As graduation parties wrap up and summer stretches on, college and high school grads may be throwing themselves into the job search.

As graduation parties wrap up and summer stretches on, college and high school grads may be throwing themselves into the job search.

The task before them is not an easy one.

There's plenty of competition, for one. In addition to job seekers, the number of "missing workers" younger than 25 — individuals who would like to work but who have dropped out of the labor force for lack of opportunities — is near 1 million.

While that's down from the peak of 1.72 million a few years ago, it's more than three times as many as when the recession began in 2007, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute.

"Things have been so weak for so long that there's this big pool of people who are out of the workforce," said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at EPI who co-wrote the study.

With jobs in short supply, there's a good chance you may have to settle for a position for which you're overqualified. Or you may have to accept lower pay. In fact, research shows that if you enter the labor market during an economic downturn, it can take 10 to 15 years for your wages to get back to a normal level.

But there is a silver lining: This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent in June, the lowest level since September 2008.

The jobless rate for young workers is still in the double digits, but that's not surprising, because the unemployment rate for those younger than 25 has historically been a little more than twice the national rate, Shierholz says. So as jobs return to the broad economy, the hiring of young workers should pick up too.

Indeed, the unemployment rate for workers younger than 25 has declined to 13.3 percent from 14.5 percent in March.

The key is to know how to snag those positions as they return.

Finish school. While even college graduates have struggled to find full-time work in their desired field, job seekers with a post-secondary education are still better off than those without one.

"People with high school degrees tend to be the last hired and the first fired," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

And today, employers often favor job candidates with a college degree, even if the work does not require it.

"Part of the benefit of a college degree is just that it gets you into a job, period," Shierholz said.

You may have to accept a job below your skill set, but you have a place to fall to.

"If you don't have a college degree, you can fall off the bottom," she said.

Get work experience. Education is not always enough.

Employers also want job candidates to have work experience.

"Employers are more picky, more particular," said Ray Angle, director of university career services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They want people who have experience and have proven themselves in another job."

An internship is one of the best ways to develop your resume.

But if that's not possible, there are other ways to impress. Networking within your desired field is always a smart move, Angle says.

A part-time position or volunteer work may be another option.

The job "may not meet all of a graduate's goals, but if it meets some — it's in the right field or with a desired company — then it may be worth it," said Lisa Severy, director of career services at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Be positive. What if you're waiting tables when you'd rather be starting another career?

Experts say any work experience can be valuable.

"The best job interviewers are great storytellers," Severy said. "Highlighting your strengths and why you'd be an asset to the organization will impress the employer, regardless of where that experience came from."