How to prepare for your future career

This spring 1.2 million of you will graduate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2008, that figure will double.

The economy is offering you few easy opportunities for your first job, however.

Normally, the recovery from an economic downturn is accompanied by an increase in jobs.

Not this time.

Two years into this recovery and we should be up by seven million jobs; instead we’re down 2.5 million.

Yet productivity is soaring, which suggests that the economy is undergoing a long-term fundamental change. After all, previous upturns created jobs, so why not this one?

You’ve been reading about this “jobless recovery” and no doubt wondering why this is happening, and if you’ll be able to get a job.

Here’s what you have to keep in mind:

Companies are contending with an intensely competitive business climate and having little control over their prices for goods and services,

The solution to protecting their bottom line is to boost productivity while cutting costs.

Now, however, more service-oriented “office” jobs are being outsourced to foreign companies, wages are being reduced, higher-paid personnel are being laid off, and part-time positions are increasing.

This economic condition is unlikely to change soon.

In addition, those of you entering the job market will be competing with laid-off people who have more experience.

And even though productivity levels tend to fluctuate, and the ratio of labor input to production output cyclically stabilizes and produces higher employment, in most fields the creation of new jobs will never return to historical levels.

So, what do you do?

Make yourself more marketable while in school.

By focusing now on acquiring a sound, well-rounded education that encompasses a wide range of key skills, attributes and experiences, you will have a much stronger chance of success in the job market.

But the most important thing you can do now to increase your marketability is to take a broad-based, challenging and varied curriculum.

Adhere to the highest standards in your studies and activities.

By not limiting yourself, you’ll better develop your critical thinking skills and creative approaches to problem solving.

In this increasingly unpredictable world of work, you’ll be better prepared for change, complexity and ambiguity if you learn how to learn rather than just what to learn.

Apply what you learn in school through internships.

Participating in internships and other work-related activities.

These experiences can help you learn what you like and don’t like, where your greatest talents lie and what you’re truly passionate about.

So learn about different careers and the type of people they attract, and see if there’s a match between their values and your own.

Build your resume while you’re still in college.

Along with your resume, include the activities you’ve organized or volunteered for, and jobs you’ve undertaken or artistic works you’ve completeld. Demonstrate the broad-based creative thinking that organizations look for, and provide a clear picture of who you are, and the experience, talent and potential you possess.

Hone your technology skills.

You will need them. Technological proficiency provides you with an immediate advantage, regardless of career.

Learn to network.

This is a skill that will prove invaluable as you enter or move throughout the job market.

Do your homework when job hunting, and use your school’s career office and alumni network for contacts and information about different careers.

Learn how to work as part of a team.

Find ways to develop solid team-building skills.

And the more diverse the team members, the better – you might even consider an overseas experience to broaden your perspective. Remember the experience should be meaningful education – not just a vacation.

Develop your communication skills.

Internships are one area where you can gain experience in making presentations. But regardless of the circumstances, learn to write and make presentations where you’ll be critiqued. Try especially to put yourself in situations where you have to communicate with all types of audiences.

What these steps define is a well-rounded academic and co-curricular program.

Follow these steps and you will learn much about yourself. Follow them well, and you will build exactly the right experiences that will qualify you for any entry-level position in a tough job market, regardless of the career you choose.

In the final analysis, it will be education, creative thinking, and a willingness to try new, difficult things that will enhance not only your marketability, but also the quality of your life.