Karen Elizaga, an executive coach, writer and speaker based in New York City, has a passion for helping others discover and pursue their true vocations.
“Career success comes from going within to discover that internal place where things flow for you,” said Elizaga, founder of Forward Options. “It’s the place where your skills, natural abilities and passions meet, the place where you are doing what you love to do. If you can marry work with who you are inside, then work can feel like play.”
Elizaga calls that place “your sweet spot,” and she works with top executives worldwide to help them find the work they were meant to do and develop strategies to succeed. Elizaga’s first book, “Find Your Sweet Spot: A Guide to Personal and Professional Excellence,” will come out on Jan. 1, 2014.
“I get paid to work with corporate leaders, but I got into coaching because I saw so many young people who didn’t know how to think about careers beyond the traditional doctor, nurse, lawyer roles. There’s so much more out there,” she said.
Elizaga frequently hosts free workshops at high schools and colleges to help young people think about their future. Facing a tight, highly competitive job market, new college graduates may be tempted to grab the first opportunity.
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“You have to pay attention and find ways to stand out from the competition, but this is the time to be more creative and adventurous in your job search,” she said.
Here are seven tips for the newest crop of college graduates who are entering the job market.
1. Try different industries.
“People no longer stay in one career or one industry for 40 years,” she said. “All industries have entry-level jobs. In order to find the job you want in the long run, you have to get clear about what you want. That means experimenting. At this point in your career, nothing is set in stone, so take a few risks. See what you learn and dig for every opportunity.”
Elizaga once met a woman who said she had sewing skills.
“I thought she must be a seamstress or fashion designer, but her job was to travel to fashion shows and (photo) shoots around New York City and make last-minute adjustments to garments. She had to do some real digging to find that job,” she said.
2. Adopt a 9-to-5 schedule.
You’re not on summer break or on a college schedule anymore. Your job is to find a job, and that means getting on the schedule of the working world . Focus on your job search by scheduling time for introspection, career research, making contacts and sending out résumés. If you don’t, your days will just slip by.
3. Understand the power of words.
“Use them carefully, inside and out. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. You want to be positive and encouraging in this uncertain time,” Elizaga said. “When networking and interviewing, always be gracious and polite, as in 'I appreciate your efforts.’ Gratitude goes a long way. Send handwritten thank-you notes to people who interview you or offer career advice.”
Phone conversations are fleeting, but emails, text messages, résumés and cover letters are permanent documents. Don’t make grammar and spelling mistakes.
4. Try a career out for six months.
“You’ll never know what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at until you test it out,” she said.
The best time to do this is during the summer when you’re in high school or college, or right after graduating.
“Jump in and get your feet wet at a variety of jobs. It’s easier to do it now, at the start of your career,” she said.
5. Get out of town.
“Before I started Forward Options 10 years ago, I interviewed 200 successful men and women about their careers. Most shared one regret, that they hadn’t traveled more,” Elizaga said. “While you’re young and — for the most part — carefree, why not try out a different city, region, country or culture? You’ll grow from the experiences.”
6. Work for free.
“I know it’s not fun to still live on a college budget or — gasp — have to ask your parents for support, but there are many internships that will give you valuable experience and contacts for your career,” Elizaga said.
An internship can be a foot in the door to your chosen field. Do good work and you’re in a great position to apply when there are job openings.
7. Social media is a great tool — use it!
“LinkedIn and other sites offer great access to career opportunities,” she said. “You put your best self out there, talk about your abilities and experiences. You can tell them specifically what kind of work you’re seeking.
“You never know who will reach out to you, but navigate carefully. We tend to share a lot of information on Facebook and other sites, and not all of it is appropriate for employers. Sanitize your sites before your job search. I’ve seen people have job offers revoked because of inappropriate posts or Tweets.”