Welcome to late December. 'Tis the season for celebrating the end of finals, catching up with hometown friends and family, exchanging gifts and good cheer and -- gulp -- dreading the question: "So, have you found a job yet?"
Whether you're looking for an internship or a full-time first job, the holiday break marks the unofficial start of job hunting season. (Or, if you're graduating in December, it's absolutely official.)
Of course, the bad news this season is that you're facing the toughest job market in recent history. The good news is that there are always opportunities, especially for entry-level positions. But you have to act fast, and you have to act smart. Here are some tips for what to do over the next few crucial weeks to land a great job or internship.
Make this a working holiday.
I know you're on vacation, but this year's job seekers don't have a minute to waste. Starting today, commit to doing three to five things a day on behalf of your job hunt. That includes researching companies, setting up informational interviews, sending out resumes, reading career advice articles, attending networking events and more. Daily commitment is important for momentum, and it also makes a huge difference in the sheer number of opportunities you'll be exposed to.
Have a plan B, C, D and beyond.
If you've been focusing all of your efforts on one industry or type of employer, it's time to broaden your horizons. In a bad economy, it's important to think as broadly as possible about the kind of industries and organizations where you might be able to apply your skills. This means considering small companies, medium-size companies, large corporations, startups, nonprofits, government jobs, overseas jobs, service years, temp jobs, contract positions, freelance gigs and anything else you discover. In between Christmas caroling or dreidel spinning, spend some time exploring such career information Web sites as Vault, Career Voyages and WetFeet.
Ask your parents for networking help.
Most jobs are found through networking, and your family members count as part of your network. Ask your parents if they'd be willing to brainstorm any of their contacts who might be able to give you general advice or specific job leads. If you're like most young people, you probably haven't spent much time talking to your parents about your specific career goals. You may be amazed at how many people come to your mom and dad's minds when they really think about the people they know.
Gift wrap your resume.
While you have some time over the holiday break, work on making your resume the very best it can be (I don't mean literally to gift wrap it, by the way. Plain black font on white paper is the only acceptable format). Make sure you are specific about your accomplishments (e.g., "Improved sporting equipment sales in my department by 50 percent in six months" or "Raised $10,000 through solicitation of alumni donations"). Include keywords that match the job descriptions of the positions you want and make sure your resume is 100 percent error-free. Ask trusted family members and friends to review your resume for content, grammar and clarity. If your resume reviewers can't quickly figure out what your skills are and what kind of job you want, go back to the drawing board.
Send season's greetings.
The holidays are the perfect excuse to reach out to every single person you know or even sort of know. This includes current and former classmates, extended family members, teachers, neighbors, people you've worked with and people you've worked for. It doesn't matter if you send handwritten cards, e-cards, e-mail messages, Facebook messages, paper airplanes or smoke signals -- just reach out to as many people as you can and chat with them about your job search and what kind of positions you're seeking. All you have to say is, "I wanted to let you know that I'm looking for a job in X field and I'd be grateful if you'd be willing to share some advice or suggestions." (And don't forget to say, "Happy Holidays!")
Send thank you notes.
In addition to reaching out with holiday greetings, take time to thank anyone who helped you in your career or personal development over the past year -- career services staff, internship coordinators, bosses, professors, teaching assistants, alumni, sports coaches, etc. A "thank you" is a gift, and it's also a form of networking. When you graciously acknowledge people who've helped you, it makes them feel good about helping you again.
Whenever you begin to worry about finding a job, channel that energy into helping others. This year in particular, there are many nonprofit, community and religious organizations that need volunteers. Giving back is rewarding in and of itself, plus it has many tangible benefits for your job search: it will keep you in a positive, active frame of mind; you'll meet new people who may be able to refer you to job opportunities; and you may come across paid openings at an organization where you're donating your time.
Shop the after-Christmas sales.
The upside of the economic downturn is that stores are going to offer deep, deep discounts after the holidays. Take advantage of these deals to buy yourself a great interview suit. My advice is to buy a classic black suit (and pay a few extra bucks to have it tailored to a perfect fit). Black is always professional, it matches with anything, it's not a disaster if you accidentally spill something on it and you're more likely to blend in with the crowd if for some reason you're a bit overdressed or underdressed. I've noticed a few buy-one-get-one-free sales taking place already, so you may even snag a free pair of shoes to finish off your new outfit.
Make a date with career services.
Finally, take some time during your vacation to plan for what you'll do when you get back to campus. Mark a date on your January calendar to set up an appointment with your career services office. You can use the appointment to improve your resume, take an assessment test, practice your interview skills or receive some personalized career coaching.
And there's one more thing. On December 31st as the clock reaches midnight, make one big, exciting New Year's Resolution: to land a fantastic job in 2009.
Lindsey Pollak is an author and speaker who specializes in career advice for college students and young professionals. She is the author of "Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World" (HarperCollins, 2007).