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How to find your dream job in a nightmare economy.

Recently, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research organization, published a report stating that the American economy has been in recession since December of 2007. Although their definition of recession may differ from that most commonly used, two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the gross domestic product, their diagnosis of the current state of the economy came as no surprise to most Americans, who have been feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, and the high prices and low opportunities for employment and advancement that have resulted.

Many companies have reduced staff, and others are planning such reductions for the coming year. Reporting on a survey by Watson Wyatt, a consulting firm, the reported in November of 2008 that one-fourth of U.S. employers plan to have staff reductions within the next 12 months. Students graduating in 2009 will have to give serious thought to the differential impact the recession has had on the career fields they would most like to enter, their geographic preferences, and whether they should postpone seeking full-time employment in favor of graduate school. We may not know how long these conditions will last, the economy being cyclical, but it's a good bet that when your search for your dream job is in full swing, the nightmare economy will be, too.

But There Is Good News

The good news is that there are a few bright spots, since the recession has not affected all regions of the country and all industries in the same manner. In addition, the process you would use to target your job search and evaluate opportunities in a stronger economy will still work today. By researching companies and careers in light of your personal interests, skills and abilities, you are likely to be able to focus your search on those areas in which there is the greatest potential for success. Review company websites, managers' blogs and message boards, government sources and "top companies" lists, and consult with current employees, knowledgeable professors, alumni and staff in your network. In this manner, you can determine which companies may provide the best opportunities for your employment, training and advancement.

Several publications, including Business Week: and THE BLACK COLLEGIAN, have published outlines of job sectors, academic majors, and areas of the country where the most opportunities are to be found. Such fields as accounting, finance and information technology are usually listed as safe bets for the long haul, and some industries, such as energy, government, gaming, and health services, particularly nursing, tend to do well in a weak economic climate.

An often overlooked thing to remember is that some positions are neither posted nor listed publicly, particularly among smaller employers. Your personal network of business contacts can be useful in mapping these uncharted waters. Also remember that sometimes you have to move out to move up - out of your comfort zone, or out of the region of the country with which you have the most familiarity.

To What Do You Aspire?

It's only a dream job if it's your personal dream. The fact that the economy is in the tank does not mean that you have to take the first offer that comes your way. Knowing yourself, your skills, abilities and expectations, is a necessary first step, so take a good, long look in the mirror, and see what your reasonable goals and aspirations are. What do you want to accomplish in life? What career field piques your interest? What is your passion? Are you going into this field solely for the money, or do you really like what you will be doing on a regular basis? The old, standard interview question, "what do you want to be doing five or ten years from now" should be one you have asked yourself many times before, and one for which you have an answer that satisfies you.

A good technique for finding out whether your initial perception of a career matches your real interests is to work an internship in your chosen career field. Employers look favorably upon applicants who have served internships, and the interns receive first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the company and position they are considering. Experience has shown that a majority of students who complete an internship are offered full-time employment by the company with which they interned. Good sources for information regarding internships include the career services center of your college, the counseling service, and corporate career websites.

Job Search as a Business Venture

In good economic times or bad, when engaged in a search for your dream job, you are marketing a product, and that product is you. You should therefore be able to show any potential employer what makes you special, and why the employer should hire you rather than the next applicant. Despite the state of the economy, the positions are out there; it is your challenge to market yourself as the best fit for the job.

Your resume may be the first opportunity you have to advertise yourself to the employer, and you want to make it as effective as possible. Most campus career services centers will provide assistance in preparing a resume that is brief and to the point, and emphasizes the strengths you bring to the table. It should be simply formatted, computer-friendly, and styled to focus on your strongest points: your academic standing, leadership capabilities as demonstrated in extracurricular endeavors, or work experience. Your career center may also assist in posting your resume with employers, and preparing any necessary correspondence.

The standard sources for job listings will still be useful, even in these times of layoffs and cutbacks. Review newspaper advertisements and such on-line sources as Monster and Career Builder, company websites and message boards, and use whatever local resources and personal contacts you have at your disposal. You should also contact the smaller, local businesses that are often overlooked by graduating seniors. Professional associations such as the National Society of Black Engineers and National Association of Black Accountants and their local affiliates, their print and online publications, and social and business networking sites like LinkedIn, can also be helpful as sources for leads.

The career center will likely schedule on-campus interviews with employers, and this is where your initial research will pay off. Select the firms with which you would like to meet, then prepare diligently for these initial sessions. If there are mock interviews, practice sessions, or video recording available, they will help you become more comfortable in the on-campus interview, particularly if you have not had much experience. Practice with a coach or friend, and rehearse your answers to typical interview questions, remembering that interviews usually begin with small talk designed to put you at ease, before settling into the meat of the discussion. Remember to use good, standard English, speak clearly, and avoid slang. The critique the listeners provide you in your practice sessions will be invaluable in sharpening your skills.

At all interactive stages of the job search process, whether face-to-face, by telephone, or online, and whether on campus, on site, or in the field, appropriate appearance, language and demeanor are central to making an enduring, positive impression. Your voice mail message or out-of-office assistant should have a professional tone, and your written communication, such as letters and memoranda, should be error-free and devoid of text messaging abbreviations. If you have participated in social networking online, be sure there is no embarrassing or unprofessional content on your page. When meeting in person, whether for an interview or after-hours function, wear a business suit or other business appropriate attire, even if the company allows casual dress. Arrive a few minutes early, to catch your breath and relax before the meeting or interview begins. You want to present an air of confidence and ease, and not the nervousness that results from rushing.

After the interviews are completed, forward letters of appreciation to all the individuals with whom you met during the process. Let them know you are still interested, and maintain contact, even if the company is not currently hiring. I do not recommend sending a text message to accomplish this, since the managers may not be as comfortable with this technology as you are. Instead, wait a day or so, then send a "real" letter with a hand drawn signature. This is likely to leave a more favorable impression than an email, voicemail, or text.

Don't Be Discouraged by Discouraging News

The bad news is everywhere. An economy that has been in the doldrums for several years is now in recession--some would say close to depression--with no end in sight. Companies are implementing cost-saving measures, including reducing the size of their domestic workforces by slashing hiring, and eliminating jobs. The good news is that despite these challenges, hiring is still occurring, and diligent job seekers can still find employment by using tried and true job search and self-marketing techniques, looking in the right places, and being flexible.
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Author:Vertreace, Walter C.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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