When you think career, think contacts.
Getting a job is not always as easy as picking from a half-dozen offers. It usually requires networking, a skill college students should learn even if they do have recruiters beating a path to their dorm.
The goal is finding people who can steer you to industries with potential, companies with openings, and decisionmakers who do the hiring.
Consider following these networking tips drawn largely from "Work This Way," by Bruce Tulgan (Hyperion, 1998):
* Develop as large a pool of contacts as possible: family, friends, classmates, professors, alumni, trade associations, even barbers.
Tell them you're in the job market, the fields that interest you, and what you have to offer. Then ask if they can steer you to people who know about those fields.
* Research the industry, company, and - eventually - person you are trying to reach.
* Be persistent, but not pesky. Once you narrow in on decisionmakers, get in touch with all of them simultaneously by phone, mail, e-mail, and fax. As long as the queries come all at once, they won't be annoying.
* Ask for an informational interview either face-to-face or by telephone. Don't say you want to talk about a job. Say you're learning about the industry. Mention the name of the person who referred you. Provide each contact with a copy of your rsum. And ask each contact for the names of others. Touch base with sources at least once a month to update them on your job search and for new leads.
* Prepare an agenda for the informational interview. Questions could include: What is a work day like? How is the field growing and where could I fit in? What are the opportunities for advancement? What would you do differently if you could start over? What's hard about your job, and what makes you stay anyway? What courses could enhance my rsum? Do you offer internships? And most important: "Do you mind if I use your name when I call ____?"
* Stay positive.
* Follow up. Write a thank-you letter for the interview, and send a copy to your mutual acquaintance. If the contact is hot, follow up every week. If the person said "I'll get back to you," follow up every few months or say you'll call if you don't hear back by a certain date.
* Stay organized. Keeping track of many follow-ups requires checking a calendar daily.
* Keep it up. Never lose touch with your network, even once you have a job.