If you are a college graduate who has successfully completed an online degree program (or are on track to do so in the near future), then you may be concerned about your upcoming career search. But don’t be afraid. Get your name out there with a competitive resume and cover letter, and build an outstanding rapport during job interviews. This guide will review the best ways to leverage your online education and successfully land your first job.
Preparing for the Job Market While Still A Student
Currently enrolled students should begin thinking about their job options well before they graduate. This will give you time to complete internships and build a network of professional contacts. Ideally, you will have a job lined up in your field before or soon after you finish college, which will provide steady income. While federal loans have a repayment grace period and deferment options, you should be prepared to start making payments within six months of graduating.
Here are the best ways you can prepare to transition quickly and smoothly into your chosen career.
In general, online degree programs do not provide students with as much opportunity for hands-on learning and experience. But they do have upsides. Since you can complete your coursework on your own schedule, you have more flexibility to pursue internships and even paid work in your field of study. These experiences can more than make up for what you’re missing in the classroom.
Some colleges, such as Longwood University, require that all students complete an internship, because of the improved hireability and industry connections these roles provide. Prospective employers will often cultivate strong ties with colleges by providing internships for students to learn the various nuances of a career, as well as proficiencies that can’t be gleaned from a textbook.
If you are unable to find an internship at first, don’t worry. Start slow and explore volunteer opportunities related to your field. Volunteer work gives you a chance to build communication and professional skills. They also provide that critical first experience that you can then leverage to apply for internships.
As you progress through your college courses, it’s important to remember your professors are invaluable resources. They can help you by providing recommendations, building your networking contacts, and assisting with career searches. Don’t let the online class format become a barrier between you and your instructors. Take every opportunity to reach out to professors via email, forums, or chat rooms. Engage with learning materials, ask questions, and build a positive rapport. Communicate with your professors as you apply for internships and seek their advice regarding industry trends and job applications.
Career Resource Center
Virtually every online college will have an office dedicated to career advising, professional training, and job resources. Don’t let your college years slip by without contacting your career resource center. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ discovered that more than a quarter of students who use their school’s career center land jobs before they even graduate. Advisors can work with you via video chat or email (and in-person, in some cases) to review your resume and conduct mock interviews before you jump into the job search. These offices also provide listings for career opportunities, volunteer work, and internships.
Thriving in the Job Market After Graduation
After the 2007 recession, recent graduates shouldn’t be surprised by the difficult job market. A 2013 poll by the global management consulting firm Accenture found that 40% of recent U.S. grads were “underemployed.” The best way to address this challenge is to use smart job-seeking habits right after college.
Online Education and Your Resume
You do not need to mention the online format of your degree program on your resume. With few exceptions, brick-and-mortar schools and online colleges provide equally reputable and challenging degree programs. The best way to describe your education is by simply listing your alma mater, the level of degree you earned, and your graduation date. If you are confident in your GPA or graduated with honors, feel free to list these details as well. Demonstrate your experience by listing internships and volunteer work. If you don’t have field experience, then list completed courses that are relevant to the role.
Your resume should be tailored directly toward the position you are considering; if there are several jobs you would like to apply to, then it might be a good idea to first prepare several different resumes, and then submit them accordingly. Also be sure to cut out irrelevant details about tasks, hobbies, and skills. List skills that would be beneficial in the professional environment. Once you have completed your resume, contact your school’s career center to review it with an advisor. Schools are invested in student outcomes — particular employment rates among graduates — and career centers will strive to help degree-holders launch successful careers in the fields they study.
The Cover Letter
Cover letters provide you with an opportunity to elaborate on the experiences you’ve listed on your resume; however, it’s important not to repeat yourself too much, so make sure the cover letter gives different information than your resume. Also provide direct connections between your skill sets and position; every detail should be tailored specifically toward the organization. Recruiters will be able to tell if you have submitted a generic cover letter, which can negatively influence your chances of being hired.
Generally, applicants will be invited to an interview after they pass through the initial screening process. This usually indicates the employer considers you to be a valuable hire based off your resume and cover letter. Practice mock interview questions with peers and academic advisors. Be confident in your online education – do not try to hide or justify it.
Statistics published by Careerbuilder.com indicate 83% of employers consider online education to be just as credible as traditional academic programs. Be candid with your interviewer if they ask about your motivations to pursue an online degree. Most will look favorably on an applicant who completed their college degree while juggling other significant commitments.
Use Your Resources and Be Patient
Don’t be discouraged if your job-seeking efforts do not immediately yield results. A staffing company known as CareerXRoads discovered that only 27% of employers notify candidates if they are declined. This can lead a frustratingly long waits after you submit applications. While recent graduates are facing high unemployment rates, they still have better job prospects than those who do not earn a college degree. Keep in mind that many recruiters must sift through hundreds of applications, jump through HR procedures to interview every candidate, and then work with a panel before making offers. These processes can take weeks to complete. As you wait for an offer, utilize the resources at your career resource center and continue to apply for new opportunities.
You can make the most out of your online education by leveraging their career resources as a student and graduate. These colleges are dedicated to providing an education on par with traditional, on-campus schools. Make your college education pay off by honing your job-search skills and landing an outstanding career.