Ask Amber: How to improve your chances of getting a job in your field

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

An article from the Los Angeles Times reports that of “recession- era” graduates (those who graduated college between 2008 and 2011), only half are employed. Of that half, many have taken jobs unrelated to their field of study, a possible sign that they not using or are underutilizing the skills they learned in college.  If you are currently in a job in a field unrelated to your degree, read on for strategies you might consider to take back your career.

Take an internship or volunteer position

I’m not advocating for leaving your job in the pursuit of an unpaid position, but consider using some of your spare time to take a position within your field. Reach out to organizations you respect that advocate for a cause you believe in and see if there is work to be done that is flexible enough to fit into your schedule. Taking a part-time internship or a consistent volunteer position will not only help you utilize your existing skills, it will allow you to continue learning about the field. The connections made at internships or volunteer organizations can serve as fantastic references or even lead to a job in your field. Your university (career or internship services), previous internship supervisors and friends can help point you in the direction of organizations with which you would be compatible. Sites like www.internships.com can help you filter by location and even paid or unpaid opportunities (just make sure taking such an internship isn’t a conflict of interest with your current employer).

Schedule an informational interview to determine your transferable skills

While your current position might not be in your dream field, you are likely still acquiring useful skills applicable to the job you want. Find someone through your connections, LinkedIn or researching organizations you support that has the job you aspire to have. Ask that person for an informational interview to discuss the skills you have and the skills you need. Once you get a better sense of what that person’s day-to-day responsibilities are, you can discuss how the skills you already have could transfer to that position. Note any responsibilities or tasks you are not familiar with and ask the interviewer to share how they gained the knowledge to do that and some suggestions on how you too can learn those skills. Take the list of things you want to learn or improve and find opportunities to do that type of work. Approach your current supervisor and ask if there are any roles you can take on that require those tasks, or take a class outside of work. Either way, future employers will be impressed by the fact that you took the initiative to learn.

Stay in touch with your university

Some colleges now offer free services to alumni, such as career counseling and job boards. It pays to stay in contact with alumni groups and student services departments. Don’t be afraid to call your alumni relations or career services department and ask what they have to offer graduates, oftentimes they are more than happy to help. Remember that colleges want their alumni to be successful and stay engaged with the school community. Take advantage of all networking events (you never know what successful alumni or well-connected faculty will be there), peruse alumni job boards periodically and follow these groups on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Since you may not check or have your university email account anymore, social media is the best way to get timely information like upcoming career fairs and free workshops.

With many graduates working outside their field or unemployed, it is tempting to think you too will be stuck in a rut, but don’t give up. Sure it may take more time to be gainfully employed for our generation than it was for others, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities aren’t out there. Be persistent, never give an application or interview less than your very best and continue to be a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge and skills you can.

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