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The Smart Way to Find a Job

Follow this three-step plan to success

By Molly Joss

A few short years ago finding a job after college seemed like a daunting task. But today, as the economy continues to hold its own and companies agree outsourcing is not such an attractive option as it was once thought to be, the job search seems, dare we say, simple?

With that positive thought in mind, let's return to reality with a cold dose of the truth: an upturn in the economy actually means your job search might be more difficult because as the economy improves more people will be looking for jobs, not less.

The smart way to find a job in any economy, however, is to assume it's going to be difficult and to develop a foolproof plan. In other words, from now until you land a position, your job is finding a good job. Think of it as the part-time position that pays dividends for a lifetime.

The Three-Step Plan

The academic year is just getting under way, so it's difficult to think about beginning your job hunt. You're too busy with research, classes and tests, right? And graduation probably seems way too far away, yet, there are distinct advantages to getting the hunt underway now, before everyone else gets started. Think of it this way: You will be one of the first in line to apply for jobs that your peers are only dreaming about finding.

And there's no need to feel overwhelmed by the process. Start with a three-stage plan: 1) research 2) refine and 3) act. These steps will guide your actions over the coming academic year.


Your final year at college will be spent studying for classes—and studying for your future. And your research will start in your college or university's career center. Make an appointment with a career guidance counselor, and be ready to ask questions about what the office can do to help you during the course of the year.

It's not enough to check out the printed and online references that the office might have. You want to make sure the staff and, in particular, the director, knows who you are and what your goals are for your first-time job and career. These folks start getting calls about job openings even before the academic year begins, so you want to be on the top of their list when an employer calls looking for an employee like you. Become a familiar face at your career center. Remember, the staff is there to help you land a job!

Another good way to research is to take advantage of networking opportunities through alumni groups and trade associations. Talking to people in these groups will help you find out what kinds of jobs are available through connections they have. It will also help you refine your search, which is the second step in your plan.


Narrowing the scope of your job search to no more than five fields in computing, technology or engineering should be your goal. If you apply for every job that looks good, you're going to waste too much time. You can also feel overwhelmed, which leads to weaker cover letters and fewer interviews.

Consider your short- and long-term career goals, and use those objectives to help you pick some areas of concentration. This is also a good time to do some research into what areas of specialization in information technology and engineering are performing better than others. For example, many companies are looking for IT professionals who can help them with their logistical strategies. Companies may want specialists who know how to apply technology to make supply chains more efficient. Information and network security are also red-hot areas of specialization right now and will be for years to come. Once you know what areas are hot it may help you narrow your job search targets.

While you're researching and refining, take the time to ask your networking contacts their opinion about pursuing an advanced degree in your chosen field. Yes, the thought of continuing your education is probably the last thing you want to consider as you're just finishing your undergrad degree, but it may be worth it in the long run. Your undergrad education may just be the starting point--a master's degree or PhD in a related disciple might make you more valuable to potential employers. Or, maybe an MBA with a technology focus will give you the extra edge that you need to land a top job.

Take Action!

Last but not least, you have to get out there and apply for jobs. You should start applying no later than late fall or early winter. Companies don't hire according to academic calendars; they often hire on a calendar basis with spikes in hiring in January and June. You won't be too early for a June position if you start in November or December with your initial inquiries. Waiting until April will mean that you only have the leftover jobs to consider.

Even in a good economy it can take months to find a suitable job, so it's never too early to start looking for your first job out of college or even a summer job or internship. Use the three-step plan approach: research, refine and act. And don't give up until you've got a job offer (or two or three) that you can talk about with pride.

Molly Joss is an IT veteran who writes about career and job issues, among other topics of note.

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