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For the Graduating Class of 2009

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Anne Brown and Beth Zefo
Co-authors and Career Counselors
Monday, April 27, 2009; 11:00 AM

Anne Brown and Beth Zefo, co-authors of "Grad to Great: Discover the Secrets to Success in Your First Career," will be online Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss career opportunities for new graduates. They are the founders of GradtoGreat.com, a popular online resource for young professionals. www.gradtogreat.com

Get more information in our special feature, Grad Guide 2009. Plus, get more how-to's and career-related advice in our Jobs section.

Submit questions and comments before and during the discussion.

The discussion follows.

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Anne Brown: Hi, thanks for joining us today.

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Beth Zefo: Good morning everybody! Thanks to the Washington Post for inviting us back this year. Both Anne and I are really excited to chat and answer questions. Let's get started.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Hello, my stress level had gone off the charts this past year, as I'm graduating from college this year and I have no job. Compounding my anxiety is not having a clue how to go about knowing what I want to do career-wise. Luckily, I can live with my parents, and am contemplating getting a retail job until I figure things out. But as I maneuver in this new environment, I wonder if having a retail job after college is sabotage for any career prospects.

Anne Brown: It's understandable that you're stressed out about your job prospects this year, but there is some good news for you. First, future employers are going to understand that when you graduated the job market was not favorable. Anything you can do now to show you have a good work ethic and good attitude will help you in the future. So, that means if you have to take a job that is not your dream job, that's ok. You mention retail. If you work retail, ask to learn more about the business from your managers. It's not the job that will sabotage your career, it's what you do while you're in the job.

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Santa Barbara, Ca.: A few people have told me not to apply for posted jobs after 3 days of them being posted. Is this a good rule? Or is ok to apply for jobs that have been posted longer than that.

Anne Brown: I would say it depends on what the job is. Jobs that require special knowledge are harder to fill and therefore are more likely to still be available after 3 days. Also, in general I would say not to follow that rule because most HR managers are so swamped right now it may take them a few days after posting the job to even review the resumes.

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Washington, D.C.: I've been applying for both jobs and internships (paid and unpaid) since the beginning of February and still haven't had any offers. I really want to move from D.C. to New York, but I don't want to move without having a job. Some people have advised moving and then continuing my job search while waiting tables, etc. What do you think?

Beth Zefo: Waiting tables while looking for a job is a great way to make money and pay the bills while you wait for the job that will start your career. I do think it helps to live in the city that you want to work because you will be available for interviews when companies call. However in your situation D.C. and New York are not that far away, so you need to balance how important it is to you to move before you have secured a job. Keep positive and use your network to make as many connections and let people know what you want to do.

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Great Falls, Va.: Since the beginning of the semester I've been using job search sites and applying for jobs, internships,and pretty much every opportunity I've seen that is relevant to my field (journalism). I've even exhausted every "connection" possible. Are there other ways to get employers' attention?

Anne Brown: Being a former journalist myself I can tell you this is a hard field to break into and especially now. Networking is where you need to be concentrating most of your time. Also, unpaid internships are a way to get your foot in the door and prove you are worth hiring on a full-time basis.

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Washington, D.C.: To put it quite bluntly -- I know I'm good at what I do. But how do I let prospective employers know this? I have a hard time getting that across in my cover letters without sounding pompous.

Anne Brown: It can be hard for people to "brag" about themselves in a cover letter. What you may consider pompous may be exactly what the hiring manager needs to hear in order to bring you in for an interview. And, it probably doesn't even sound all that pompous to the hiring manager. Cover letters are not the time for being modest. On the other hand, if you really do sound full of yourself, go back through the letter and notice how many adjectives you've added. The overuse of adjectives can sometimes infuse meanings into a written document that were unintended. For example, "I have a proven track record in sales" as opposed to "I have an incredible, unbeatable, amazing track record in sales". Just stick to the facts and you'll be fine.

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Washington, D.C.: What can I do to keep improving my skills while I wait for a job offer? Preferably free things, or options that pay me (ideally).

Beth Zefo: To maintain your skills while looking for a job, contact local non-profit organizations and volunteer your time and skills with them. You can help with a marketing campaign, design a website, work on a fundraiser or wherever your interest lies. In addition to improving your technical skills you can sharpen your communication skills and people skills at the same time while also gaining valuable experience you can put on your resume, not to mention the networking available while volunteering. You never know, this could lead to a full time job. You could also try to freelance your skills with small companies and provide them with a discounted rate. This way you are making some extra money and you are providing a service to the small company. A first step in the getting the word out is to send an email to all of your contacts explaining what you are offering. In you want to get paid you must market your skills!! Good luck.

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Chattanooga, Tn.: My son is 23 and, other than a couple internships, has never worked. He will graduate next year with an MPA degree. What can I do to help him prepare for the world of work?

Anne Brown: This brings up an interesting question. More an more parents are worried about helping their children transition into the working world. The best advice I can give you, is to do what you can to motivate your son to want to join these types of discussions himself. If he's never had a paid job at the age of 23, I'd say motivation is the best assistance you could give him right now. Employers want to hire motivated people. Now, he went straight to grad school most likely, so he should also visit the campus career center and sign-up for as many on campus interviews as possible. Less students than you'd imagine actually utilize the free resources available to them on campus.

