Four job strategies for the class of 2009

Graduating soon? Sure, the job market is a dreadful mess, but that doesn't mean you can't launch a career.

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By Anne Fisher, contributor

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NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Yes, it's tough out there. If you're getting ready to graduate, you've no doubt heard, and been thoroughly depressed by, the dire statistics: The National Association for Colleges and Employers has reported that campus hiring is down (after rising annually since 2003) by 22% this year, and many college career counselors say it's worse than that, with on-campus recruiting visits declining by as much as 50%.

With millions of experienced workers desperately seeking employment, competition is intense even at the entry level. It's pretty scary, especially when you consider that the average student graduates with $21,000 in school loans, so a non-paying internship - the easiest kind to get - just isn't practical.

None of this means that seniors should crawl back into their dorm bunks, pull the covers over their heads, and give up. "There are still opportunities if you're willing to be flexible, and to approach your career goals in a roundabout way," says Steven Rothberg, president of CollegeRecruiter.com, a job board that hooks up employers with new grads. "The Class of 2009 is just going to have to do things a bit differently," he says.

How? Rothberg offers these four suggestions:

Broaden your job search criteria

Rothberg notes that many newly-minted accountants, for example, have traditionally had their hearts set on working for a big-name accounting firm. This year, according to the NACE report, entry-level hiring by professional services companies, a category which includes accounting, has dropped 37% from last year.

"Accounting majors might do well to apply at the Internal Revenue Service, which is the biggest accounting firm in the world," says Rothberg. It's certainly true that government hiring in general is up, as the new administration expands domestic programs at the same time as a graying workforce of longtime civil servants is retiring.

But beyond that, says Rothberg, almost all large companies in every industry have in-house accountants: "You could find an entry-level opening as an accountant at, say, a sofa manufacturer."

One thing that many new grads don't realize, he says, is that "if a company is big enough, it employs every kind of profession and skill you can imagine, from nurses to engineers to lawyers and accountants to you name it. So whatever your major, don't limit yourself just to companies in that field. Apply everywhere."

Pursue your career goals in your spare time

"If you strike out at finding a job that's related to your long-term career aspirations, take any work you can find - waiting tables, delivering pizzas, or whatever - to pay the bills," Rothberg says. "Then find a career-related volunteer job or internship you can fit into your schedule for 10 or 20 hours a week."

That hypothetical accounting major, for instance, might offer to spend a couple of days or evenings each week doing the books for a local nonprofit. Everybody wins: "They get free help, and you get real-world experience and connections that could very well lead to a paying job."

Consider staying in school for one more year

Graduate school applications always jump during recessions, as more students opt to go straight on for a master's degree while the job market languishes. But Rothberg has a different idea: "A master's degree might actually make you 'overqualified' for some entry-level jobs, and most business schools won't accept you right out of undergraduate school anyway, because they want you to have a few years of work experience first," he notes. "So if you can afford it, think about staying in college for another year to pick up a second major."

A double major of accounting and finance, or marketing and communications, or some other logical combination, can make you doubly marketable later on. One more year would also give you a couple more shots, in fall and spring, at wowing on-campus recruiters.

Go abroad

"Everybody, but particularly a new grad, should aim to work in a growth industry or a field with great growth potential," Rothberg says. "And global business is one area that is guaranteed to keep on growing. So having international experience gives you a tremendous leg up."

He notes that there are lots of programs that will pay you to teach English in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and information about them is readily available at web sites likehttp://www.teachabroad.com/search.cfm, http://www.languagecorps.com/, and http://www.esljobproject.com/. For job placements that call for teaching credentials, these services will help you get them, but many overseas teaching jobs don't require any.

"It's a bit of an adventure, and the best part is that most employers see that immersion in a foreign culture as a big plus," Rothberg says. "It will really make you fantastically marketable. You'll stand out from the crowd." And who doesn't want that?

Readers, what do you say? Is your company hiring many entry-level folks this year? Does overseas experience make a job candidate much more marketable? If you're a graduating senior and have already got a job lined up, how did you do it? Any tips for your fellow students who are still looking? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog! To top of page

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