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Starting From Scratch
Deciding on a direction
The initial bump young professionals often encounter on the road of life is caused by too narrowly defining the career options available to them. For example, if you do not want to become a researcher or professor, you may worry that your anthropology degree leaves you ill-prepared for other careers. But chances are your coursework exposed you to many other skills that employers seek, such as knowledge of statistical analysis and strong writing abilities. Viewed through this lens, your potential professions range from market researcher to journalist.
In fact, a college degree provides you with a number of transferable skills, including critical thinking abilities, research capabilities and knowledge of a variety of computer software. The beauty of a college degree is that it opens doors.
If you don't know where to start following graduation, consider the things you enjoy. What do you find yourself talking to friends and family about? What is the first section of the newspaper you turn to? What are your favorite Web sites? Answers to these questions can provide you with some insight into the professions you might want to pursue.
As you consider potential career paths, be realistic. Too often graduates are blinded by an idealized version of their dream job. For example, a career in television production generally begins with a low-paying position that's long on hours worked and short on creative independence. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Everyone before you most likely followed the same path, learning the business from the ground up. Just be sure you are aware of all the steps you need to take to get where you want to be.
Research different jobs or industries by reading as much as you can about them in newspapers, magazines, trade publications, blogs, message boards and Web postings. Also consider arranging informational interviews with those currently employed in a profession of interest. During these meetings, you can ask about how the person you're meeting entered the field, what types of things make the job exciting and what challenges you should expect, among other things. Your friends, family and even former classmates or professors may be able to help you arrange informational interviews.
Finding the job of your dreams
One of the best tools in your job search is probably right under your nose: your school's career center. Don't forget that the counselors there can help you write a résumé, assist you in preparing for an interview and provide you with job leads. Often, you can continue to receive guidance from the career center after you graduate. Alumni associations also are valuable resources. They frequently hold job fairs and host networking nights where you can meet working professionals who have graduated from the same school as you did.
In fact, networking can be the most effective way to find your first job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 80 percent of available jobs are never advertised, and more than half of all employees land their jobs through networking. Taking part in industry events, volunteering with local nonprofit organizations and visiting online networking sites can help you expand your list of professional contacts. Simply keeping in touch with people you've met at school is another good way to hear of job leads and gain referrals.
Despite the effectiveness of networking, the most successful job seekers use of a variety of approaches, from searching the Internet to browsing trade publications to cold-calling companies of interest. Just remember not to rely on one method too heavily and to continually evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. For example, if you've applied to dozens of jobs you found online and have yet to be called for an interview, step back before applying to dozens more. You may need to revamp your résumé and make it more targeted to each opportunity. Or, you might consider following up with a prospective employer a couple of weeks after sending your application materials. In a survey by Robert Half International, 82 percent of executives polled recommending touching base with a hiring manager after submitting a résumé.
And don't forget about temporary work. Working with a staffing firm to find short-term assignments allows you to build additional skills, explore new fields and organizations, and meet people who may be able to help you in your career. Also, it's not uncommon for a temporary assignment to turn into a full-time opportunity. Employers are increasingly relying on project and contract professionals to help them meet current hiring demands. If you find these opportunities, don't hesitate to put them on your résumé: 56 percent of executives polled by Robert Half International said they consider steady temporary experience to be equivalent to full-time work.
The best advice when starting your career: Remain confident. You bring a high level of energy and motivation, as well as the desire to succeed, to a new job. Employers will value your enthusiasm and willingness to take on any challenge.
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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