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Washington, D.C.: Not having a job or internship yet is breaking me down. I feel like I've slaved away for the last four years for nothing. How can I keep my morale up when I'm not hearing back from any employers OR internships?

Beth Zefo: It is so important while job hunting to have a good attitude, and it is challenging even for the most optimistic during this economy. But I must stress that if you go into interviews or send cover letters that give the impression that you are negative or broken you will not get the job!! You need to be really honest with yourself and think about what message you are giving off. Perhaps you need to take a break for a week and focus on yourself so once you start searching again you are in the right frame of mind. You should be exercising and eating right so you feel physically strong. Think about the last four years and what you have accomplished and what skills you have learned. Graduating from college is something to be proud of! Keep pushing forward and applying for jobs. Make sure those around you know what you are looking for and that you are open to receive leads from friends. Keep your head up!!

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San Jose, Ca.: I am graduating this Spring (in just a few weeks) and my goal is to move to the D.C. area. I have been applying for a few jobs there and not as many in my current area. I would like to make the move east by the end of the summer. Would it be easier to do the job search in person/is it terrible idea to move without a job?

Anne Brown: In this economy, fewer employers are likely to offer relocation packages. Therefore, you are more likely to find a job if you are already living in the city you want to work in. That being said, make sure you can afford to do this. Is there a friend you can stay with? A relative? My advice would be to save a little money by working whatever job you can get now, move, and then get a part-time job to help pay the bills while you search for a full-time in your career field.

Also, I just want to add this. There is a big fear among recent grads that future employers will look down on them for a retail job, or a job waiting tables. But here's what you need to realize. No one is going to label you as anything other than "recent graduate" until you are a little older and have some more experience under your belt. Until then, prove you have a strong work ethic, can take care of yourself, and can be a team player.

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New York, N.Y.: I want to work abroad, but I know the job market is just as bad in Europe, etc., and I imagine I'd have a hard time getting my work visa. Any advice?

Anne Brown: Do you speak another language? That will certainly help if you wish to go somewhere other than an English speaking country. Many U.S. colleges have campuses in other countries. I would try to apply to one of those schools for an overseas position. Did the college you went to have a program like that? Good luck!

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Boston, Mass.: Everyone tells me to follow-up with my applications, but most job postings specifically say "no phone calls" and don't even list a contact name or number. How do I follow-up in these situations?

Anne Brown: Sounds like you're applying to lots of job board postings. Always try to get the name of the person responsible for hiring decisions and follow-up with an email if the web site harshly advises against phone calls. In most cases, you really should follow-up with a phone call in 7 days if you don't hear anything. I would also suggest you start networking a ton so you can have your resume delivered personally to the hiring manager. There is a greater chance of winning the lottery than getting a job through a job board this year.

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Los Angeles, Ca.: I'm currently looking for jobs and internships, but a lot of the internships I find are "for academic credit only." I graduate in a few weeks, so I won't be able to obtain credit, but I know I am more than qualified for the internship. Should I apply anyway? And why do companies even set the "academic credit" guideline?

Anne Brown: Change your approach. Instead of searching for internships or programs already in existence (and that carry certain requirements like "academic credit"), approach companies that you want to work for and ask if you can work on a trial basis or come in to job shadow a few days a week. Alternatively, you can write a letter to the hiring manager or department head at a company you want to work for and explain that you would like to do an internship and state specifically why you are interested in that company in particular. These approaches take more work than simply applying to "ready-made" internship programs, but you're also more likely to get hired this way. And this is not some career expert fluff. I found two of my jobs this way, and one that paid me extremely well.

Also, some companies if you talk to them, will waive the "academic credit" only rule.

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Olney, Md.: First Year Out - I'm a college prof, and I've noticed that one thing my recent grads struggle with is the loss of community they had while living on campus surrounded by peers and mentors. Any advice for recent grads on maintaining old relationships and finding new ones to keep them happy and healthy in their new career paths?

Beth Zefo: This is a great question. One thing that new grads can do to maintain their sense of community is through the internet. Technology now allows us to stay connected whether it is through Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites. I think it would be great for you as a college professor to reach out to your student before they graduate and let them know that you want to keep in touch with them and know how their careers work out. I think sometimes students are afraid to reconnect with a professor unless they had a really close relationship. Another idea is when students move on to a new city they should really consider joining the alumni association in that city. Also reach out to your network and ask if they know anyone in your new city and ask for an introduction. It is definitely scary moving to a new city, but in my opinion it is easier than ever to stay connected.

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Washington, D.C.: My ultimate goal is to become the editor of a magazine (preferably travel, fitness, or something of the like). I know I need to be in New York, and I know the magazine world is in BIG trouble. I'm being realistic and I know that getting a job working for a magazine is going to be rough, so I'm applying for jobs all over the board (pretty much anything that will boost my resume). Any advice as to what I can do so I can secure my dream job when the market turns around?

