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A New Graduate's Job-Finding Kit

By Marty Nemko

This column is aimed at those just starting out but it should be helpful to job seekers of any age.

The good news, Mr. or Ms. Fresh-Faced Graduate, is that employers want you.

I know, I know, you wonder, “How could they want me?” My only work experience has been in a McJob. “ Not to worry. Even your inexperience can be a plus: the employer needn’t rid you of the “bad habits” you learned from your previous employer. Even more appealing to employers, you have lots of energy and time on your hands, so you’re less likely to balk when your boss gives you a project that requires an all-nighter. Your technical skills are probably more current than someone who’s been out of school for a couple of decades. And you’re cheap: you probably cost half of what 40+ year-olds expect.

But you protest, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?” You assumed that, in school, you’d figure it out. Fool! You should have realized that spending years with teachers and professors—people who opted out of the real world--isn’t the best way to figure out what to do in the real world.

Oh well, it’s not too late. Here’s how to get unstuck.

Step 1: Identify your core skill or two. List your half-dozen major accomplishments and look for the skill(s) that most helped you accomplish those tasks.

Step 2. Visit to see if it helps you unearth a specific job title that excites you. If not, no problem. The following approach will work whether you have a specific job title in mind or not.

Step 3: Make a list of 20 places you’d enjoy using your core skill(s).

Step 4: Make a list of 50 people who like you. And don’t tell me you don’t know 50 people! How about your haircutter, your parents’ lawyer or accountant, people in your alumni association, church or volunteer group, maybe even your ex-boyfriend’s parents? You can also likely find connections among the 2.9 million members of

Ask your 50 fans if they know someone at one of your 20 target employers or at some other employer. If so, ask if they’d set up a three-way meeting or conference call, or at least allow you to say they suggested you call.

At those meetings, say, in one sentence, what you’re looking for, for example, “I’m looking for a job that requires the ability to be persuasive and that won’t require me to sit at a desk all day. Any thoughts?” Get feedback on your resume. Also ask if they’re aware of a problem the employer is facing that you might be able to help solve.

Step 5. For any of the 20 employers at which you don’t have a personal connection, call their human resources department. Explain why you put that employer on your list of dream employers, for example, ‘I’ve always been fascinated with the stock market, I’ve heard you’re trying to attract younger customers, and, frankly, you’re located ten minutes from my house.” Then say, “I’m looking for a job where I can use my ability to [insert core skill(s)]). Any advice as to where I should turn?” Whether or not you get a lead, ask the person if he or she would mind keeping an ear open for you and your calling back in a month to check in and report on your progress. In any event, write a hand-written thank-you note.

Step 6. In interviews, tell stories of your accomplishments: a problem you faced, how you addressed it, and its positive resolution. If you haven’t already, tease out a problem that employer is facing and brainstorm how you might help solve it. Be enthusiastic but honest about your strengths and weaknesses. All employers will appreciate your candor: The wrong employer will know you’re wrong for the job and a right one will hire you.

Don’t close too quickly. The purpose of a first or even second interview is usually not to get a job offer, it’s to get another interview. So, at the end of an interview, you might ask, “I’m excited about what we’ve discussed here. Would you mind if I synthesized and perhaps extended our discussion by writing a brief summary and proposal? And perhaps we can meet again to discuss that?”

Advice I’d Give My Child

Don’t get stuck. I know people who have endured lousy jobs for a lifetime. If you don’t like your job or your boss, the hell with “paying your dues.” Try to talk your way into a better job…or start your own business.

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