Katelyn Ericson
BYU graduate Eric Melonakos will face many challenges as he makes his way into the workplace

Your bags are packed, finals are completed and all you have left to do now is pick up your diploma. After four long years of tests and quizzes there’s only one question left to answer: Now what?

Let’s face it, with a wavering economy and tough competition, it is difficult for college graduates to find employment, even with good grades and experience. In the next few weeks, thousands of students from colleges across the United States will receive their diplomas without job offers or prospects.

Unfortunately, when finals are finally over, that’s when the real work begins.

Breaking into the professional world is difficult, and fortunately there are more options than just searching aimlessly for job through the classifieds ads.

Here are just a few suggestions for you graduates to help jump start their career search, find work in a difficult environment and take that next big step:

Social networking

After wasting hours of time on Facebook, who knew that it might actually come in handy? In fact, it might be the best place to start your job search. Why? It’s currently one of the best networking tools out there and the quickest way to get instant access to hundreds of friends at one time.

Use status updates to consistently spread the word about your job search.

If people know that you are looking, you open yourself up to getting help and finding leads. Profiles now include information about where individuals are employed, so it’s easy to find out if you have any friends currently working in a company where you’d be interested in working.

Also, check out applications like Marketplace that provide job listings from a variety of sources.

LinkedIn, a social networking site for professionals, is also another great resource. It is the best place to publicize your resume and make connections with former co-workers.

Setting up an account is easy and it’s free. Once you’ve created your profile, you can invite individuals to write recommendations that are viewable by potential employers. Not only does the site allow you to reconnect and network on a strictly employment-related level, it also provides an excellent job-searching feature within the site as well.

Finally, use free website tools such as Weebly, Blogger, or Wix to build an online portfolio. For those with graphic design, writing and photography majors, having an online portfolio along with a resume can give you an edge over other applicants.

No matter what field you’re trying to get into, publishing your work online for others to view is a great way to condense your best assignments into one place for easy access. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date. When it is completed, make sure to include the links in your application and resume.

Acquire an internship

Although you may have already completed an internship, you should strongly consider taking another one in order to get an “in” within a company. Many businesses have special summer internship programs that provide valuable experiences and may lead to future permanent employment.

It is also a great opportunity to make connections and network. Some companies do not allow you to intern unless you are currently enrolled in a university, so make sure you know which ones do and which ones don’t before you apply. Check out Internships.com for postings.

Be an entrepreneur

Many jobs require previous post-graduate experience in that particular field — something graduates can’t offer. When it comes to jobs like to editing, most employers won’t even look at your application unless you have a few years of work under your belt.

For some students, this can be really frustrating and crippling, but for others it’s an excuse to find experience in alternative ways.

Matt Hall, a graduate student at Utah State University is the epitome of the latter. He is starting his own company, Proofwriters, Inc., to combat at this problem.

“I created Proofwriting Incorporated because I recognized two things: first, in this economy, part-time writing jobs were hard to come by,” he said. “Second, like many college graduates, I didn't have any job experience immediately after graduation.”

Taking these two things into consideration, and since "many entry-level jobs require two years of experience to be competitive," Hall took matters into his own hands.

“I had the idea to create a business where I could gain experience and hire my friends to work with me, thus giving us all a crash-course in the business world and gaining valuable resume experience,” he said.

His company is largely web-based where for a small fee students can submit their paper online to be edited. He is the perfect example of a student taking initiative when the opportunities don’t readily come. If you are unable to find a job, get out there and make one.

Consider graduate school

These days a bachelor’s degree isn’t worth as much as it used to be. By furthering your education you become a more valuable employee and open yourself up to more opportunities. While you’re still in the studying mode, consider taking a graduate school admissions test (i.e. GRE, GMAT, LSAT).

Getting into graduate school takes a lot of time and money. Most graduate school applications are due between October and January, but the application process can be quite difficult and expensive, so it’s better to plan ahead and apply early instead of waiting until the last second. Each school has different requirements, so check out their websites first and then contact the program administrators with any questions.

No matter what path you choose to take, hard work and thinking outside of the box is critical in this job market because in the end it's the graduates who are willing to put themselves out there that will get the jobs.

Katelyn is a graduate from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is currently completing a technical writing internship in Salt Lake City and will begin an MBA program at Utah State University this summer.