The current economic crisis has forced college students to think strategically about career options. Most college grads will not land their dream jobs fresh out of school. Even finding the right entry-level position to place you on the desired career path requires more work than ever.
On the heels of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, many have had a rough time landing that first job. Seventy percent of 2009 college graduates did not have a job in place at commencement time and a number of them decided to stay in school to advance their skills and defer entering the workforce, with roughly 26% of the class of 2009 expected to enroll in grad school.
Internships still continue to be one of the best ways to enhance skills and build professional relationships. The knowledge you gain in the classroom is only a fraction of what you need to know to succeed.
For the past few months, we, the participants of the 2009 black enterprise Internship Program, gained such exposure. Each of us were assigned to mission critical tasks in various departments and worked closely with experienced professionals. The editorial interns were Bridget N. Armstrong, a senior English major at Winston-Salem State University; Benice Atufunwa, a graduate student majoring in publishing at New York University; Shahdai Richardson, a senior journalism major at University of Central Florida; and me, Lauren Lea, a senior mass communications major at Norfolk State University. be Events had one intern, high school student Nyjah Pringle. Interns who assisted the broadcast division in the production of Our World with Black Enterprise and Black Enterprise Business Report were Eduardo Almonte, a senior media and communications major at Ursinus College; Eliezer Lancelot, a junior film major at Indian River Community College; Derrick McCloud, a senior broadcast journalism major at Quinnipiac University; Cody Perryman, a senior film major at Kingsborough Community College; and high school student Britnie Revels. Media relations interns included Stuart Mulzac, a senior business administration major at Kings College; and Alicia Samuel, a junior English major at Columbia University. Marketing interns were Ky Hester, a Fordham University graduate student majoring in marketing; high school graduate Rosie Amador; and high school students Luis Camejo and Elizabeth Paulino.
All of us accepted this internship because we knew that simply having good grades and a college degree would not guarantee a quality job offer. More than ever, prospective employers evaluate you on your performance outside of the classroom. We used our time at be to gain a competitive edge.
So what does all this mean for young professionals? As a budding journalist who will graduate in 2010, I have discovered that jobseekers must be more tactical in gaining opportunities. Rather than focusing on a specific title or field tied to their degree, new workforce entrants must objectively evaluate their skill sets as well as identify sectors to apply their core competencies. Also, learn every aspect of your field of interest and the company you’ve targeted for employment. The more you know, the better the odds of getting a position suited for you. For example, I found a growing number of media companies require journalists to produce content for print, broadcast, and digital platforms. I am a passionate writer but the current magazine industry demands that I bring much more to the table. Today’s journalist must be able to blog; shoot photos; edit and upload videos on the Internet; speak knowledgeably as an expert on radio and television; and actively participate in social networking.
If you’re still in school, there are a number of ways to invest in yourself and develop marketable skills. Take advantage of all your university’s resources, including career counseling and job placement services. Be a leader in student organizations. Build positive relationships with classmates and professors. Make people want to endorse you. Reach out to alumni for guidance and mentorship. And don’t forget to use your network of family, friends, and classmates.
The employment forecast for the coming year may seem discouraging, but the job market will favor those who are creative, diligent, and driven. Regardless of the path you choose, you must apply intelligence and determination to your professional endeavors and recognize the value of investing in yourself. You’ll find others will want to invest in you too.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.