How community college students can increase their visibility with employers

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Finding a job after college can be a daunting task for any student. The process is especially intimidating for community college graduates, who are often also competing against the graduates of four-year institutions, who have historically received special attention from recruiters and hiring managers. 

Christine Cruzvergara
and Miloni Gandhi

Community college students and graduates are more than qualified for — and deserving of — a great job. Many students just don’t know how to make themselves known to employers, and many employers don’t know how to begin recruiting community college students.

The good news is, we’re seeing an increase in community college hiring from a growing number of employers, like Dell Technologies. Or in California, where Foothill College (where one of us works) is helping globally recognized employers like Unilever and Tik Tok find students graduating from its computer science and graphic design programs, while also helping local veterinary clinics, hospitals and pharmacies find students who meet the statewide requirements for technical certifications in these niche allied health fields. For students, it’s simpler than they might think to make themselves stand out to employers. 

Here’s how you can advise your students to make themselves “findable” to employers who are looking to hire community college students just like them. 

Create an online presence

Though it might seem obvious in today’s digital world, it’s still worth noting just how important having a clear online presence is to finding a job. Joining a public career network or platform where both employers and students convene will give students a serious leg up. Students should look into local commerce organizations in their county and state and build a presence on their platforms, as well. Students can also create a simple website that includes their resume, biography and, if possible, samples of their work. 

Maintaining a social media presence focused on their field of interest can also help, depending on the kind of job they’re looking for. Creating and maintaining a LinkedIn account is especially helpful. Students should be careful about what they post online, however: 54% of employers say they have decided not to hire a candidate based on their social media. 

Creating an online presence can seem intimidating to students, but it’s fairly simple: it’s all about building a narrative that foregrounds their skills and experiences, bit by bit over time. The amount and kinds of information about themselves they put out there can have a dramatic effect on employers’ ability to find and hire them. Students should regularly update their online presence to reflect fresh skills and experiences, location preferences, and industry interests. 

Highlight their skills

Many of today’s employers share a common complaint: they cannot find candidates with the skills they need. Nearly three-quarters of employers say they struggle to find college graduates who possess important and in-demand soft skills like communication, time management and problem-solving. They also worry that graduates are unable to keep up with a rapidly evolving world of work as advances in technology outpace their ability to acquire hard technical skills. 

For many reasons, community college students are uniquely prepared to address both challenges. Many students attend two-year institutions specifically to acquire specialized skills or trades. It’s a matter of making it clear to employers that they possess both highly-relevant soft and hard skills. During their job search and through building their online presence, students should highlight the specific skills they’ve acquired so far. Coursework is one easy way to do this, but they should also focus more granularly on the specific competencies developed during a class. 

Most community college students also have a secret weapon: previous work and life experience. The average age of a student at a two-year institution is 28. Ten percent of community college students are over age 40 and about 80% work while enrolled. More than one-third of them work full-time. Adult learners already possess many of the hard-to-define attributes that employers are looking for. Students would be wise to articulate the experiences and skills they developed before their time in school. Describing their hard-earned skill sets using terms like “resilience,” “perseverance,” “time management,” “project management” and “people management” can help them stand out. 

When in doubt, reach out

The majority of job openings cannot be found easily online. Instead, employers often rely on existing networks to fill these positions —  networks community college students don’t always have easy access to. But, community colleges can tap technology to help students access some of the human-connection networks that will always play some part in recruiting.  

Does a student have an employer they would love to work for, but the company doesn’t ever seem to be hiring? Encourage students to be proactive and reach out anyway, either via email or through a social or job network. They should identify the right person to talk to, and ask if there are openings and what kind of employees they are looking for. They should inquire about an informational interview. People love to share lessons learned from their own career paths. Even if there are no openings at that time, the student has begun to build an important relationship with a potential employer. They might leave an impression, and the employer will remember them when a job does become available. 

After years of hard work and effort, community college students know they have the skills to start a successful career — and it can be frustrating when it feels like others aren’t recognizing how qualified and ready they are. But they have more control than it might at first seem. If students and their colleges take the steps to ensure that employers can easily find them and assess their skills and experience, they can be on their way to landing a great job. 

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Christine Cruzvergara is the former associate provost and executive director of career education for Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Today, she is vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake. 

Miloni Gandhi, Ph.D., is an adjunct faculty member at Foothill College (California) in the business and workforce department.