By Ed Brennen
Many graduating seniors have been thinking about their first job out of college for some time — taking advantage of Career Services resources, completing co-ops and internships and networking with prospective employers.
But as the countdown to Commencement begins to register in weeks instead of semesters, the once-distant notion of starting a career is coming into sharper focus for UML’s Class of 2023.
Fortunately, this spring’s graduates are entering a robust job market. The U.S. unemployment rate hit a 54-year low of 3.4% in January, and according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2023 report, employers plan to hire 14.7% more new college graduates from the Class of 2023 than they did from the Class of 2022.
With nearly 200 employers descending on the Tsongas Center for the Spring Career Fair on March 23, Career Advisor (and Double River Hawk) Carla Merkosky ’19, ’21 offered a few tips to help students make the most of their job search.
Target your top companies
Some students arrive at UMass Lowell knowing exactly what they want to do for their careers. Others discover it along the way. But now that you’ve figured out the industry you want to pursue, Merkosky says you can research which companies and organizations are the best fit for you.
Do you want to stay local or are you willing to relocate? Do you want to be at a big company or a startup? Do you prefer remote work or do you want to be in the office?
“Make a list of maybe your top five companies and see how you can engage with them,” Merkosky says. “Do you know anyone working there — maybe UML alumni? LinkedIn is a good place to look for those connections. If they’re going to be at the Career Fair or a networking event on campus, start targeting who you want to talk to.”
Even if your target company doesn’t have a job posted, Merkosky says it doesn’t hurt to send an inquiry email or letter to the hiring manager, with your résumé attached.
“Tell them you’re really interested in their company and highlight how your skills and interests relate to the work they’re doing. Tell them you’d love the opportunity for an informational interview or to shadow someone for a day,” she says. “It’s OK to do more than research online — it’s OK to reach out and ask questions.”
Know the difference between job boards and job aggregators — and how to use them
The good news? There’s no shortage of job search websites. The bad news? There’s no shortage of job search websites.
“Searching online can be overwhelming,” says Merkosky, who notes that the first step is understanding the difference between a job board (like Handshake or LinkedIn, where employers post jobs) and a job aggregator (like Indeed or SimplyHired, which are search engines that compile job posts from across the web).
Handshake is the most valuable site for college students and recent graduates, Merkosky says, because “it’s geared toward this stage of your life; they’re not looking for 10-plus years of experience.”
Be sure to use filter tabs and save searches to streamline the process, she says, and try not to use more than three or four of these sites “because it starts getting confusing when you receive 10 different emails every week.”
While it’s a good idea to post your résumé to a job board, Merkosky cautions against doing so on a job aggregator, as it can lead to unwanted solicitations from recruiters.
“They’re so broad, and students complain that they get random phone calls about jobs that they’re not interested in,” she says, adding that it’s OK to post your résumé when applying for a job you find on an aggregator.
There are also countless specialty job boards where you can find opportunities posted by specific industries and professional associations.
While some companies advertise job openings on social media, Merkosky says apps like TikTok and Instagram are more typically used for marketing.
“Social media is definitely a good place for students to figure out what a company’s culture is like, what its priorities and values are and what it’s like to work there,” she says.
Network, and then network some more
It’s estimated that 70% of jobs are not publicly posted on job search sites. How is that possible?
“This number includes people promoted into a position from within an organization or recruited in,” says Merkosky, who notes that the statistic underscores the importance of networking.
“As a young professional, you don’t have the network of someone who has been in a field for a while, but networking is as simple as connecting with people to get information,” she says.
Open a note on your phone and brainstorm all the people you know: professors, advisors, fellow club members, people you met on co-op or internship, recent alumni. Connect with them online and in person and tell them what you’re interested in doing, Merkosky says.
And if you’re back home and a family member is quizzing you about your job search, Merkosky suggests leveraging the conversation to your advantage.
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m still figuring it out,’ say, ‘Here’s my next step. Do you know anyone I could talk to about this?’ It’s a way of helping yourself find opportunities,” she says.
A good place for students to network with alumni is on UML Connect, which launched just before the pandemic.
“It’s like the UML version of LinkedIn,” Merkosky says. “It’s a small community, which is nice, and it’s growing. If an alum is on there, they are really willing to connect with students.”
Consider volunteering or contract work
Maybe you haven’t found the right full-time position yet, or you have a few free months before starting graduate school. Volunteering with an organization can fill the void.
“It’s low stakes, you’re doing something good, and you’re gaining some experience and valuable workforce skills like communication, organization and time management,” says Merkosky, who adds that you should include the volunteer work on your résumé if it’s related to what you want to do.
Volunteering is also a good way for Gen Z college grads to network with millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.
“Working with a retiree from an industry that interests you could lead to a helpful connection down the road,” Merkosky says.
Taking a contract or temp position at a company, typically found through an employment agency, is another good short-term option, she adds.
As seniors juggle their final few weeks of classes with the excitement of Commencement and the responsibility of applying and interviewing for jobs, Merkosky says they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to Career Services for support and guidance.
“It can be overwhelming, but make sure you’re still creating the space and time to utilize all the different resources when searching for a job,” she says.