(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I'm a sophomore in college, majoring in business. Even though I still have two more years of school ahead of me, I'm trying to figure out what kinds of jobs are likely to be available when I graduate. For one thing, having a handle on that would help me choose a minor. I'll also be graduating with loans to pay off, so I'll need to start working right away.
I was interested in your column about green jobs ("Getting a green job isn't so easy") because it mentioned some creative ways to find opportunities. Do you have any suggestions about identifying other areas (aside from green jobs), where companies might be hiring a few years from now? -- Early Bird
Dear Early: Interesting question! I put it to Eileen Habelow, Ph.D., senior VP of organizational development with Randstad, a global staffing and human resources consulting firm. Habelow has made a specialty of helping new college grads scope out their career options. In her previous job, as regional vice president for New England, "I was surrounded by sharp new grads," she says. "I wanted them to be outrageously successful in their first jobs, so I got very interested in figuring out where great opportunities are likely to turn up."
A good place to start: The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. The current edition offers a wealth of statistical projections up to the year 2018, including recession-adjusted estimates of employment growth in dozens of industries and hundreds of occupations. Right now, the BLS is expecting the greatest amount of job creation -- about 4 million jobs, or more than one quarter of all new jobs over the next 8 years -- in the health care industry.
Which brings us to Habelow's first tip: Watch the news closely, with an eye toward what it implies for the job market. For instance, even before health care reform was passed into law, health care was a promising field because of the aging of the U.S. population. Now, "the move toward universal health care -- adding 30 to 40 million people to the ranks of the insured -- will give rise to even more jobs than we thought, in government and elsewhere," she says.
But, you may be thinking, you're majoring in business, not nursing, pre-med, or, say, physical therapy. That's just fine. "Don't forget that 'health care' includes finance, human resources, law, technology, and every other discipline that other businesses need," Habelow points out. "When a health care-related company grows, the whole company grows, not just the part that provides direct care to patients. There is a ratio of support staff to medical staff, so the more care is provided, the more of those other kinds of jobs will become available."
Talkback: What do you think the next hot jobs will be?Leave your comments at the bottom of this story.
Although health care is making headlines these days, you can watch the news for other signs of job growth as well. For example, the recession has tightened credit for consumers and small businesses, but in normal times, a drop in interest rates often spurs an uptick in borrowing, so banks need more loan officers and loan processors.
Obviously, any industry or company that's experiencing a growth spurt is likely to be hiring but, more surprisingly, so are companies that are laying people off. "People often hesitate to apply at companies that have announced layoffs," says Habelow, "but we've found that about 50% of them will have openings they're trying to fill at the same time."
"One advantage to applying at a company where layoffs are occurring is that you will face less competition because others will be reluctant to apply there," she adds.
Two more thoughts: First, you'll have a great head start on launching your career if you have a specific goal in mind for your first job. "Think about the way you picked your college -- urban versus rural, what part of the country, big versus small, and all the other criteria you looked at -- and do the same for your job hunt," Habelow suggests. "If you know what you want, you can narrow it down to something like, 'I want to find a finance job at a pharmaceutical company in the Northeast.' Then thoroughly research all the possibilities that fit that description, and you'll have a solid foundation for your job hunt."
And second, keep in mind that all employers want new hires with these four skills: strong communications (including being able to write clearly and use correct grammar), great interpersonal and teamwork abilities, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work hard.
"While you're researching job openings, make sure you stand out in those four areas," says Habelow. "Combat the Gen Y stereotype. An employer can teach you the technical aspects of a job, but they can't give you those essential traits. You have to bring them with you."
Talkback: Do you wish you'd studied something else in college that would have prepared you for a more successful career? Tell us on Facebook, below.
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