This year many college graduates will continue to interview for their first executive position during a very unusual economic time. As a young professional, you are armed with a world of knowledge. However, now comes the art of gaining real-life experiences in your field of expertise. It will be much more challenging this year to find a job in your industry. Do a lot of research to understand a company’s culture, and what it takes to get hired and remain employed during these tumultuous times.

In 2009, 43% of employers plan to hire recent college graduates, down from 56% in 2008 and 79% in 2007, according to Career Builders Annual College Forecast Survey of 2,543 HR professionals. I thought it was interesting that employers reported that the top three mistakes made by recent college graduates during the application and interview process were: 61% not dressing appropriately, 50% not turning off cell phones or electronic devices, and 48% not asking good questions during an interview.

All of these challenges can be overcome by understanding how important your professional image is to attracting the best jobs and future career opportunities. Here are seven strategies to get you hired when the competition is fierce.

Times Are Different. It’s a different business environment this year and to get employed you need to be authentic and unique, not the same as everyone else in your field of study. Be prepared to dress, behave and speak more effectively than your competitors. Be the one that the interviewer remembers, that remains top of mind. When I used to interview executives for Macy’s, Inc. I could always tell you after a week of interviews, which were my top one or two picks. It was human nature that I resonated with someone’s personality, their professional grace and whether they had a strong personal brand, which exuded confidence and would blend in with our corporate brand. That’s critical. Remember you need to reflect the company’s high values from your dress, grooming, etiquette and communication skills.

First Impressions Are Key. We have all heard the old saying, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” That is so true. You will find that a great first impression will open the next door of opportunity for you—the second interview. However, it is crucial that you keep up your positive impressions during the time on the job. Many new executives look great while they are interviewing for the job, but once hired tend to become more relaxed and dress more casually. Beware! This is one of the top complaints I receive from my large corporate clients. Know that to overcome the negative impression created from coming to work one day looking disheveled can take over twelve times of dressing polished to change that impression. You can’t afford those kinds of mistakes today if you want to obtain—and keep—a great job. Manage your image by looking professional everyday, allowing others to think positively about you.

Dress to Impress. These statistics indicate that the number one challenge employers have with recent graduates is dressing inappropriately. If you take action on just one thing in this article, this one concept alone could land you the job of your dreams. One of the most common challenges graduates have is dressing too casually once they enter the corporate world. If you want to make the big salaries, you need to dress in a professional and polished manner. Wear a suit, sport coat, blazer and skirt and slacks everyday if you are going into a job that commands that you interact with outside clients. If you will not be interfacing with clients or working in a much more casual environment, wear dress trousers or a skirt and sport shirt or blouse to look polished, but friendly and approachable. Be sure when dressing down to purchase fabrics that look great even in the middle of the afternoon. Look for cotton and Lycra® blends to keep you wrinkle-free.

The Devil Is in the Details. The details are always a sign of a well-dressed executive. The finer points are key because these send silent messages to others about how you feel about yourself. The little things—like keeping your hair styled, shaving everyday, spending a few minutes to apply a bit of make-up, and keeping your nails cut short and clean—are outside indicators of how you perceive yourself on the inside. Other details of dressing to consider include keeping your shoes polished, not wearing stained or torn clothing, or clothing that is old and worn. This communicates to others that you can manage all the details of your personal and professional life.

Your Professional Style. It’s important to realize your knowledge of business etiquette is a reflection of your professional style and grace. It’s the style in which you treat others that gives people another perception about your image. The study above indicated 50% of recent college graduates applying for jobs would not turn off their cell phones or electronic devices. Although all of our technology toys allow us to be accessible 24/7, it’s important to respect employer’s policies regarding cell phone use. As you venture from college to corporate, take heed and always turn your cell phone to silent as you go into a meeting or interview. This shows the person you are meeting with that you are respectful of their time and want to give them your undivided attention. Being aware of this one point will help you create rapport with others and develop long-lasting relationships.

Be Interested—not Interesting. In the interview you want to effectively communicate your expertise and how you could benefit the firm once they hire you, but be sure to research the organization prior to your interview so that you can ask some appropriate questions to keep the dialog on a two-way street. While the interviewer is assessing whether you are the right match for their company, you need to be asking open-ended questions about the firm to determine if their mission statement, values, the type of work and company culture is the right fit for you.

Attitude is Everything. In these competitive times, you must remain positive and upbeat about every interview you encounter. Soon after the interview, call and follow-up on your interview in a positive tone. Don’t forget that your voice is key to people interpreting whether you are confident and positive. I tell my clients to smile when they are on the phone and their voice will be perceived as being cheery. Keep your dignity and your spirits high, even if it becomes a little frustrating at times during the interview process. I always believe things happen for a purpose—so know that for whatever reason, that may not be the right job for you.

Following these seven strategies will give you a framework for improving your chances of acquiring the right job, regardless of the recession. Your ideal job is right around the corner. Say that mantra everyday, and one day soon, that perfect job will come your way.

Author's Bio: 

Sarah Hathorn is a professional image consultant, certified personal brand strategist, speaker, and author.
Her company, Illustra Image Consulting, works with high-achieving future leaders and large businesses by enhancing their corporate and personal brand image to take their businesses and careers to the next level.
Blog, Ezine & Website: www.illustraimageconsulting.com
Phone: 678-528-1239 Email: sarah@illustraimageconsulting.com
Copyright © 2009, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS
This article may be reproduced only in its entirety, including the above bio.