Employers will hire 19% more graduates this year than last based on a recent study conducted by the National Association of College Employers.

According to a new study from CareerBuilder.com, more than half of employers (54 percent) reported they plan to hire recent college graduates in 2012, up from 46 percent in 2011, 44 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009. 

In some ways, members of the class of 2012 got lucky. They arrived on campus in September 2008, the same month that Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, touching off a financial crisis that exacerbated the recession. On campus, they were largely insulated from the collapsingU.S.economy. 

Still, the job market remains high competitive especially for those candidates, like recent graduates, with limited work experience. Here are three things recent graduates can do to maximize their chances for success in today’s job market:

1- Employ a focused approach—know what you want.

Conduct some research regarding entry-level positions and know which job titles and occupations represent the best fit per your major, curriculum, experience level, and skills. Targeting a few similar types of positions where you can make a solid case for employment will garner better results as opposed to casting a wide net and seeing what “bites.” Customizing your résumé and cover letter for each opportunity, though tedious, is mandatory and can really give you an edge. Think quality, not quantity.

2- Use your network including your social media sites.

More people are hired via networking than any other technique, so start putting the word out to the people you know even before graduation. Help your networking contacts help you by telling them specifically what type(s) of jobs you are pursuing.  In addition, mentioning certain industries and/or companies will also increase your chances. Use your social networking sites to convey your job search goals, asking for tips, advice, and recommendations. Check out MeetUp.com, alumni groups, and local chapters of industry associations for group networking opportunities.  Employ a networking strategy that includes social media, 1-1 meetings, informational interviews, and group events.

3- Utilize Staffing Agencies.

Enlisting with temporary staffing agencies is a great way to gain visibility to key employers on a “try before you buy” basis.  Even if the positions you are applying to are not directly related to your career goal, working for an organization can be like having a paid internship with the benefits of a recent work entry on your résumé and additional networking opportunities. You’ll also learn real-world skills and be privy to openings within the company which may be conducive to what you’re looking for.  Many staffing agencies also specialize in certain types of positions, i.e., high-tech, healthcare, or finance.

Additional Considerations:

  • Applying for an internship through your school. Another NACE survey reveals that paid interns had the most success attracting job offers in 2011.
  • Two companies with extensive hiring plans, mostly based on new hires and not on attrition, are accounting firm Ernst & Young and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
  • Working abroad
  • Gaining additional certifications (online, workshops, week-long courses)