College Game Plan

Tips for college graduates on the job hunt

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Commencement ceremonies are wrapping up for the class of 2016.

For this year's newly minted graduates, this could be the beginning of an independent life out in the world. But that largely hinges on one thing: a job.

The good news is that this year's grads can look forward to the best job market in years, with employers expected to hire about 5 percent more graduates from the class of 2016 than the previous year, according to a recent report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

However, many employers "front load" their recruiting, officials at NACE said, which means many of the job offers for this year's seniors may have been in the fall to secure hires who will graduate this month. 

For those who are about to receive their diploma and are still waiting to receive a job offer, there is still hope. CNBC asked several career experts for their best advice on finding employment. 

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Here's how to get started:

Call career services

Even after you've graduated, your school's career placement resources are your great asset. Career counselors can help you map out a job search, build a resume, polish your online image and be a sounding board — they're also the direct point of contact with employers who may have a last-minute internship or employment opportunity to fill, said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at the staffing firm Robert Half.  

"These are people with real-time knowledge of career opportunities, and they're familiar with the unique aspects of the institution the student just attended," said Mark Hamrick,'s senior economic analyst. "It's getting career assistance that you've already paid for."

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Reach out for a referral

Once you've tapped into the professionals, try family, friends, neighbors and even acquaintances. 

LinkedIn offers a wealth of potential connections in your desired field. Dan Black, the director of recruiting at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), said he receives hundreds of messages from job hopefuls, which are welcome as long as they are targeted to the organization and the job candidate has the necessary qualifications. 

"If it's the 'post and pray' of this generation, the chances of me getting back are fairly slim. If, on the other hand, they include something specific about their studies and background, I will respond," he said. "I do find a lot of good talent that way."

(EY said it will hire nearly 10,000 college students in 2016, up 3 percent from last year.)

Fellow alumni are also a valuable resource, even graduates from two to three years ago, McDonald said. "Find a mentor in your field and get their advice." 

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Make the most of the downtime

Rather than taking the summer off, EY's Black advises students to use that time more effectively by getting additional certification without building up more education debt, like studying for the CPA exam or a securities licensing test for those interested in a career in finance. Adding those kinds of certifications to your resume "makes you a much more attractive candidate if and when things open up," he said.

Some tests, like the CPA, may require additional classes or credit hours. In that case, it's an opportune time to complete those prerequisites, which can often be done online from home, while you pursue your future career prospects.

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Consider any job at all

Experts agree that doing some type of work is better than not working at all, so consider a temporary position or internship. "It does not bode well for prospective employees that say they couldn't find a job so they didn't go to work," Hamrick said.

Plus, you can continue your search and build your network and skills in the meantime, McDonald said.

For those who can't afford to volunteer or take an unpaid internship before they land a paying gig, any sort of side job, from barista to Uber driver, has its benefits, Hamrick said, including the development of customer-service and communication skills — "you just might learn something you didn't expect to learn."

A job seeker (left) shakes hands with a recruiter during a WorkSource Seattle-King County Aerospace, Maritime and Manufacturing job fair in Seattle on Oct. 6, 2015.
The skills employers are looking for

Emphasize soft skills

Employers increasingly are seeking employees with so-called soft skills, such as writing, communication and organization, according to a recent study from job market research firm Burning Glass Technologies.

"Not only are companies looking for technical skills, they're looking for strong soft skills, I hear this more today than a decade ago," McDonald said. "Individuals are being asked to do more together and work collaboratively. The days of sitting by yourself in the corner and working are gone." 

Particularly for recent grads without work experience, emphasizing interpersonal skills can make you a much more attractive job candidate. Job hunters who are articulate, great communicators, team players and have strong business acumen will shine, McDonald said. To build up those attributes, he suggests volunteering for public speaking opportunities. 

The added bonus: "It builds self-esteem and confidence, and will help you in the interview too," McDonald said.