If you're looking for a job in finance as a recent college graduate, chances are good that your search has run into some obstacles. As the financial world imploded in 2007 and 2008, firms reacted by imposing hiring freezes, rescinding offers, and scaling back recruitment efforts.
For eager graduates, that's put a slight crimp in their post-collegiate plans. College ended in May, and now that it's July, some are finding that they can't land a job at all, let alone a job in finance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for college-educated young adults has just hit 5.5% (double 2007 levels).
Despite the grim outlook, finance hiring is coming back and there are actions you can take to help maximize your opportunities for success.
Changing your short-term focus without changing your goal can help you land the job you eventually want by capitalizing on similar opportunities. If you were set on working as an i-banker in New York, for example, it might be a good time to recalibrate your thinking and apply for a job as an analyst at the Treasury, for example. At the entry level, both positions can lead to a career as an i-banker in New York.
"Re-evaluate where your skills can be used," said Wayne Wallace, director of the career resource center at the University of Florida.
Reconnect with Your Alma Mater
You may think that once that last tuition check is cashed, your college or university wants nothing to do with you. Or that calling up the college career center is an admission of defeat. But many colleges and universities stand ready to help fresh grads find jobs, so don't be ashamed or hesitant to use their services.
"We offer career services for six months after students graduate -- they're welcome to jump back into the recruiting cycle," said Jeff Sackaroff, associate director of university career services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The University of Florida also welcomes back graduates so they can access recruiters at Bank of America, Ernst & Young, and Capital One, among others through the career office, according to Wallace.
Scott Roth, a 2008 University of Maryland graduate who majored in economics, knew he wanted a job in finance. He had interned at Citi Smith Barney but didn't secure an offer at the firm or the others to which he has applied after graduation.
Roth got in touch with the career services office at Maryland, which helped him refashion his resume, sign up for LinkedIn, and connect him with alumni. Soon he landed an internship as a research and capital-markets analyst in New York at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a finance-industry advocacy group.
Take on Internships
After four years of education and internships, it may seem below your skill-level to take on yet another internship, but racking up financial experience will impress recruiters and hiring managers -- even if it's not a full-time position initially.
"It seems profoundly unorthodox, but it's about training and a learning experience," said Roth. "You need things on your resume, especially relevant fieldwork. If [you] don't have it, [you] don't have a chance of getting a career in finance."
Since he started his internship at SIFMA, Roth has lined up interviews with JPMorgan and SocGen, successes he attributes to his temporary position.
According to UNC's Sackaroff, recruiters who approach the career services office routinely look for candidates who have had job or internship experience.
Reassess Your Skills
The economy is still tough, and you're not alone out there looking for a job. You'll need set yourself apart from the pack. If your interviewing skills are little rusty, now's the time to brush up.
"The time off provides you with opportunity for self-assessment," said Lance Choy, director of the career development center at Stanford University. "Reach out to professionals in your field who will be able to give you feedback."
One low-stakes way to tune up your interviewing skills is to conduct informational interviews -- short meetings with people whose jobs interest you about their career path and what advice they might have for those just starting out. Line up a series of meetings with professionals in your network -- alumni of your college or friends and family -- as well as some sessions with a career coach, parent or helpful friend.
Another option is to videotape yourself in a mock interview. This unvarnished look at your mannerisms can help you learn how to address any issues. Picking up a book on behavioral and case interviews can also help.
And, if all else fails, the time off will also give you an opportunity to think about other options.
"Hopefully you've already got a backup plan in place," said University of Florida's Wallace.
Write to Julie.Steinberg@dowjones.com