The class of 2016 should see a more welcoming job market than college graduates have experienced in recent years, but competition remains stiff, especially for those who failed to hone the necessary skills.

Employers plan to hire 11 percent more graduates than in 2015, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, but that doesn’t mean the outlook is equal for everyone.

“Unless you graduate with significant work experience already under your belt, you are not going to be happy with the job market,” says Matt Stewart, co-founder of College Works Painting (, which provides internships to thousands of college students each year.

For its internship program, College Works Painting hires students and trains them on the basics of business management. The students then oversee the marketing, sales, production management and customer relations of a house-painting business in their home towns.

“If college students can develop leadership skills and real-world business experience, it opens up enormous opportunities for them,” Stewart says.

A National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that nearly all employers prefer to hire job candidates who have some sort of work history.

Also, 75 percent of employers say they prefer that work experience to be relevant, and 60 percent prefer experience gained through internships or co-operative education programs.

Stewart says students can improve their odds on the hiring front several ways, including:

• Line up summer internships early. Too many students wait until near the end of the semester to start thinking about the summer. By then, most or all of the good opportunities were snapped up by students who began preparing weeks or months ahead of time, Stewart says. 

• Don’t waste any summers. Students shouldn’t wait until the summer between junior and senior year to look for relevant work experience, Stewart says. Every year of college is an opportunity to build those skills, gain experience and improve the resume.

• Be sure to network. Internships are an opportune time to build relationships with professionals who can serve as mentors, act as a reference or provide a job after graduation. “We’ve had students in College Works Painting who reported that the main reason they got a job was because of relationships they developed through our internship program,” Stewart says.

But an internship works only if the student is willing to work, he says.

“You need motivation, drive, ambition and dedication,” Stewart says. “Not every intern is going to be successful, but that just gives you a better chance if you are the one who’s willing to put in the extra effort.”

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