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Gearing college grads up for the workforce

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Updated: 8/16/2013 3:38 pm

(BPT) - The job market doesn't appear to be as tight as it was a year ago. Even so, finding a job remains a tough challenge for new college graduates who are eager to begin their careers.

For those facing the challenge of finding employment today, advice gleaned from two collegiate professionals can help. 'This is the time to think out of the box,' says Amanda Rajotte, director of career services at Brown Mackie College - Hopkinsville. 'I encourage students to focus on employment goals early in the program.'

The prepared candidate is a step ahead

'Good verbal skills, the ability to embrace change, and being a team player can catch a prospective employer's attention,' says Grace Klinefelter, of the Business & Organizational Leadership program chair at Argosy University, Washington DC. 'Companies look for candidates with problem-solving and analytical skills, too.' Think about these questions: What can I bring to a company? Why should they choose me? Writing your own answers to these essential questions is a good way to prepare for a job search. The exercise can provide valuable insight that may help shape your responses to future interview questions.

Take a hands-on approach

Rajotte's job as director of career services entails a constant search for employment opportunities to help graduates of many different academic programs. She honed her job-seeking skills when she moved to Kentucky, where she knew no one, and needed to find work herself. 'I fully support a proactive, hands-on approach,' she says. 'It is never too early to begin networking.' She encourages students to interact with professionals in the field as much as possible.

Maintain alumni contacts

She counsels students to attend networking events with people who are a year ahead in the academic program. 'Those students will have a position by the time the others graduate. It's as important to build relationships with those about to enter your field as it is with people already working. Referrals can come from both sources,' Rajotte says. Word of mouth can be powerful. Even if the person you have stopped to chat with isn't in a position to help, you never know if they have a friend who is looking to fill a spot.

Join professional associations

Much can be accomplished simply by knowing people. Klinefelter relates the true story of one Argosy University student who panicked at the thought of facing her search for employment. 'She had already fulfilled the requirements for graduation, yet wanted to take more courses. I encouraged her to join a professional association connected to her field,' she says. 'Once she connected with her professional group, she landed a job with the association. It's about having the right attitude and looking forward instead of back,' says Klinefelter.

Visit the local chamber of commerce

'This is something I did when I moved here,' says Rajotte. 'I reached out and got in contact with the different committees they run.' The meetings offered the opportunity to meet with executives from some of the larger corporations in the community, and let them know she was new in town, with specific qualifications. 'This became a successful network that was useful. One community leader was willing to send a letter of introduction for me,' Rajotte says.

Attend community events

It isn't necessary to wait for a local networking event to happen. Developing relationships means putting yourself out there and letting people know your professional intentions. 'It's a way for students and graduates to find out about local organizations they can join, as well as employment opportunities,' says Rajotte.

Volunteer efforts offer mutual benefits

Volunteer work provides experience. 'Our medical assistant students volunteer at a local free clinic. Help is always needed, and it gives them real-world experience beyond the externship in the career field,' says Rajotte. 'It's a great way to get professional references.' College campuses also provide volunteer opportunities. 'Students can demonstrate capabilities by volunteering to work with faculty on special projects, as well as outside activities,' says Klinefelter. Even volunteer activities outside of your field of study can be beneficial. You never know who is painting or planting flowers beside you.

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