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Experience provides job-seekers with an edge, adviser says

July 10, 2010|By HEATHER LOWERY
  • Bonnie Owens, right, gives some job-hunting advice Thursday to Amanda England. Owens is the coordinator of internship and job services for Hagerstown Community College.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Graduation normally is a happy occasion for college students, but with the current economy, finding jobs after college has become a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.

"The current downturn in the economy can make it challenging for new grads to compete for entry-level jobs," said Bonnie Owens, coordinator of internship and job services for Hagerstown Community College. "While high unemployment and shrinking budgets have become the norm, and those who would normally be retiring are holding on to their jobs, it's ever more important that recent graduates bring their 'A' game to the job search."

So what can new graduates do to give themselves an edge in the job market?

"One of the top things I do is encourage students to do an internship for experience," Owens said. "Employers look at that and see the experience. That's something that can't be overlooked."

Owens, who works with HCC students, helping them find internships and jobs during and after college, said she offers advice for those students and tries to guide them in the right direction.

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"Students come to me and say, 'I need help. I can't find a job,'" Owens said. "I give them certain tips that can help them finds jobs, internships and volunteer work."

There are some bits of advice that Owens gives to every student who seeks help finding a job. The first deals with the resume.

"Especially in this job market, it is important for them to focus their resume for a particular job," she said.

Resume, cover letter

Cover letters, Owens said, should be personal and should explain to the prospective employer why the applicant is "The One" for the position.

Peter Thomas, executive director of the Western Maryland Consortium, also said the resume is an important aspect of the job-seeking process.

"Highlight credentials and transferable skills and introduce your resume with a professional cover letter that fits the job you are applying for," said Thomas, whose agency provides informational, educational and job training services to unemployed or underemployed Western Maryland residents.

In this online age, networking can be a good addition to the job searching process.

"Network whenever possible, that's one thing that I can't stress enough," Owens said. "It gives you references that can help build the resume. When you have two to three professionals who can attest to your skills and abilities, that's good. The power of networking is huge."

LinkedIn is an online database that Owens said can help with networking.

"I help students get connected with LinkedIn," she said. "They can then see the connections that someone has. It's a nice way to use your networking abilities."

Thomas also encouraged networking.

Tell "everyone you know that you are looking for work and ask them to help you find leads on job openings," Thomas said. "Remember that many, if not most, job openings are not advertised and are filled by 'word of mouth,' so use your contacts at every level to help you."

'Be shameless'

Being outgoing and open about searching for a job is an advantage, too, Owens said.

"I say, be shameless. Let everyone know you're looking for a job, friends and family," she said. "If they (employers) know you and know what you have to offer, they would be excited to snatch you up."

HCC offers a job board, called College Central Network, that Owens said she urges every student to utilize.

"It offers jobs from local employers that range in anything from a financial adviser to a park naturalist," she said. "This online job database links them to a national database as well, so it's huge."

Owens said the database is available at all times.

"As students are graduating, it's nice to a have a 24/7 site that they can go to, to get the information," she said.

College Central Network also offers help with interviewing skills, and cover letter and resume writing skills.

Resumes can be submitted online, and Owens encourages students to do that and more.

"You can submit a resume online, but if there's a way to send them out, I encourage students to (do that) so that their name goes across that desk again," she said.

"If I had to say what the most important thing for students to do in this economy, it would be tailoring the resume to that specific job, and only include related experience," Owens said.

Owens said students should be prepared to enter the work force, and working in some capacity is good preparation.

"If you're not working right now, you need to be volunteering," she said.

Students do not need to wait until graduation to start working or to start looking for a job, Owens said.

"Work as a student worker, or find a job in town," she said. "I think the most important thing is to just gain work experience. If they can find something in their field, the more they can be around the people in their field, and the stronger that's going to make their resume."

The economy and job availability, though, remain a problem for job-seeking graduates.

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