Finding That Dream Job, No Matter How Long It Takes

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

Redante Asuncion-Reed's first few years after graduation were pretty rocky. He had a degree in sociology from the University of Vermont, for which he owed $25,000, but no idea what he wanted to do with his life.

He bounced from place to place -- San Francisco; Burlington, Vt.; Madison, Wis.; the Philippines -- and from job to job -- barista, house painter, freelance writer, TTY operator, a dishwasher in a Thai restaurant.

"I was definitely floundering," he said.

Yet now, at age 35, he's doing just fine. He's working as a publications program manager, attending graduate school at American University and looking forward to a new job.

What was his secret?

Moving to Washington, it turns out, and old-fashioned networking. Through a contact from school, he was able to secure an entry-level job at a professional association. "In hindsight, I should have moved to a big city right away. There are just far more opportunities than in a small town," he said. A little more planning would have also helped, he added.

Ford R. Myers, president of Career Potential LLC in Haverford, Pa., suggests that new grads approach career planning from two angles: the external and the internal.

External issues are related to the strength of the job market and which fields are growing. This information is factual and widely available, through research and networking.

Online resources include the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, and employment advertising sites such as The Washington Post's, and YahooJobs. Even if you do nothing but drop "hot jobs" into a Google search, "you'll be overwhelmed by information," Myers said.

The second angle is more personal. It doesn't matter how hot a job is if it's not a good fit for you. Here, personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs testing or a few hours with a career coach can be a big help. Results of these sorts of tests are only suggestions, though. The next step is to try them out in the real world, through a paid job, volunteer work or an internship. And don't worry about hopping around a bit, Myers said. "If you're under 30, no one thinks anything about it; if it continues until you're 50, that's a problem."

But don't limit yourself to tests and Web sites for information. Rachel Loock, 44, found her way into association work at the urging of a college professor. The move led to an interesting career that has included association, nonprofit and government contracting work -- all sorts of jobs she said she didn't realize existed when she was still in college.

Try not to feel rushed. "Rather than looking for the 'perfect job' straight out of school, find the right 'church' (industry, field, area of interest, etc.) and get some experience. From there you can find the right 'pew' (now that I'm in this industry or field, what do I want to do in it?)" she wrote in a recent e-mail.

Reed, who dishes out advice for recent grads on his blog, , offered similar guidance, saying young workers should use whatever marketable skills they have, such as Web development or graphic design, to get their foot in the door in a setting they want to explore.

And keep your expectations in check, he added. It may be frustrating to know that you could be making more money waiting tables, but sometimes that's just how it goes at first. "Realize that you will be junior staff and that you will be earning the salary of a junior-level staffer," Reed said.

Once you've got the job, don't think you can just kick back in your new ergonomically designed chair. If your company offers training, take it, he said. Read books on the field. Join listservs and online communities.

And if, despite all your best efforts, you still spend a few years bouncing around like Reed did? "Don't sweat it. Use your twenties as a time of exploration."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company