Grad Guide 2007

'Non-Career' Work Offers Grads Income, Experience

By Tania Anderson
Special to
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 11:02 AM

When Lauren Pool, a 2005 graduate of the University of Virginia, returned to Northern Virginia last summer following a job teaching English in Brazil, she knew she wasn't ready to restart her teaching career right away.

Nagged by her bills, she found a serving job at Indigo Landing, a restaurant overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va., while she looked for a teaching job and researched graduate schools.

It kept the money coming in -- and Pool never felt that prospective employers were thumbing their noses at her restaurant work. "I have an advantage of being in the teaching field," she says. "Educators are more receptive to the fact that I've been floating around."

But it's not only educators who feel that way. Employers of all kinds are increasingly receptive to restaurant, retail, temp and other "non-career" jobs on the resumes of their college graduate candidates, say recruiters and career counselors.

Valuable Personal and Professional Experience

Even given the competitive nature of the area's job market, they say, employers understand the high cost of living in Washington and realize that not everyone has the financial ability to intern for free or focus solely on job hunting.

"Most employers recognize that your experience after college, at least for the first couple of years, is not indicative of the rest of your life," says Marva Gumbs Jennings, executive director of the career center at George Washington University. "The risks [of taking non-career jobs] are minimal."

In fact, some employers would rather see someone work in a job not in their career track than focus exclusively on job searching because it demonstrates initiative and financial independence while also potentially helping develop some of the basic skills needed for the workforce.

Temporary office work can be particularly attractive to recent graduates who have never worked in an office setting, as well as those still wondering what industry to pursue a career in. Even better, it often leads to permanent jobs in part because the job-hunting temp is a known commodity to an organization. "You've proven to be a contributor," says Gumbs Jennings.

The trick for job-hunting graduates is to properly spin the skills learned while waiting tables or answering phones on a resume and cover letter. The tactics: Emphasize customer service skills, people skills, problem-solving techniques and the ability to work on deadline while highlighting the ability to communicate, listen effectively and work with different personalities.

"If they've learned to work with other people, they want to highlight how they've learned that and how that helps them better deal with other folks throughout the organization," says Kye Mitchell, Washington market president for professional staffing firm Kforce.

Some employers prefer restaurant or similar experience, Mitchell says, because it demonstrates self-sufficiency. Some retailers, such as Nordstrom, meanwhile, are known for top-notch training, which is attractive to employers.

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