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Seven ways to snag your first job in today’s economy

As a new grad, it can be tough to sort through all of the wisdom from parents, friends, career counsellors, and advisers as you begin to look for a job. Especially as time rolls by – without a firm offer. How do things work now? What's your savviest job-seeking strategy today? How do you make the case that you have work experience without any hard and fast work experience? And what does it take to trounce your competitors in today's dog-eat-dog business world?

Pack your job hunter's toolkit with these seven essential tips before you hit the road, and you'll be far ahead of your peers.

1. Don't dismiss old-fashioned networking.

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Friends-of-friends don't let friends stay unemployed. Write down a "family tree" of contacts. Make sure it includes not only close contacts, such as your parents and cousins, but friends and contacts of theirs as well. Also craft a "wish list" of every company where you'd love to work. Reach out to any contacts of yours who work in the companies of your choice. Ask for informational interviews. An informational interview lasts just 15 minutes, but it can be your best entree into certain job opportunities.

2. Brush up your online profile.

Create professional looking, well-written social network material to let everyone know who you are and what you're seeking in terms of employment. Then start joining online groups. The best way to get out there is to start posting articles about topics you find of interest. When others post articles, be sure to comment on them. This way, you show that you're adding value to the online conversation. Today, it's mandatory to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Treat your online presence seriously, and you can become known as an expert before you are even officially employed. It will draw the notice of some of those whom you are targeting, like hiring managers.

3. Never eat lunch alone.

Schedule face time with professors, alumni, family members, family friends, and others who have taken an interest in you in the past. Treat them to coffee or breakfast. Create some business cards, and don't leave your house without them. Don't be shy. Strike up career-related chitchat with everyone, from the hotel concierge to your fellow airplane passenger. And conferences in your chosen field? Attend them.

4. Wow them with the written word.

Your résumé is like a skeleton key – a good one will open many doors for you. An employer should be able to know, within about 30 seconds, who you are and what you're about. That means a clear objective at the top – tailored specifically for this job, employer, and industry. It also means including only the most important highlights from your career and school, and clear, clean, crisp prose that's error free and well-designed on a single page. Don't forget to leave plenty of air around the words for easier legibility.

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5. Look the part.

Once you've gotten a foot in the door, make sure you don't put it in your mouth. The true "test" is how you come across in person. Go online and figure out what the corporate culture is at the company where you want to work. Learn what the employees are wearing, and vow to look the part – only better. Do a toe-to-top-of-head assessment in front of the mirror. Make sure your shoes are shined, your clothing is pressed, your nails are trimmed, and your hair is kempt. Then, once you have the uniform down pat, accessorize with one item that makes you stand out – a statement colour, a piece of interesting jewellery, or a snazzy briefcase or handbag. Stand tall, smile, and offer a firm handshake.

6. Be prepared for tough or tricky questions.

"Why should I hire you?" "What do you bring to the table?" "How do I know you won't leave for grad school in two years?" Employers routinely throw interviewees trick questions to test their ethics, common sense, and industry knowledge. Don't get tripped up. Stay calm. Breathe before you blurt out an answer. And practice with a job-hunting buddy. If you get tongue-tied, say something that will buy you a little time such as, "That's an interesting question." Then try to be specific with your answer. Talk about real-life examples – things you've experienced and learned about from your past summer jobs and internships.

7. Mind your manners.

It's terrific to be smart, but your brains won't get you hired if you're surly, ill-spoken, or inconsiderate. Having impeccable business etiquette means showing up on time, using proper grammar, and avoiding street slang. Leave your mobile device at home. Always thank your interviewer for taking the time to chat with you, and tell her how much you appreciate the opportunity. Be sure to send a follow-up e-mail that's beautifully crafted and polite, reminding her of one or two highlights from the interview, and saying how much you enjoyed meeting with her and learning about the company.

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Vicky Oliver is the author of five bestselling books on personal branding, etiquette, and career development, including her latest, The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You're Not. She's a leading career adviser and image consultant in Manhattan.

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