When should you start looking for a job? Well, if you're talking about the actual mechanics of finding an opening and applying for it, it depends on the industry you're in. In Engineering, many companies conduct on-campus interviews early in the Fall of senior year for jobs that start after graduation and if you don't have an offer by Halloween, you're in tough shape. When my daughter was finishing at USC's film school I kept pushing her to start looking for a job at the beginning of the second semester of senior year. I was wrong. In the film industry, they make you an offer and expect you to start within a week or two - so you can't start interviewing until you've actually graduated. Make sure you understand the hiring cycle of the industry you're looking to work in.
The bigger question is when to start preparing to look for a job. Let me ask you this: When did you start the college application process? I'll bet you starting thinking about the right high school courses to take, and arranging for community service credit and taking the PSATs two or three years before you graduated. You need a similar timeline for preparing to find a job, whether you're an undergrad, graduate student or post-doc.
I put together a quiz which indicates how prepared you are to look for a job. It only takes a few minutes to complete. Try taking it now, even if you are several years away from starting your job search. It will help to put into perspective some of the things I'll be talking about.
First, let's look at some of the things you need to have in place before you actually start applying, and then I'll describe a four-step plan.