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Class of 2013? How to get a job -- now

(MoneyWatch) For college students heading out into the working world this spring, the near future can seem pretty bleak. But there is some good news: Only 5.7 percent of college graduates in their 20s are unemployed, compared to 16.2 percent of high school graduates in that same age group according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report cited in the New York Times. The problem for the class of 2013? Very recent grads may be at a higher risk of unemployment. Take the Class of 2011: By October of their graduation year -- about 5 months post-commencement -- 14 percent were jobless, according to the report.

While some 22-year-olds plan to grab their cap and gown, travel over the summer months, and live under Mom and Dad's roof until the arrangement gets too uncomfortable and forces them to search for their first paid position, most can't afford that scenario. Members of the class of 2013 determined to be employed by the time they pick up their diploma (or at least very shortly thereafter) should start taking smart steps towards employment now, if they haven't already. Here are 6 expert tips to try:

Start applying ASAP

The basic rule of thumb is that the sooner you start looking for a job, the sooner you'll get one. You'll also have avenues of support now that might not be open to you come summer. "Be sure to tap the resources provided by your college career office," says career consultant Alison Doyle, who serves as's resident job search expert.  "Staff will be able to help you explore career options, write your resume and cover letters, and find and apply for jobs."

Stop looking for the "perfect" position

If your dream job isn't materializing (with a great salary in a vibrant city), think outside the career box, whether it be trying another location, position (especially if it will give you experience that will translate to your desired one) or unpaid internship (if you can swing it financially). "Your first job out of college won't be your last job, so be sure to consider a variety of options as you start your career," says Doyle. "The more flexible you are, the more opportunities you'll have."

Apply, apply, apply

Send out many more applications than you think you "should" have to, suggests career consultant Tammy Erickson, author of "Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work": "If you think you should apply to five places and surely you'll get an offer, apply to 50-100 places." Sound excessive? "That's the reality of today's marketplace. Numbers count."

Think 3 steps ahead

If taking an unpaid internship worries you, ask yourself why. Can you make ends meet with a restaurant job after work, or something similar? If you're thinking a few years ahead, you may see the experience you gain now might be worth the stress of scrimping for the immediate future. "Fear gets out of the way and you deal with facts, like the minimum amount of money you need to make it happen and the things you can cut out of your life while you get yourself established," says Tracy Brisson, founder of The Opportunities Project, a consulting firm serving younger employees. "That relentless focus helps you get the job you want."

Play up your advantages

One of the primary advantages recent grads have over more experienced employees is their natural relationship with social media and other new technology. "Your hunger to work hard, and your willingness to be flexible and learn on the job, can also make a difference," says Judy Shen-Filerman, founder of Dreambridge Partners, a leadership development firm.

Network like it's part of your coursework

Networking can't be a last ditch effort once you've failed to get a job by late spring. It should start now, and be a regular part of your job search process. "Let your family friends, professors, relatives know the kind of job you're looking for, what your contributory skills are, and why you're excited to do that kind of work," says Shen-Filerman.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Diego Grez

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