How recent grads can land jobs

June 4, 2012: 10:39 AM ET

How do you distinguish yourself in a market filled with people who lack the skills and the credentials to get noticed? Here are a few tips.

By Amy Kaslow

FORTUNE -- Millions of graduates are pouring out of U.S. campuses and flooding the job market this spring. Students have sprung from vocational centers, nearby community colleges, small liberal arts schools, and university systems, hoping for a return on their educational investment.

But the economy has yet to absorb more than half of last year's hopefuls, and this year's influx of job seekers could push the nation's 8.2% jobless rate even higher, along with underemployment, which tops 16%. And even for the lucky who have secured work, statistics show that their earnings will generally start lower and stay depressed relative to those who entered the job market in stronger economies.

The 2012 graduates' elation can easily transform into the unemployeds' deflation. For the Millennials fixed on the news reports and the numbers, opportunities are far from obvious. But there are promising employment prospects out there, and jobseekers should quickly take stock of what's available and how to position themselves for those openings. The basic question: how do you distinguish yourself in a market stuffed with people who lack the skills and the credentials to get noticed?

Here's some advice for the millions new to the labor market and some practical steps for the many millions more still making their way through school:

Find a solid mentor

The fastest and most effective way for current students and recent graduates to explore career paths is to pair up with workers who volunteer their time to help new jobseekers find their course. You can find your match in one of thousands of chambers of commerce or schools. National organizations focus on discreet populations and skills: ethnic minorities in marketing; women in finance; STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused job seekers.

MORE: MBA startups at Stanford reach all-time high

Better yet, take an internship and build a relationship with a mentor while there. While most interns are poorly paid, if they receive any pay at all, the remuneration can be on-the-job experience and help from colleagues. Show initiative, and you'll likely have a more interesting experience. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that both public and private employers boosted intern hiring this year, and a staggering 40% of their new payroll hires this year will come from their intern pools. More

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