Recent Graduates, Listen Up!

Tips for landing your first position after college

For recent college graduates who decided to take a breather before entering the "real world," the approach of fall signals that it's time to finally get a job. And chances are, you've received plenty of career-related advice from parents, friends and even people you hardly know during the past few months. One person may be encouraging you to pursue a position with a large, well-known firm, since having a recognized name on your resume could serve you well in the future. Someone else may feel that it's best for you to apply for jobs at small companies where you could quickly advance your career. Confused about which fork in the road to take? Here's some advice that's virtually guaranteed to point you in the right direction:

Stay true to your school. Though you've left the ivory tower of academia behind, don't turn your back on your school completely. Your university likely has a number of resources that can prove valuable during your job search. Consider your college's career center, which likely offers a number of services to recent graduates, such as resume-writing advice and interview preparation. You also might want to join your university's alumni association. These groups often host career fairs and networking nights that involve past graduates, giving you an inside edge with potential employers.

Make friends. One of the best ways to uncover job leads and learn about prospective employers is to talk to the people you know, including friends, family, professors, tutors, former co-workers and even your workout partner at the gym. It's likely that someone can point you toward a firm that's hiring, has been an intern at a company you would like to work for or can pass along the contact information of a helpful recruiter. Also, look for opportunities to expand your web of contacts. For example, you may be able to leverage current online acquaintances to meet new contacts through portals such as LinkedIn. More traditional networking avenues include joining a local professional association or participating in IT-related conferences and seminars.

Consider an internship. If you're like most job seekers, you held one or more internships in college and are probably ready for a full-time job. But many companies offer internship programs that are geared specifically toward recent graduates. And a large percentage of postcollege interns are eventually extended job offers. Look for companies that offer assignments that go beyond filing papers and getting coffee, and ask about the company's track record of bringing aboard former interns.

Remember, honesty is the best policy. Recent graduates often have little work experience to leverage when trying to convince employers of their qualifications. That's why some are tempted to enhance their application materials by embellishing certain details. An applicant may give his grade point average a slight bump, exaggerate the duties performed in a previous job or claim to have completed a degree that is still unfinished. The best advice: Don't even think about doing it. Companies perform background and reference checks on prospective employees, and even a small white lie is enough to disqualify the most talented candidate. It takes only one call to a previous boss or the office of the registrar to uncover a falsehood. If you really wish to stand out, tailor your resume and cover letter to the position you seek, clearly explaining how your work history and skills match the exact requirements of the job.

Dress to impress. Donning sandals and other casual wear is de rigueur for young people. In fact, in an online survey conducted by Old Navy and Gap this June, flip-flops and board shorts topped the list of wardrobe items that high school and college students plan to wear to work. But in the professional world, flip-flops are decidedly unacceptable. Eighty-one percent of employees polled by Robert Half Technology said a person's professional image is closely tied to his or her work attire. And the image you'll send by wearing flip-flops, T-shirts, torn jeans and the like is less than impressive. Instead, dress up for interviews and as you begin a new position. To maintain your sense of style, accent your wardrobe with a few pieces of tasteful jewelry or a pair of unique shoes.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the class of 2006 is enjoying the best job market in four years, with more than 60% of employers reporting that they will increase their hiring of college graduates. Don't let this demand for your talents pass you by. Take a smart, careful approach to your job search and you will land your first position before you know it.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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