Anne Brown: Since you know what you want to do, follow your passion starting now. Go to the magazines and get an internship, job running coffee, whatever you can. I would advise against doing something else until the economy turns around because someone who stuck it out during these tough times will have gained more experience than you. If you really want to work in magazines, you've got to pay your dues and no time like the present to start.

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Anonymous: Are there any employers that you know of who are hiring young workers?

Anne Brown: If by young workers you mean college graduates, yes. CollegeGrad.com just published their annual list of employers.

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Potomac, Md.: Hi. This may seems like a ridiculous question, but a lot of people have told me that little white lies on my resume are a good idea -- naturally, I'm against this, but in this job market, could it help?

Beth Zefo: No it is never ok to lie on your resume! I definitely wouldn't be asking for career advice from anyone that thinks that it is ok. Make sure that you can back up everything that is on your resume. You don't want to even stretch the truth a little because it can really tarnish your reputation.

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Anne Brown: Thanks for joining us. We'll try to post some more answers to these questions on our web site gradtogreat.com.

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Washington, D.C.: My parents keep telling me that I can't be so picky about my job, or job location. But I don't want to end up working in a place that I hate, doing a job that I hate. I know I need to lower my standards, but I'd rather be unemployed than be unhappy. Am I being unreasonable?

Anne Brown: Depends on what your standards are exactly. If you're holding out for a job with an assistant and an expense account, you're being to picky. If you're simply trying to find something in your field as opposed to taking the first job that comes along, then listen to your gut.

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Reston, Va.: No one seems to have interest in me. How can I get myself noticed? I need a job, and I need one soon.

Anne Brown: How much of an effort have you made? Are you networking? Is your resume professional and are you participating on sites like VisualCV and Zumeo? Instead of thinking "no one has an interest in me" think about what would make you an interesting job candidate. Write down your strengths and make sure those are emphasized in your cover letter.

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Dale City, Va.: Should I just take up a trade? Honestly, it's tough out there and here I am with a degree in chemical engineering and I can't find a job.

Beth Zefo: Have you opened up your job search to more than those companies that are specifically looking for chemical engineers? Someone who can get a degree in chemical engineering certainly has the skill sets that many companies are looking for today. You need to translate what skills you obtained through your education and show companies how they relate to their field. You need to be creative and aggressive when looking for a job. It is your job to show how you fit into their company. However, if you have serious interest in taking up a trade, and that would make you happy, then by all means go for it. Good luck.

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Anonymous: My daughter is graduating in May with a BS in Biology-pre med. She will be preparing for the MCAT this summer. In the meantime, what type of job opportunities should she seek to stay within her field of study?

Beth Zefo: She should be pursuing opportunities that give her experience within the medical field, whether paid or unpaid. She should really be researching the schools she wants to apply to and see what their admissions requirements are. Talk to current med. students and ask them about their experiences. Many schools want to see volunteer work and this can be accomplished while also getting experience in the medical field. Ex. volunteer with the Red Cross and help out with blood drives. Best of luck her!

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College Prof: Dear Anne and Beth, I'm a college professor, and I often teach an intro science class for non-science majors. I was wondering: 1) What can I incorporate into the class that would be most helpful to students' career prospects; and 2) I find a strong relationship between students grades and their general maturity level and personal discipline, but I wonder, do HR people really care about grades? Thanks.

Anne Brown: Offering ideas about what types of careers are available related to the material you teach would be helpful. Help students to think about how the information they're learning relates to life beyond the classroom. Guest speakers who work in interesting fields are always a good idea too because students get exposed to different careers.

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Potomac, Md.: I want to apply for graduate school, but not for another year or so. What kinds of jobs should I seek in the meantime that will make me a more competitive applicant? Also, how early should I begin studying for the GRE? And how important is your score? Basically, what can I do to get into top tier schools like Columbia?

Beth Zefo: The type of jobs you apply for now to better your chance of getting into grad school depends on what you want to study. I do recommend beginning to study for the GRE ASAP. Not everyone is a great test taker, so if you give yourself plenty of time to study you will have less stress. Scores are very important especially for a top tier school. Do the best job you can to get a high score, but don't stress yourself out. You can retake the test multiple times if necessary.

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Washington, D.C.: My son is 30 with two master degrees in unrelated fields. He's had multiple internships and one full-time job from August to February of this year. Currently he's unemployed with large gaps in his work history. He's living at home. What are the prospects for teachers in the fields of journalism and history where he has his advanced degrees.

Anne Brown: In order to teach he needs experience. At 30 and still living at home, I'm willing to bet a career is the least of his concerns. Try to motivate him to get a job and move out.

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Arlington, Va.: What are some ways that I can make money while doing a part-time, unpaid internship besides waiting tables and/or babysitting? Do you know of any fun alternatives? Or alternatives that will bolster my resume?

Anne Brown: Check out www.coolworks.com for some fun seasonal jobs in cool locations. If you need to stay in the same location, you could always do some temp work. There are lots of interesting temp jobs besides data entry available.

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Beth Zefo: Thanks everybody. We really enjoyed the chat today. Sorry we weren't able to get to all of the questions. We can continue the discussion on gradtogreat.com.
Thanks again!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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