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By Center for Personal Finance editors

There is good news for college graduates entering the job market: Employers plan to hire 10% more grads this year than in 2011, payroll employment increased in 32 states in May, and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% in April, compared with 9% a year ago.

Graduates entering the job market also should prepare themselves for a challenge: According to USA Today, salaries for recent grads dropped by 10% during the recession and have yet to return to previous levels. In addition, half of college graduates younger than age 25 were unemployed or underemployed last year, according to a study by Northeastern University in Boston.

Consider volunteering or participating in an activity that emphasizes in-person communication.
Employment prospects are getting better, but they still aren't great. It's important for grads to take extra steps to stand out as they search for their first postgraduate jobs. According to a study by Millennial Branding and Experience Inc., both in Boston, internships still are excellent résumé builders, but they don't guarantee a job offer.

These ideas from Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, can help graduates better position themselves for a job offer:

  • Work on soft skills. While experience and technical abilities can give grads an edge, employers realize that specific technical skills can be taught once they've hired the right person for the job. Instead, many companies look for communication, teamwork, and other interpersonal skills in potential employees. To hone these skills, consider volunteering or participating in an activity that emphasizes in-person communication.
  • Narrow your focus. You might think flooding the job market with as many applications as possible will improve your chances of securing a position, but doing the opposite actually is a better strategy. By applying only to jobs you're truly passionate and excited about, you'll display genuine positivity in applications and interviews. Hiring managers are much more likely to hire someone who shows real interest in a job than someone who simply needs a way to pay the bills.
  • Seek out diverse opportunities that will help you develop a wide range of new skills.Think like an entrepreneur. In the Millennial Branding and Experience Inc. study, nearly a third of employers cited entrepreneurship experience as a desirable quality when hiring new graduates. But that doesn't mean you need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg with your own wildly successful business. Demonstrating entrepreneurial qualities, such as taking the initiative to put your ideas out there, can achieve the same effect. Consider starting a blog about a subject you truly enjoy or creating a discussion group on LinkedIn to stand out.
  • Look for variety in your experiences. To adapt to a quickly changing workplace, seek out diverse opportunities that will help you develop a wide range of new skills. Look for internships, volunteer opportunities, or other activities that provide different and unique experiences, instead of focusing on one internship or one narrow career direction.

Published June 27, 2012

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