Getting To And Through The First Job

Strategic planning can make you more successful and confident as a young professional

By the time they’ve graduated college, most students have spent almost two decades in school — studying concepts, delivering presentations, and then deciding on how to use this information to develop a career.

A solid education is indispensable to individuals who want to excel professionally. Today’s graduates, however, quickly learn that keeping their noses solely in academia will not translate into success on their first job. In fact, many graduates find the hunt for the first job intimidating. But it needn’t be — if you develop a plan.

Make direct contact. Experts warn professionals about depending on the Internet for job searches and distributing resumés. Kim Wells, director of career services at Howard University, describes such efforts as “cold” contacts. Warm contacts — direct interaction — produce better results. Use the relationships that have already been established by your college’s career center, as well as your family and acquaintances.

Network. According to John Mixon, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources and vice president of Right Management Consultants, more than 88% of job contacts are found through networking. Position yourself in an environment where you can meet people, but be prepared to make a good first impression. “Employers are looking for individuals who create their own buzz,” says Mixon.

Be willing to learn all you can as you enter a new company. Find mentors in key players across racial and gender lines within the first 30 to 90 days to learn about the inner workings of your firm. It will give you a good sense of direction moving forward.

Beyond the first year, companies are not responsible for managing your career. The expectation is for individuals to take control. “Most folks have difficulty looking beyond the next year. If you want to be competitive, you need to plan multiple years in advance,” Mixon states. Here’s how to wisely plan for your future:

Train. While working, don’t neglect training. Some companies offer developmental programs and/or regularly send employees to training seminars. Keep abreast of industry changes and requirements, and make sure your skills are in line with industry trends.

Make a timeline. Construct an implementation plan. Be specific and avoid generalizations. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to stay motivated. It isn’t enough to accomplish tasks on time. Always assess the results.

Use available tools. Log on to www.fin.ucar.edu/forms/HR/5yr_plan_ form/my5yrpersplan.pdf for a form that will help you outline a five-year plan for your career. Also, Mixon recommends reading Networking for Job Search and Career Success by Michelle Tullier (Jist Inc.; $16.95). And remember that even the best plans need to be remodeled to fit changing times, but what’s most important is that you have a plan.

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