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The Question:

I'm a not-so-recent grad – I graduated two years ago from Carleton University with a Bachelor of International Business – and, like so many other twentysomethings, haven't yet been able to secure a "real" job in the marketing industry. I'm starting to feel that the six-month contracts, internships, and serving stints are making my brain mush, and have been thinking about going back to school. The options are either pursuing an MBA or going to college for an advertising or PR program. I'm lacking experience, so I can see the benefit of a college program, but I am unsure of what employers are really looking for.

The Answer:

It sounds to me that you are getting some good experience, even if it is not as a "real" job. All those contracts and internships do add up, and many employers start people on contracts before they move them to a full-time role.

Before going to your "plan B" to pursue an MBA or go to college, find out whether that is going to get you where you want to go, or whether you simply need to change strategies or direction in looking for work. If what you are lacking is experience, going back to school is not going to get you there. It just gets you more education. Many, many people have numerous degrees and diplomas, and still find themselves where you are.

You mention a "real" job. What does that mean? At an entry level, regardless of education, any first job is essentially that – a first job. You are finding work, but are you leveraging the contracts and internships to build your relationship with a potential employer? Are you expressing what you have to offer? Are you asking for feedback as to why your contracts are not being renewed? Unfortunately, you cannot be entirely selective. Take what you can get to gain that valuable experience and use it to your maximum advantage.

The key to finding a job, no matter the experience level, is networking. Job boards are the weakest and most ineffective way to look for work, and usually the way most people expend their job search efforts. If you are leaving a contract, ask the person you were working with if there is someone you can connect with to further expand your network of people who do what you want to do. Meet with that person and gather information about the company, its challenges and its opportunities. Tell people what it is you can offer them. Be clear, direct and persistent. Use LinkedIn to see who knows whom and ask for introductions. Keep at it and things will turn around. With LinkedIn, make sure you customize your requests. Generic invitations are unlikely to yield useful connections. Be open about what you need. Most people have been where you are and usually are willing to give you some advice and connections.

Employers are looking for many things, other than education and experience. They want motivation, flexibility, drive, and a willingness to learn. Get a good solid strategy in place, complete with accountability checks specifying how many people you will connect with each week. Don't give up, as you will find what you want. It just takes time.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

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