How to Deal

How a recent college graduate can go about getting a first job

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Lily Garcia
Special to the Washingtonpost
Friday, May 7, 2010; 3:27 PM

How can you get a job with a bachelor's degree when people won't hire you without experience? How can you get the experience if no one will hire you without it?

You ask, in essence, how you a recent college graduate can go about getting a first job. In good economic times and bad, the best answer to that question has always been the same: Start at the bottom.

Having invested at least four years of your life and paid or borrowed possibly tens of thousands of dollars, you have a right to expect a more encouraging answer than that. But I am only telling you the truth.

Sure, there are fortunate and capable recent college grads who manage to secure enviable first jobs through networking, perseverance, or even sheer luck. I don't think that you should rule out the possibility of finding a first job that fulfills your expectations by leveraging your professional network (which you do have, even if you are just starting out, in the form of friends, relatives, relatives of friends, alma mater alumnae, former mall job bosses, etc.) and diligently sending out applications.

If you don't have the luxury of time, however, I would suggest that you open your mind to the possibility of a job in which you had not necessarily envisioned yourself. My first job after college, for example, was as a part-time restaurant hostess. I humbly removed my crown of laurels and got to work because I had to. There were student loans to pay and, even though I was able to move back with my parents for a time, I could not afford to be picky about how I made money. Unexpectedly, that job led to a higher paying full-time job in the administrative office of the restaurant's operating company. Had I not left to go to graduate school, I could have easily leveraged that position into other opportunities working for more selective employers who might not have hired me without direct experience.

Every entry level job, blue collar or white, has a manager. And that manager probably has a manager who supervises other functions that might ultimately interest you. As you continue your job search, do not lose sight of your career goals, but shift your focus for the moment to finding the right employer rather than the right job. Once you are in, you will have the chance to prove yourself and later aspire to other jobs that better fit your self-image. Even if you are hired to unclog the toilets, I can guarantee you that your employer would sooner hire you ¿ a known quantity ¿ for that cool new position in the Marketing department than a complete stranger from a job board.

There are certainly many far more compelling professional success stories that mine. For inspiration, you might want to read the biographies of Oprah Winfrey, Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, J.K. Rowling, and others who have excelled remarkably against the odds. My point is just that you have to start somewhere and that the alchemy of hard work and time will eventually create for you the opportunities that you are now missing.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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