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Career counselor offers job-hungry grads tips on finding work

STANFORD -- You're a new college graduate looking for work, you've sent out a hundred resumes this summer -- and still no luck. Are there any entry-level jobs left in this recession-plagued economy?

Yes, says Virginia Mak, a counselor at Stanford University's Career Planning and Placement Center -- but you have to be innovative and work a bit harder these days to find them.

"Sending out a hundred resumes sounds impressive -- but if you're talking about getting leverage for the effort you're putting out, it's not the most effective way to find a job," she said. "You need to make connections with people."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 16- to 24- year-old labor force will level at 23.3 million jobs this summer, about 400,000 fewer positions than the same period last year.

Although the number of on-campus interviews at Stanford last year was at least as high as previous years, the number of job offers appeared to be down.

"Usually after commencement there is a huge lull in activity at the Career Planning and Placement Center," Mak said, "but this year there were a lot of bodies at the center. The general sense is that things are not as good as they were.

"Students are much more pragmatic than they used to be. A couple of years ago, they came in expecting the perfect job. Now, a lot of them say, 'I just want a job to pay off my loans and get out into the world.' "

Mak offers these tips to recent graduates still hunting for their first "real" job:

  • Tap into networks. "These days, a lot of companies aren't spending the time and money to formally recruit new people, so they're doing it by word of mouth," Mak said. "Use your college alumni network, your friends and professors. The power of the personal connection is very important." Also consider joining a professional organization, she said. "Then you get into the loop of what people are talking about."
  • Consider temporary agencies. "Temp" agencies used to be just for clerical workers. "Now it's becoming the way to hire people for all kinds of positions," Mak said. Internships are another valuable way to gain entrance into a profession.
  • Be mobile. "Depending on your field, certain approaches are more effective than others," Mak said. "In journalism, for example, there are a lot of students who think big -- they want to write for Newsweek or the Washington Post right away. But they're far more likely to get work in a small town, or at a small paper in a metropolitan area."

Public service can work the opposite way.

"Good public service positions are hard to come by in some places," Mak said. "But we've found that if students just get up and move to Washington, D.C. -- tap into networks, start volunteering, have patience -- within one to six months these people usually get some pretty decent positions."

  • Think again about what you really want. Students need to think about what they want from a job -- money? experience? skill development?

"I remember one Stanford student -- really bright -- who was getting a graduate degree in systems analysis," Mak said. "He interviewed with about 60 engineering companies on campus and got only two offers, neither of which he liked. Then he started working more closely with his professors on academic research projects. That led him to a number of positions more in line with work that he loves."

  • Be patient. "You can't expect something fast," Mak said. "You can certainly target goals -- to get a job in two months, for example -- but you have to be psychologically prepared that it may take a little bit longer."



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