Ho-Ho-How to Start Your Job Search: A Winter Break Checklist for Soon-to-Be Graduates

Winter break is a great time for college seniors to start thinking about their postgrad career plans. Use this checklist to get organized, wrap up loose ends, and get your job search underway.

Graduation might feel far away right now for those college students who will graduate in the spring. But six months can go by in a flash, especially when you’re in a flurry of activity that includes your final exams, senior week, and other activities. If you’re not careful, you could look up in June and realize that you don’t have your ducks in a row for a postgrad career plan.

Don’t fret. We’ve created a checklist to help you get organized, wrap up loose ends, and get your job search underway. Cross these items off your list over winter break and you’ll have a huge jump on things before many other students.

Related: Job Search Survival Tips for College Seniors

First things first…

Decide where you plan to live after graduation

If you can’t narrow it down to a single city or town, at least zone in on a region or two. This will help you begin your job search.

Start perusing major employers in that area

Searching on LinkedIn for opportunities by city or region is simple and will give you a good idea of who is hiring and which industries are hot right now. A quick search of work for the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, produces a list of more than 313,000 jobs.

Study job titles and descriptions

Depending on your major, you may have several possible job titles in mind for life post-graduation. Do your research on LinkedIn and Indeed to see which roles offer the most opportunity for an entry-level candidate.

Related: 9 Essential Job Search Resources for College Students

Research salaries and cost of living

Next, familiarize yourself with what those roles pay in the area you hope to live and work. Use a salary calculator to get an idea of what you might earn. Then consider perusing Craigslist in that area to see what it will cost to rent an apartment. Having this information will help you later when you’re thinking about you’ll need to earn.

Get started on digital housekeeping

Unfortunately, what happens in college doesn’t stay in college thanks to social media. Get started on cleaning up your Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts. A good rule of thumb is to delete anything that you wouldn’t want shown on the front page of the newspaper. These are likely things that you wouldn’t want an employer to see either. Next, check the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts. It’s a good idea to have your accounts locked down as much as possible when conducting a work search so that others aren’t able to tag you in potentially incriminating posts.

Related: How to Establish a Professional Online Presence

Build your network on LinkedIn

Gather your most critical information. Make a list of your past jobs, internships, and other experiences that you feel would be enticing to an employer, then take time over winter break to start gathering the details. Double-check company names, remind yourself of your dates of employment, and compile the names and contact information of people you reported to at work or your internships.

If you don’t have one already, this is the time to create a LinkedIn profile. Use the information you have gathered and add it to your profile. Use as much detail as possible. This is a great first step in your job search, as the information you add to LinkedIn can later be repackaged into a résumé when you’re ready to apply for jobs.

Feeling inspired? Reach out on LinkedIn to some or all of your past managers and ask if they’d be willing to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn. Write a short, polite note reminding them of where and when you worked together, and then ask if they’d feel comfortable writing a brief recommendation. This is an easy way to start building your reputation as a hard worker; it’s also a great way to begin networking.

Whenever you have a little bit of time, get on LinkedIn and begin building your network. Start by following friends and family and build out from there. Look for influencers in your industry and try to connect with them. Share any industry-related news that might be of interest to others in your field. Add any achievements or projects you are proud of to your profile as they happen. Being active on LinkedIn is a great way to get noticed by recruiters down the line.

Write an entry-level résumé

While you may not be planning to start your job search in earnest until after graduation, it’s a good idea to have a simple résumé at the ready during your last semester of college. Job fairs and other events might present unexpected opportunities, and having a résumé written will allow you to pounce when they do.

To start, choose a résumé format that works for you. The preferred format of recruiters is in chronological order, which shows a clear list of your past roles and responsibilities. However, his format can be problematic for those who are new to the workforce and who have little (or no) real work experience. In that case, learn how to write a résumé in the functional résumé format, which focuses more on skills and less on work history.

Related: A No-Stress Guide to Writing a Résumé With No Experience

If you get stuck while writing your entry-level résumé, consider working from a résumé template that’s appropriate for your industry. If you’re applying for work in finance, for example, you’ll likely want to use a more conservative design than you might for a job in advertising.

Once your job search is underway, consider using a professional résumé builder to create a customizable document. It’s critical to personalize your résumé for every job you apply for, and a résumé builder makes it simple to create a document that is well organized and uses the right keywords (which will improve your chances of having it pass through an applicant tracking system).

Find more job search advice in our Internships and Careers section.

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