NEW YORK (MainStreet) — After years of gloomy employment prospects, it looks like things are finally starting to look up for recent college grads. According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire 8.6% more new college graduates this year for their U.S. operations than they did last year. Overall, nearly half (48.4%) of employers surveyed said they are increasing their college hiring, while less than 30% said they plan to cut back.

Although the Class of 2014 is definitely lucking out this year, those graduating this spring should still job search aggressively and follow smart strategies in order to gain an edge over the competition. Read on for some top tips from career experts on how recent grads can snag a great position.

Start Looking Now

Once you finally earn that college diploma, it can be tempting to put off your job search for a while. After spending years studying, writing papers and taking tests, isn't it time for a much-needed break? Well, not really.

"New college grads should start their search right away, because it could take upwards of a year to find a job," advises career expert Alexandra Levit, author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World. "The job market for college grads is better but it's still not that great."

While job boards such as and can be a good way to find out about opportunities, it's also important to network online and in-person.

"Don't base your job search solely on advertised openings," says Levit. "Increase your chances of landing interviews by personally connecting with individuals within your target companies."

Some ways to widen your professional network include joining groups on career networking sites such as LinkedIn and getting involved with professional organizations within your area of interest, suggests Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a global staffing service.

Defy Gen-Y Biases

Unfortunately, Millennials often face "unspoken" biases during job interviews, says Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. "These include being entitled, needing constant positive reinforcement and being spoiled and disinterested in doing grunt work," Klaus explains.

The good news: Millennials can defy these negative stereotypes by showing their interviewer respect, listening well, asking questions and discussing their positive qualities and accomplishments. "Talk about your work ethic, can-do attitude, eagerness to learn new things, ability to work on a team as well as work independently and how you want to grow at the job and help in growing the company," Klaus explains. It's also a good idea to provide specific examples of how you worked well in jobs, internships, organizations and sports teams, says Klaus.

Tout Your Digital Skills

If there's one stereotype about Millennials that can work in their favor, it's that they're technologically savvy. "Always mention digital skills, because some Baby Boomer hiring managers still think they look impressive," says Klaus. Be sure to list any special computer/technology skills on your resume that apply to the job you are seeking — just don't exaggerate your abilities or it could come back to haunt you in the interview or when you begin the job.

Avoid Interview Blunders

Inexperienced job seekers can sometimes make common interview blunders that can cost them the position, so it's best to avoid making these mistakes at all costs.

"Don't arrive too early or too late, avoid talking nonstop without taking time to listen sincerely, refrain from saying anything negative and let the interviewer bring up the topic of money first," says Levit.

Although preparing in advance for an upcoming interview is key, be careful not to memorize your comments or else they might sound too scripted, Levit says.

Send a Thank-You Email After an Interview

"Some may think the days of sending a post-interview thank-you note are over, but that couldn't be further from the truth," says Hosking. "Emailing a thank-you note can make a lasting, positive impression with hiring managers."

Keep in mind that your thank-you email should be short and concise, rather than long-winded. In the email, be sure to thank your interviewer for meeting with you and reiterate why you want to work for the company and why you're a good fit for the position. It's also a good idea to send the thank-you email within about 24 hours of the interview.

--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet