Job market improves for new college grads

Getting Started

Your Money

September 18, 2005|By CAROLYN BIGDA

THE JOB MARKET is looking up for students.

This school year, employers are expected to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates than they did last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

That positive sign - the third consecutive year of projected hiring increases - might lead seniors and recent graduates to think a job offer will be in the bag.

But no matter how strong the hiring environment, landing a job (at least one that you want) takes more initiative. In particular, you need to network.

The point of networking.

Career counselors describe networking as the most effective strategy for securing employment. But it's not about asking for a job. Instead, it's a process of meeting professionals in your field and obtaining their advice and assistance.

"Take the soft approach; don't mention the j-word - `jobs' - right away," said Michael Profita, director of career services at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "If you allow your contact to get to know you first, he can better vouch for you if a job opportunity arises."

Although introductions may lead to an interview and possibly employment, the key still is to build a support group who knows your interest and can help guide your search.

Where to make connections.

At first, initiating a conversation with industry pros may feel awkward, akin to asking someone on a date. So approach people with whom you have a connection.

"Start with friends of your parents and parents of your friends," said Gail Rooney, director of the career center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And don't forget professors, former employers and alumni.

Your school also may have contact information.

Skidmore offers a database of alumni and parents who will talk about their professions and share news of job openings.

Campus career fairs, many of which kick off this month, are another resource.

Although a company might not be interviewing for the specific job you want, you could ask about other opportunities and snag contact information for the appropriate recruiter.

Prepare what you'll say.

You'll find it easier to talk with contacts if you practice what to say, touching on relevant experience and goals. Think of specific questions to ask about an industry.

Be prepared especially at career fairs, where you only have about 30 seconds - about the length of an elevator conversation - to describe yourself to recruiters.

Launching into this veritable commercial might seem a tad immodest.

"But if you're not willing and able, no one is going to do it for you," said John Boyd, director of career services at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

"A job's not going to drop out of the sky just because. You have to be somewhat self-assured as someone who feels `I can do that job,' " Boyd said.

Follow up.

Don't let the conversation end with the first meeting. Send a handwritten thank-you note, which takes more effort than an e-mail and attests to your interest.

Then, update your contact with any progress and accomplishments.

"Make believe they want to be your mentor," Profita said.

To stay organized, store business cards in a Rolodex or on index cards and write down important notes.

Did you fax or e-mail a resume to them? Did you receive other leads, and did you follow up with them?

Don't stop networking.

"Too often folks only go into networking mode when they're in career distress," Profita said.

After you're hired, be active with professional groups and associations, take on leadership positions within your industry and help others who are making a job transition or just entering the field.

By staying in "network mode," you'll have a pool of resources to help see you through any career move.

"Think of networking as a skill, not something people are born with or have," said Javaune Adams-Gaston, executive director of the career center at University of Maryland, College Park. "The more you practice it, the better off you'll be."

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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