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How To Find Your First Real Job

The real world is right around the corner. Are you ready for it? You will be if you hone your job search strategy, pursue opportunities, and put your best foot forward. Here's a step-by-step guide to finding and landing your first 'real' job out of college. Three Steps to a Bright Future You've been preparing for this role for four or five years--your debut on the job market. But finding the fit between your talents, your new skills, and the working world is not always straightforward. Before nailing down your first job you'll face fundamental questions about who you are, what you want, where you're heading, and how you can reach your full potential. Step 1. Identify Career Goals. The key to a successful job search is focus. If you can define a specific career objective, you'll be much more able to develop an effective strategy to achieve it. In order to define your goals, you'll need two things: self-knowledge and an awareness of what the real world has to offer. Self-Assessment Before you take your first step into the working world, consider what you want to accomplish once you get there. What are you good at? What do you like to do? What are you passionate about? What gives you a sense of purpose? Monster.com's Keith Ferrazzi calls this introspective process "Finding your Blue Flame." The "Blue Flame," he explains, is the "intersection of desire and talent, or passion and ability." Put aside all the practical considerations, doubts, and ideas about what you 'should' do with your life. This is your chance to visualize your dream job.
  • If you're drawing a blank, talk these questions over with your peers, a trusted professor or counselor, or your family. What do they think your unique abilities are?
  • Take advantage of the career self-assessment tools available at your college's career center (or online, the local library)
  • Tests like the Strong Interest Inventory, Skill Scan, and Myers Briggs Type Indicator can help you assess your interests and abilities. Some suggest a list of careers that match your profile.
Career Assessment Once you have a better sense of what you want from your working life, you can narrow down your options to particular careers in specific companies.
  • Research. The Internet is one of your best allies when it comes to career information. Career resource websites offer job descriptions, salary ranges, job conditions, personal 'day in the life' testimonials, qualifications, outlook, and much more. The essentials are the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, Vault.com, and Salary.com. College career centers typically maintain a career library as well.
  • Network. Once you've targeted your career, start making connections with people in the field. Professional networking events, career fairs, and the alumni association are just a few venues for meeting people. Many will be happy to give you the lowdown on their careers and put you in touch with others who can provide more information.
  • Intern or Volunteer. If possible, test the waters of a particular occupation by obtaining an internship or a volunteer position. You'll gain an insider's perspective and perhaps lay the groundwork for a job offer after you graduate.
Step 2. Explore Job Opportunities By now you should have more of a sense of where you're heading in your profession. It's time to move to step 2--finding job opportunities that meet your specifications (including location, salary, learning potential, advancement, etc.)
  • Career Center Job Listings. Your career center will offer job listings, usually restricted to current students and recent alumni.
  • Online Job Listings. The Internet is an invaluable resource for finding jobs nationwide. Monster.com is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • On-Campus Recruiting. Many companies hold recruiting events and interviews on college campuses.
  • Career Fairs. Your career center will host on-campus career fairs specifically targeted to college students. Also look for regional career fairs, conventions, and networking events.
  • Intern or Volunteer. These positions provide invaluable 'insider' information about job opportunities.
  • Network. Touch base with your new contacts (and old friends and family) concerning your aspirations.
Step 3. Land Your First Real Job Once you've set your sights on your dream job(s), hone your strategy for landing the position. This is your chance to find out more about your prospective employer and to present your skills and accomplishments.
  • Create Your Resume. In a page, sum up your academic accomplishments, skills, and any relevant work history. Your resume should be a high-impact promotional piece. Consult your career counselor, 'how to' books, or even a resume writing service to make your resume a flawless and professional document.
  • Write a Cover Letter. Introduce yourself, demonstrate your understanding of the position, and tell your prospective employer why you're the best candidate for the job. Again, a counselor can help you craft an effective letter. Emphasize in both your resume and the cover letter any skills you have that make you particularly suited for the job. For example, if the position involves working with the public and you are multi-lingual, you could put yourself ahead of your competition by mentioning that fact.
  • Interview. The interview is not just an opportunity for self-promotion--it's a chance for both the interviewer and you to decide whether the position will be a good fit. Come having researched the company and the job, and bring a list of questions for the interviewer. Of course you'll also want to put your best foot forward--wearing professional attire and carrying a list of references.
  • Negotiate a Job Offer. You're hired! But before you jump into an acceptance, take a moment to consider the terms of your employment. A career counselor can help you evaluate offers and help you negotiate the terms with your prospective employer. Consult Salary.com to get a sense of the typical salary range in your region.
The road from the college classroom to the working world is not as long as it seems, especially if you take advantage of all the resources at your disposal. Together, your college's career placement center, counselors, alumni, peers, family, and professional connections form an unbeatable team. Focus your game plan and you'll soon be signing your first real acceptance letter.

Publish date: August 15, 2007