to move toward the job you want.” These are crucial to your road of self-discovery and can give you the flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing work environment.

Be Prepared to Adjust and Take Risks

Keeping your options open by applying to more than one job and to jobs that might not, at first glance, seem perfect for you, can help maximize your chances of being hired and can provide you with opportunities to practice writing a cover letter, to fine-tune your résumé, and to go through the interview process. Applying to jobs that are out of your comfort zone but interest you may end up surprising you when you learn more about the position and the organization as you go through the process. Taking those risks can often lead to unexpected rewards.

As you assemble your résumé and cover letter and prepare for your interview, familiarize yourself with the company’s values and mission, the position, and the people who are interviewing you. Francisco Velasquez advises job seekers to tailor their résumé and cover letter to the company to which they are applying. Using action verbs on your résumé “can help you convey your initiative and ability to take advantage of opportunities,” and using “vivid vocabulary” on your CV makes it more enjoyable to read and gives employers an idea of how you can use a professional space creatively.

Enter the job search more confidently by developing your relationships with fellow classmates, professors, and potential employers. Using your connections and multiple outlets to build your experience, evaluating your career goals at any stage, and taking advantage of campus resources to strengthen your communication skills are great ways to prepare yourself for future success.