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How New Grads Can Beat the Odds in Job Market Roulette

Evan Taylor

Don't leave your future to chance.

Roulette, like other games of chance, is thrilling up until the moment you are withdrawing your savings from the ATM in anticipation of breaking even. With high unemployment and underemployment rates for recent college graduates, the odds of finding a job upon graduation may be low. Consider these challenges you may face.

The economy is bouncing back, slowly but surely.

According to Abby Kohut, a career expert for the career resource website AbsolutelyAbby.com, "Companies aren't hiring as well as they used to. People that are midcareer professionals are having difficulty finding jobs." However, Paul McDonald, senior executive director at human resource consulting firm Robert Half International, says job prospects are good for new grads in accounting, finance, law and communications.

You can win with real world experience.

A track record of practical knowledge and work experience can set you apart. "Showing you did something other than just go to school shows drive," McDonald says. Kohut suggests that new grads with little experience volunteer in their field or shadow an employee at a company where they'd like to work.

Avoid haphazard job searching.

Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, says people put a lot of energy and resources into getting admitted to college. "That's the on ramp," he says. But the effort often tapers after graduation. "The off ramp is more casual. There are not a lot of exit resources," he explains. McDonald suggests new graduates target areas they would like to work in, but avoid being too narrow in their search.

Bet on the basics.

You have to be ready with a résumé, cover letter and an understanding of how to navigate the application and interview processes. For your cover letter, "you should explain what experiences you have had and why you would like to work at their company or industry," Kohut says. She also recommends having at least three references and a transcript available if requested.

Don't continue your education as a last resort.

Carnevale says you might not need a graduate degree to enter your field and earn a competitive salary. Meanwhile, McDonald recommends you ask, "Am I running towards a career or running away to pursue higher education?" Before signing up for the GMAT, consider what the job market is like, your career path, opportunities to gain experience and whether you can find success today with your current circumstances.

Be aware of your debt.

While more recent grads carry hefty student loans into their first job, McDonald warns not to necessarily take the job that pays the most. "Your looming debt has to be repaid, but you have to make decisions for the short term and long term," he says. Instead, think of your first job as an investment in a long-term career. "Don't make the quick decision for the most money," McDonald says.

The probability of unemployment is real.

"For every full-time job, there are three people looking for a full-time job," Carnevale says. Using national job boards to search beyond your city or region can help your chances. And don't be afraid to work on a temporary or interim basis. "The experience you gain may propel you and make you more desirable to employers," McDonald says. Elance and Odesk are two online sources that can help you find contract and part-time work.

Anticipate temporary underemployment.

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says there is "an imbalance of college graduates and the demand for them." Carnevale adds that one in five new graduates get stuck earning lower wages as a result of the labor market. McDonald recommends that underemployed grads consider how long they can tolerate staying in their position and whether the sacrifice will ultimately propel their career forward.

Stack your soft skills.

According to McDonald, a résumé that highlights your technical skills secures the interview, but your soft skills will get you the job. Brush up on your presentation and communication skills; McDonald suggests joining Toastmasters International -- a communication and leadership development organization -- and volunteering on project teams in different departments.

Commit to lifelong learning.

"Lifelong learning is a reality in this economy," Carnevale says. "People are constantly challenged to upgrade to keep up or upgrade their skills." New grads can enhance their professional and technical skills by reading trade and industry publications. Taking online classes, attending workshops and participating in webinars with industry leaders can also strengthen skills.

Add value to your network.

Make your connections purposefully, utilize social networks like LinkedIn and join in-person networking groups to gain exposure. Your college, department and alumni association may be a good starting point. McDonald suggests connecting with college alumni and past employers on LinkedIn. Also, make sure your network doesn't go stale after you get a job.

Bank on professional mentors.

Finding a mentor could be a formal process through a networking or professional organization, or it can be as simple as just asking for one. Some people may say no, Kohut says, but keep trying. "Alumni from your college are much more likely to be a mentor for you," she notes. Also look to industry and professional organizations for mentorship opportunities.

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