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School of hard knocks

Published March 06. 2010 09:00AM

Just hearing all of the depressing news about the grim job market with no quick end in sight, I can't help but feel sorry for all of the college students out there who will be starting their own job search in a few short months. I sympathize because I've been there. When I graduated in 2002, the online job sites and newspaper classifieds were so barren, I think I saw tumbleweeds blowing around on my computer screen. September 11, 2001 took care of the few jobs I may have been qualified for, even with my measly little resume.

My question back then, as I hear many students ask now, is "Most people want to hire people with experience; how can you get hired if you don't have experience?" And it's true. English majors find jobs in all types of fields, but looking back, I was probably more unprepared for jobs in my own field than in most others. My computer skills were lacking, I had almost no desktop publishing experience, so graphic design wasn't a good career option, and I didn't want to go into teaching, so that crossed quite a few items off my list of possibilities. Now what? It was looking pretty hopeless.

I think that many college grads have a little bit of a distorted idea of what their first job will be like. I know I did. It took a few years to knock my "But I'm a college graduate!" mentality down a few notches. Make copies? Make coffee? Answer phones? You've got to be kidding me! No way would I have to do that once I got some experience and moved into a "real" job.

Well, I did move on to other positions, and I have to admit that my coffee making experience has served me very well, as I've had to do it, and show others how to do it, many times since. I regularly make my own copies, and unfortunately, you really never get away from answering the phone, no matter how high on the corporate ladder you might climb. So much for my lofty ambitions.

I was also humbled by what I was seeing in the classifieds and the online job sites. I had quite a few jobs I didn't even consider applying for during those first few months of post-college unemployment. I was sticking to my field and the things that interested me, no matter what! But then something strange happened. I got a lot less picky when I was coming up on six months of no job offers. I'd had interviews for all sorts of jobs, sure, but no offers. I also noticed something else that I found strange. No wonder no one was calling me. What was I thinking, applying for jobs with "Director" in the title, and the ink on my diploma had barely dried?

I wasn't qualified to be the Director of anything at that point! So I stopped reciting my list of job "must haves" and was just grateful when someone hired me.

I learned a few very important lessons in those confusing months after college. First, it doesn't matter what your first job is all that much. There's value in any kind of work experience, even if it's not exactly your dream job. Learn all you can, keep looking, and when the right opportunity comes along, go for it.

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