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Grads can learn transferable skills in any job

In this difficult labor market, many recent college graduates may take jobs outside their preferred field and settle for lower salaries than they might have wanted.

But there are steps college graduates can take to better position themselves for success down the road.

Entry-level jobs can teach the universal skills workers need throughout their career, said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.com. "Even if a position isn't what you want, it may be rich in experience."

For example, working in customer service can hone your communication skills. "If you look at a lot of the decisions that managers make about promoting individuals, a lot of it comes down to the ability to communicate," Haefner said.

A sales job also can yield valuable skills, she added. "It will teach you how companies work. You learn fundamental Business 101 skills."

Jonathan Kandell, assistant director of the University of Maryland Counseling Center, said transferable skills are important. "Is there a position that can train you to do something that you might need later on?" he said. "Hopefully, (new workers) would be able to find something about a particular job that they feel they can get something out of."

So how long should a college graduate keep a job that he or she doesn't really want?

"It's not so much a question of the actual amount of time," Haefner said. "It's how long you have to be there in order to feel that you have gained those skills that you can then transfer to the next job."

But workers should stay with a company long enough to avoid burning bridges, even if it's not the right industry for them, said Carolyn Wise, senior education editor for career site Vault.com. "You would never want a potential employer to call up a former employer who says how awful you are," she said. "You want to at least learn the position and show that you take it seriously."

Recent graduates should look for opportunities in sectors that are hiring now, such as retail, accounting and information technology, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org, even if it's not their ideal spot. And he said he doesn't think such detours will hurt future prospects. "Nobody is going to look at your employment record during this time and say because you took a job as a grocery bagger or a construction worker instead of a job in writing, you are not qualified as a magazine editor," he said. "Everybody recognizes that during a downturn . . . people take the job they can get to pay the rent."

That said, it's important to gain experience in your field, experts said.

For people who can't get their ideal spot right out of school, there are some ways to get your foot in the door. For instance, inquire about part-time or temporary positions, internships or volunteer work.

Did you know?

Approximately 50 percent of college-educated workers 25 and younger who began working this year took jobs that didn't require a bachelor's degree, including waiting tables and selling retail, according to the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, the Los Angeles Times reported. Andrew Sum, also an economics professor at the university, said that figure was only 25 percent just a few years ago.

Grads can learn transferable skills in any job 11/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 5:58pm]
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