Congratulations! You've earned your bachelor's degree. You've acquired the skills and know-how to infiltrate the working world. But time and again, you're reminded that we're in a recession. No one's hiring, cautionary voices say. A B.A. is no better than a GED these days, they warn. OK, so now what?
The job market is in flux, but with the right tools and encouragement, it doesn't have to be a scary journey. Help and hope are out there; you just have to get an early start.
"You've been through 16 years of education. At this point, you really have an idea of 'What do you enjoy?'" says Cliff Ennico, a lawyer, business advice columnist and author of "The Legal Job Interview: Winning the Law-Related Job in Today's Market" and other publications. "Being happy in a career is a function of how well you fit in that career, emotionally and everything else. ... I see so many people who spent 20 or 30 years of their life -- especially lawyers -- climbing a professional ladder, only to realize when they got to the top that it was propped against the wrong building."
Elizabeth Zavala-Acevez -- career development specialist at California State University, Fullerton's Career Center -- echoes that advice. She touts her campus's "Take 5" mantra: "We don't want students to wake up one day and realize that they found the career of their dreams but that unfortunately, they don't have the needed skills, abilities or experiences to land that job. ... We want students to realize that career and job search exploration can take five months or longer, that (finding) a job can take five months or more and that they should be investing at least five hours a week in thinking and being active about their careers and job search."
Both experts regard college career centers as the mecca for recent grads for guidance in their job searches. Resources include personalized assistance, lists of alumni in the student's selected industry and pamphlets on interview and workplace etiquette. Many of these services are free.
Also of great value to job seekers is CollegeGrad.com. The website was created by Amazon.com's vice president of global talent acquisition, Brian Krueger, and offers readers a complimentary virtual version of his book, "The College Grad Job Hunter."
If the hunt is proving unfruitful, internships are the way to go. They not only help you nourish your abilities but also give you insight into whether a company or field is right for you.
"An unpaid internship, while it's painful in the sense that you're not bringing in any money, can open incredible doors," Ennico says. "Spend a year at (an internship), and look at what these people are. ... Do they look happy? Do they look ragged and worn-out all the time? Do they chain-smoke? Are they on their third or fourth spouse?"
"Internships, internships, internships are the way to go," Zavala-Acevez concurs. "In addition, students need to start their professional branding. Everything they do needs to be professional -- professional phone message, no ring tones, professional r?sum? and cover letter, professional e-mail address, professional interview attire, etc." Think professional to become a professional, she stresses.
And though master's degrees are increasing in demand, Ennico surmises a lot of people are pursuing them for the wrong reasons: to avoid having to find jobs or merely to demand higher salaries. He says one should go that route if the subject truly excites the student or is in an evolving industry, such as engineering or Asian studies.
Above all, keep at it. If you treat each application, interview and handshake as an opportunity and a learning experience, you will be successful, whether or not you land the position.