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Moving from College to the Workplace

So you've just graduated. Congratulations! Now it's time for the hard part: finding a job.

Start the job search process by doing some self-assessment. Knowing yourself is the first step in finding a great career. Ideally you'll have started this exploration by your sophomore or even your freshman year, but it's never too late to get going. Read books about discovering your life's work and do the exercises provided. You also may want to visit a career counselor at your school.

Once you've chosen your field, network like crazy. Only a small portion of available jobs are advertised in the newspaper or online, since many employers would rather not waste time reading all the unqualified applications they're likely to get from such postings. Instead, hiring managers seek applicants by talking to their colleagues and by spreading the word in industry-specific channels. You can get yourself out there by developing relationships with people in your field so that you'll be at the top of their minds when an opening comes up. Keep track of your new contacts and make notes about them in order to remember who was who and what key conversations you've had. If you know that a particular contact is going to be at a function you'll also be attending, read over your notes before you go so that you can ask him how his vacation was or how his wife is doing after her car accident. Remembering things about other people will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Don't take the first job offer you receive just because it relates to your major. You risk starting down a path that doesn't hold any real appeal to you, and you'll just have to start the career discovery process all over again. Instead, try to plan your career as strategically as you mapped out your education.

If it takes awhile to find the right job, stay optimistic—many other recent college grads are in the same situation. Getting negative won't help. Keep in mind that in the long run, it's smarter to start your career with a job that will help you reach your ultimate goals rather than settle for a dead-end position temporarily and waste time later.

Once you do get a job, work on earning a reputation as a stellar employee. Unless you're faced with a crisis or a sticky situation that requires involvement from someone more experienced, find a solution on your own before bringing the problem to your boss. Figure out how to fix the jam in the copy machine yourself, or answer a question about a client by doing some research in any files you have access to. If you find yourself caught up on your work, ask your boss if he or she needs any help. It's important that as a new hire you do exactly as your boss says, unless you've been asked to do something unethical or illegal. If you don't understand how something should be done, ask questions rather than turn in an assignment that's been done incorrectly.

Finally, remember that your working life is just beginning. It may take longer than you think to get that first promotion, and it will likely be years before you reach your dream job. Just be sure to keep your eyes and ears open and learn from every situation; that way you'll have the best shot at getting to where you want to be.

Elsewhere on the Web The Insider's Job Search
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The College Grad's Guide to Purgatory: Finding and Surviving Your First Job
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How to Succeed in Your First Job: Tips for College Graduates


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