Getting A Foothold On Your Career

In an uncertain job market, here's how to stay optimistic about your future

“On graduation day, I felt the world was mine,” exclaims 26-year-old Brian Pittman. “The next day reality set in.” Pittman, a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina with a degree in computer science, would soon be heading to Arlington, Virginia to work as a systems analyst for Network Connections, an Internet service provider.

Before attending college, Pittman focused on entrepreneurship. He had considered taking over his father’s construction business. He enrolled as a computer science major, but like a typical student, he considered many different courses of study, even one in history. “[Computer science] caught my interest,” Pittman explains, “but there was also all this growth in the industry. It became the major to have. It was one of those you’ll-do-okay majors.” These were his thoughts when he graduated in 1998 during the height of the booming tech industry. But the death of the dotcoms, the events of September 11, and this country’s recession, have redirected many thoughts on career strategy.

Preparing for career combat can be a harsh reality for young professionals just getting a foothold in the workplace. In a recession, keeping a job, particularly for eager and optimistic new entrants, has more challenges than ever. “It’s a different world out there. Newcomers to the workplace aren’t being wooed or coddled because they have B.A.s or M.B.A.s. They have to go into the workplace ready to show what else they bring to the table,” explains Victoria Lowe, CEO of Alert Staffing. “And those traits have to be shown ASAP. No one has three months to get acclimated. It’s get in and get to it,” adds the career specialist, whose company was ranked No. 13 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $204 million in annual revenues.

But it may seem that young employees are already adjusting to that pace. A recent survey indicated that the younger an employee, the shorter their tenure at a company. The median tenure for those in the initial throes of a career (aged 25 to 34) was just 2 years and 6 months.

Pittman stayed with Network Connections only one year before he felt he had outgrown his position. He found more challenging opportunities at the Alexandria, Virginia-based engineering and systems integration company, New Age Systems, where he is presently working as a systems engineer. As much as Pittman likes his work environment, this country’s economic slump is forcing him to go back to school for either a master’s degree, or for advanced certification in computer science.

“I want to keep my options open,” he explains. “The more education you have, the more choices you have.”

“I’ve had friends who’ve gone into work at 9:00 a.m., and were headed home by 9:30 a.m. because they’d lost their jobs,” he continues. “When it starts to happen close to home, it really makes you take stock of where you are.”

In her assessment of the insurance companies in her area, Stacy Mitchell already knows that there are thousands of claims adjusters in Atlanta. “I know I

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