This article was written by Rena Zuabi, managing director and co-founder.

1. Gain at least 1–2 years of experience before you graduate

The hunt for seasoned talent is a full-time endeavor in many tech-driven companies. While your GPA is important (many companies set a minimum bar at around 3.4), hands-on experience with real products and teams is valued tremendously.

Spend time during college or university initiating new projects outside of the classroom, interning with a local company, and learning more practical coding and development skills through evening workshops and summer programs.

Just as important as gaining experience is explaining to people the value of this experience i.e. what it means for them.

  • Do you discuss impact in your resume? The size of the teams you led, the influence on your technology on the growth of a company, the value of the projects you worked on, awards you received, and leadership opportunities you took on.
  • Can you talk about your experience with recruiters? I highly recommend coming up with a 1-minute pitch that summarizes how your experience aligns with your job-search objectives.

Once you know the job they are hiring for, make sure to focus your skills and experience in such a way that positions you as a perfect fit.

2. Use referrals

Many small to mid-size companies do not have the same direct recruiting power of large corporates like Google and Facebook. Consider connecting to the local business and startup ecosystem near your university through meetups, your university’s business school, or entrepreneurship competitions.

Remember that building these relationships requires follow up, time, and persistence. Don’t be afraid to keep reaching out and staying visible.

After a couple of years, relationship building can pay dividends once you’re ready to look for a job. Ask your colleagues and friends for introductions to companies that you know need technical talent. I would strongly recommend identifying specific roles you are interested in, so your referrals have a concrete ask that they can bring to their network.

3. Develop a specialization

One way to position yourself is to think about your domain specialization and expertise. Have you worked a lot on big data, robotics, or machine learning? Do you have a proven passion with working in scrappy, startup environments? If your network can associate your name with a theme or skill set, you can become their “go-to” for these type of roles.

In the early stages of your career, I would not recommend exclusively pursuing roles in your field of specialization. However, it could be an effective way of positioning yourself within your network and building a personal brand that stands out.

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4. Build meaningful relationships with advisors and colleagues early on

In your first couple of years of university, focusing on classroom learning is important to building foundational knowledge. But it is never too early to start connecting to people, organizations, and learning opportunities that can help you to explore your passions, strengths, and build meaningful connections that can help you in the future.

By keeping your career trajectory in mind early-on in your education, you can also start developing an intuition of the types of people who will truly invest and believe in you, and those who are just there for talk. After a while, you will also learn to recognize the type of companies and teams you actually want to work with, and those you would rather stay away from. This comes with experience — so start early.

5. Expect rejection

Easier said than done, I know. The unfortunate reality is that the job search is filled with more rejection than anything, so do your best to build a thick skin and more importantly, build a support system of people that will help guide and advise you along the way.

When you really think about it, companies need you just as much as you need them. The job search is about finding the right match that maximizes value and opportunity for both sides. You’re not looking for a job from a position of weakness. Rather, you are equipped with precious experience, energy, time, and commitment that have serious value to companies.

This article was originally published on Medium, March 9, 2017.