Dear Matt: I’m starting my senior year of college and want to start focusing on my job search now. What tips do you have?

Matt says: Research from GradStaff, Inc. (gradstaff.com), a Minneapolis-based organization that helps new college graduates identify where their skills fit in today’s workforce, shows that up to 70 percent of new college grads don’t know and that 40 percent have used their campus career services center rarely or never. So how can today’s senior prepare for the jump into the world of work?

Start by identifying the value you bring to employers, says Bob LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff. “Soft skills” such as critical thinking, effective communication, time management and problem solving are crucial. Think about your academic course work, extracurricular activities, internships, nonprofessional jobs and volunteer activities. Were you recognized for having the best customer satisfaction score as a server at a restaurant? Praised for your leadership skills as captain of a sports team? Do a third-party skills assessment (ask at your campus career center) to identify and apply these skills.

If you have a liberal-arts major or a science or technical major that you don’t want to pursue as a career, don’t worry. “Employers are looking for well-rounded candidates who have had a variety of experiences in college,” says LaBombard. Graduates who have completed internships and nonprofessional work experience, participated in extracurricular activities (sports, music, theater, student government, etc.) and have done volunteer work are the most attractive.

Next, develop your personal network — something most college students underestimate, says LaBombard. Professors, coaches, activity leaders, family members and relatives, parents of friends, current or former work supervisors, and many others can all help open doors. Be sure to include alumni — especially those with your major or in career areas that are of interest to you. Create a LinkedIn account and begin networking; start by joining your college’s LinkedIn network. When connecting with professionals who may be able to help, ask for informational interviews to learn more about their career path and industry.

Develop a close relationship with your campus career services department. Make sure people in the department know your skills, interests and careers you are considering. Hiring companies and alumni often call asking for recommendations. Also, attend campus career fairs with résumé in hand, smartly dressed and ready to impress.

Hard work now will pay off later.

“You want to get the most out of your senior year,” says LaBombard. “However, you also need a job, so be sure to set aside time at least five hours a week on your job search, if not more.”

Contact Matt at jobslink@startribune.com.