You've just graduated from college; how in the world do you find a job?

Degree doesn't guarantee a position; internships are key

ctruman@herald-leader.comMay 27, 2013 

CHRIS WARE | STAFF

Job counselor Carla Ockerman Hunter has a few choice words for new graduates just now beginning their job search: Why weren't you doing this back in December — or even earlier?

But if you're just looking now, accept that unless your credentials are extraordinary and your LinkedIn network impeccable, you've got a few busy months ahead of you before you find that first post-college job.

Nonetheless, Hunter, a consultant for Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, said that the process of getting that job should have started with choosing your major: finding out which jobs are associated with that major, what fields are growing, where you want to be geographically.

But the idea that a degree is a ticket to a job? Nope.

Hunter said that you might have started thinking about whether you even needed a college degree to get a job. Perhaps the field you really wanted to be in required vocational education instead, she said, or less than a four-year degree.

But if you've waited until college graduation to intensify your search — job counselors said that some college students have a particularly short-term view of priorities, figuring they'll get to the job search after this paper is completed and that seminar is finally over — remember these words from Michael Cronk, assistant director of the career development center at Transylvania University: "The job search takes months. It doesn't take weeks. ... If we're talking about May's graduates, they need to start yesterday."

Hunter said that students and their families should rethink their attitudes toward vocational education.

"The bachelor's degree is overhyped," she said. "Eighty-six percent of the job market is vo-tech."

But in whatever field you've chosen, the point is to get a foot in the door, she said.

"The whole point of the résumé is to get the interview," Hunter said. "The point of the interview is to get the job. (Ask yourself:) Who has the gap that matches your skills and how can you solve their problem?"

Ideally, the planning process should begin with high school, Hunter said: "You say, what part of the world am I most like? Think about the people who are most like you in the workforce and migrate toward them. What companies do they work for?"

A particularly valuable source of information is Reference USA, a business information omnibus that is available to anyone with a public library card.

The job counselors said that just because you've waited to begin a job search doesn't mean you should apply for every job a company offers, hoping that your enthusiasm to work at anything will make the company more likely to give you a look. More likely, said Francene Gilmer, director of the Stuckert Career Center at the University of Kentucky, you'll come off as someone who has not appropriately narrowed their interests and skills — a dilettante who can't really contribute in any job.

"First, you really need to decide what job you're looking for," Gilmer said. "There are career assessments that let you look at your interests, values and skills. Some of these assessments will look in on categories, on job fields .... once your application gets in the database, and you say, I want to apply for this and this and this, it puts the burden on them to figure out what you're best at. Don't do multiple applications at one company."

Keep in mind that companies hire you for what you can do to solve their problems, not necessarily what field of study you pursued in college, Cronk said.

A student's academic major does not necessarily dictate what career he or she will ultimately wind up pursuing, Cronk noted: "That's not to say that the major does not matter, but the major is not job training."

Cronk does an exercise with first-year students in which he lists jobs that some Transylvania graduates hold and asks them what their major was.

Here's a piece of it. Guess the major that yielded an accountant, attorney, sales representative, veterinarian, museum director, graphic designer, funeral director and software developer.

Answer: All were English majors. A student's major does not necessarily define his or her job prospects, Cronk said; employers want workers who can think creatively and adapt to change, which can be learned from any rigorous major.

Internships are absolutely critical, Cronk said, calling them "the single most important part of preparing for a career."

For the record, the job counselors said that the best way to prepare for a job while in college is to strategically pick your field of study, bone up on the job market for the industries in which you are interested, pursue internships early and vigorously and get your polished, attention-grabbing résumé and cover letter — for only one job per company, please — out there early in your senior year.

But if you didn't do any of those things and are looking at long, hot, jobless days, all is not lost, according to Gilmer.

"What do you do at this point? You become diligent," she said. "If you're floundering, there are some online career assignments you can take. Even students who just graduated can still take advantage of the services. Don't give up on yourself because you can't find a job in the next week or two weeks."

Steven Alsbrooks, a May graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, said he doesn't have a job yet — but he has been actively building his résumé and experience since he decided to get into psychology while in high school.

He has been a resident adviser while at EKU as well as volunteering for outside experience.

Alsbrooks said that students "definitely need to start getting experience in whatever they're doing, even if it's unpaid, just to be aware of what's going on in the community."

Alsbrooks, who wants to be an adolescent counselor, said he also is not limiting himself in terms of geographic areas.

But he also urged students not to let go of the field in which they've trained or a reasonable starting salary for the first employer that shows an interest.

"I've worked at it, I've fought for it, I've volunteered for it, so I would have experience in it," he said. "You're not going to start off at the top, but don't undercut yourself."

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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