By Liz Heron
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007 5:14 PM
Whether you're just leaving college now -- and planning a return to graduate school soon -- or finishing up advanced studies this spring, the job market beckons.
So will those advanced credentials guarantee you the job you've always wanted? They'll help, but they can't do it alone. Here are some tips for leveraging a graduate degree to make sure you stand out among job candidates from career counselors at two of the nation's top graduate schools:
Know your market. Applying for a position that doesn't match your credentials is one of the most common mistakes graduate students make, according to recruiters and career counselors -- and it can be doubly damaging to your career prospects. Not only does it decrease your chances of getting an interview, but it can reveal ignorance of the field.
"If you apply blindly, you may have a hard time making the case that an organization should hire you." cautions Ernest Sotomayor, director of career services at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York. "You have to really understand a job market to have an intelligent conversation about a job."
"The 'any job will do' strategy is not a strategy," agrees Anne Jones, director of career management at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. Instead of firing off resumes wildly, read job listings carefully and target those that best utilize your knowledge, skills, interests and experience.
Put your skills to work. Approach your search as if it were your first on-the-job assignment. Use your degree in graphic design to craft a creative, compelling online resume. If you're a budding reporter, draw on your investigative skills to find and thoroughly research potential job opportunities. Whatever applies: The skills you learned in graduate school are valuable tools in the job search, and can be used to show potential bosses how you can apply academic know-how to the real world.
Emphasize experience. If you have pre-school work experience -- even if it is in a completely different field than the one you're preparing to enter -- don't play it down. It gives employers something to evaluate besides classroom performance and can mean the difference between you and another job candidate with the same degree. "Just saying you have an MBA is not enough," says Jones.
"Recruiters use experience level as a barometer," says Sotomayor. "It's important not to leave behind and forget life experiences."
Network, network, network. Most graduate schools offer students ample opportunity to meet and greet potential employers through career fairs, on-campus presentations, internship opportunities and alumni databases. Any one of these could provide a valuable lead.
When building a contact list, meanwhile, cast a wide net: You never know which friend or acquaintance might steer you toward your next position. "You don't have to wait to meet people in your field," says Jones. "Tell everyone about your aspirations."
Be flexible. The realities of reentering the working world ¿ a tight job market, high student debt and long line of similar applicants -- might raise fears of "settling" for less-than-ideal work. Don't despair, however: There are opportunities in places you least expect, and a year in a non-dream job can jump-start your job climb. "I tell students to shoot high, but also to be realistic," says Sotomayor, who counsels journalism graduates to consider opportunities in unsaturated markets around the country.