Sponsored: Tips for transitioning from school to work

You’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting a college education. Now you’d like to see some return on that investment and launch your career.

But as many graduates are discovering, the job market is tough and a college diploma is no guarantee of getting hired. What you need is a good strategy.

“Judging by the number of employers at campus career fairs, companies still need fresh, young talent,” said Jane Horowitz, career-launch coach and founder of More Than a Resumé, a college-to-career coaching service. “The issue is that these jobs are highly competitive. Company recruiters will see thousands of applicants as they move around the country. You have to learn to stand out.”

Making a smooth transition from school to work is about knowing what employers want, knowing your value and setting your goals, Horowitz said. Here’s some advice she gives to clients.

1. Focus on attitude.

“Employers hire for attitude and train for skills. If you have an accounting degree, you have the fundamentals and companies can train you in their way of doing things,” Horowitz said. “What they can’t teach you is to be engaged, motivated, curious, ethically driven workers, and that’s what they want.

“Keep that in mind and use some of your college time to cultivate those employer-valued skills. Take a writing course, a speech course and complete internships, because employers want to see some real-world experience.”

2. Know your value.

“It isn’t your alma mater, your major or your GPA (that matter most). It’s what you love to do, what you do best and your unique skills, talents, personality and value system,” Horowitz said. “Learn how to present yourself in a minute or two.”

3. Target your search.

Rather than applying for every job and sending out hundreds of résumés, choose 10 to 12 companies where you’d really like to work. Read their websites, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, as well as all the news you can find about them.

While it takes work, knowing your target companies will help you learn their key words and values, so you can present yourself in a language they understand.

4. Form professional relationships.

“Good networking isn’t about begging for help; it’s about building relationships, and that’s what your 'most-wired’ generation does best,” Horowitz said. “Transfer your personal relationship-building skills to your professional life. Join a professional organization in your industry before you graduate. Ask people in your field for a 20-minute informational interview. Learn about what they do and their career paths.

“Besides making contacts and learning lots, informational interviewing is good practice for job interviewing.”

5. Attend campus career fairs armed with marketing documents.

This is your chance to get your résumé to a live person. Expect to have five minutes to answer some variation of these questions: Tell me about yourself. How has your education prepared you for a job? Do you want to work for this company?

“Bring a résumé that focuses on your value and accomplishments, as well as a second document that highlights any projects or case studies you’ve worked on and the results,” Horowitz said.

These could be classwork, internships, campus activities or community service. Make it visual and interactive, with photos (as appropriate) and links to your website or articles.

“Besides selling yourself, you’ll send a subtle message that you know how to communicate and use different media,” Horowitz said. “Follow up with a thank-you email or note that reiterates or adds to what you talked about with an interviewer, so he’ll remember you. Use bullet points to keep it short.”

6. Prepare for behavioral interviews.

Most recruiters use this method of asking you about various situations and how you handled them.

“The best way to prepare is to analyze all your work and life experiences from what valuable lessons you learned,” Horowitz said.

What did being captain of the swim team teach you about teamwork or sacrifice? Did you learn about coaching or flexibility as a camp counselor?

“Think of your life in terms of stories because stories are powerful. You can say you’re a leader or you show me. Come up with four or five memorable 60- to 90-second stories and you’ll be ready for most interviews,” she added.

7. Put your short-term and long-term goals on paper.

Develop benchmarks and criteria for what you want — location, type of work, environment, etc. Break your search down into steps and tasks. Hold yourself accountable. When you see your plan written out, you’ll know that a job search takes time.

“It will lessen some of the pressure if you realize a first job probably won’t be your dream job. It’s the stepping stone to the next job in your career,” she said. “Remember, you have a long-term plan. Just work it.”