June 6, 2010
Experts advise college grads to focus on work experience, think long-term
Hemlata Mistry, left, talks with a representative from Adobe at the University of Washington Spring Career Fair in April. (Linda Hughes)
There will be tears of joy and hard-won smiles next weekend as Seattle Pacific University graduates sit in Safeco Field, Seattle University grads fill KeyArena and University of Washington grads pack Husky Stadium. But after getting through the traffic jams following commencement celebrations, many of the graduates will have another roadblock to overcome: the worst job market in decades.
Career advisers say the path to a dream job might have a few detours in the coming years, but it’s best for grads to just get on a road toward their career — because even a little progress is better than holding out for instant success.
“A lot of young people believe that they should get their dream job right away, so it’s sort of altering that sense of reality,” says Susan Terry, director of the UW Career Center. “Anything that they do at this point will give them great work experience, and they’re building a career, but it may not be going to work as a consultant out of the gate.”
Local career counselor and author Robin Ryan has this career-building advice for graduates:
Do volunteer work. It’s “very, very well-respected by employers. Whether it’s paid or unpaid isn’t as important as the fact that (you) got the experience.”
Try temp jobs. “The need for temporary workers has become higher, and that gives you an opportunity to maybe even get hired by what we call the back door — they test you out, they like you, the manager helps you find something internally.”
Do your research. “Talk to people about careers and make a decision about what (you’re) going to try out.”
Look at smaller companies. “In Puget Sound right now, most of the hiring that’s going on is with smaller employers, not the large Fortune 500s.”
Network through people, not computers. “No computer is going to hire you.”
“They are so focused on ‘I need a job,’ ” says Daniel Pascoe, executive director of the career center at Seattle University. “There is a big difference between looking for a job and not getting one versus continuing the process of positioning (yourself) for the best opportunity out there.”
Volunteering and interning are some options to gain know-how, says Pascoe. “What that does is add experience to your résumé,” he says. “It also adds to your decision making and your preparation for opportunities that you want to take. It has you being very productive. Eventually, you’ll be the person who’s closest to the opportunity as it develops.”
At the UW Spring Career Fair, Hemlata Mistry sought advice about her résumé and options for which jobs would coincide with her upcoming master’s degree in international studies. Mistry has aspirations to work in government or teach at the college level, but realizes such positions will take time to find.
“The immediate feeling is that any job will be fine,” she says. “It will help sort of pave the way toward that career development long-term.”
Still, some new grads are holding out. UW student Torin Jacobson, who will earn a bachelor’s in electrical engineering next weekend, is among those willing to wait until he finds the right opportunity. “I don’t really have any plans or goals other than doing electrical engineering,” he says.
One employer from the UW career fair called him for an interview, but that’s the only response he’s had from job hunting. “Plan B is just ‘look harder,’ ” he says.
Going to graduate school is one option some students take to avoid a tough job hunt a little longer, but it’s not always wise, says Terry.
“We think (it’s) a big mistake to go to graduate school because you don’t know what else to do,” she says. “Because it might even be better to do a barista job that you had while you were in school for a year or so than go to graduate school just because.
“We really encourage (graduates) to be really logical about their decisions. We also encourage them to really think about what their talents and their strengths are so they can market themselves better than ever in this kind of job market.”
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