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It Only Takes One

You only need one job to start your career.

By Molly Joss

It Only Takes One

You've heard the bad news. It's hard to escape it. Unemployment rates are higher than they've been since before you were born, and the stock market still can't find the bottom. Companies are laying off people in record numbers. Could you think of a worse time to try and find your first real job?

Okay, enough bad news—if you want it, all you have to do is turn on your computer or television. I'm here to bring you some good news about finding your first real job during the worst recession in decades. Or, at the very least, to help you feel better about your prospects.

First of all, keep one thing firmly in mind when you hear how hard it is for people to find jobs: it only takes one. You only need one job to get started on your career, and getting an IT career started in these troubled times is easier than you might think.

The Biggest Fall First

When companies draw up a list of the positions to eliminate, they rank each job. The positions that cost the company the most money and return the least are the first positions to be eliminated. They retain people who cost the least and return the most. For example, marketing is considered a high cost/low return department in most companies. The sales department can be a high cost, but hopefully the return on investment is greater than the investment in salaries and commissions. In a downturn, companies strip their marketing department to the bones, but may hire sales people.

IT departments can be seen as indispensable or as unnecessary as marketing—depending upon the role of IT in the company. A company that can't exist without computerization will see IT as highly valuable. A company that would just as soon use stone tablets does not. Trust me on this—no matter what shape the economy is in, you want to get a job with a company that can't get by for one day without a fully staffed IT department.

Even if a company values its IT department or IT services, it will still consider making cuts in this area. However, it will start at the top and make its way down to the bottom. The Vice President of who-knows-what will go first, followed by senior staffers with the longest job titles. The lowly IT staffer, who doesn't even have business cards or a title, but keeps the Web servers running and the chairman's laptop and Blackberry in tip-top shape, has a job for life. Sometimes it's a good thing to be the lowest staffer on the totem pole, but that's especially true these days.

Consider a Less Desirable Job

Companies realize that a downturn in the economy means they have more choice than usual when filling the few open positions they have, and they usually drop the pay rate for every open position. It's the old "supply and demand" axiom in action. That means, unfortunately, that you may need to consider a salary and/or benefits offer that is 10% to 20% less than what you could command in a tight labor market. The buyer's market will continue until the economy is robust again, and you will need to get a job as soon as you can after you graduate. It may come down to taking the first job you can get—but keep your resumé circulating and be prepared to move as soon as you can land a better job.

Some people wonder these days if it's ethical to take a job and then leave as soon as they can find a better one. After all, isn't taking a job an indication that you will stick around for awhile? Well, think about it from the company's perspective. Do you think they'd hesitate to eliminate your position if you'd only worked for them for a few days, weeks, or hours if they decided it was necessary? Why should you manage your career any differently?

Seek a Safer Port

There is an old saying, "Any port in a storm." I do advise that you consider accepting a job that that pays less than you think you deserve in this economy. However, any sailor in his or her right mind makes for the best port they can reach before sinking, so you should look for the best possible opportunity before going under. In these troubled economic times, some industries are hurting more than others. USA Today reported recently that, "Every U.S. state and 95% of the nation's metropolitan areas will end 2009 with fewer jobs than they started with, while only two sectors—education and health services, and government—will add workers."

After you get over the shock of this statement, focus on the last part of it. Start planning to target your job hunting efforts in areas of the country and industries that are affected the least. The same article also said that "employers in six states—Washington, Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nebraska—and Washington, D.C., are expected to shed less than 1% of their workers this year."

You probably don't have a mortgage yet, so you can pick up and move more easily than many people can these days. That means you can look for jobs in specific areas of the country. You might, for example, try to find an IT job at a government agency located near Washington, D.C., or an IT job at a hospital in Colorado. You might even take a chance on a job that's located near, but not in, a metropolitan area.

Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Michigan are expected to lose the most jobs—and areas like Michigan that are dependent on one or two industries will be heavily affected by the downturn in the economy. Few companies in Las Vegas are hiring because so many people are staying away from the casinos.

If you're not tied to any area for economic or family reasons, consider seriously the prospect of moving to take a job. However, it's better to find the job first than to move then look for a job. It is easier now more than ever, with the help of online job sites, to do a thorough job search in any area of the country while living in another.

It is Possible

Keep telling yourself that it is possible to find a job and remember that you only need one to get your career started. It may not be a dream job, and probably won't be, but it is important to take that first step as soon as possible. Be prepared to change jobs if you find one that offers better pay or working conditions, even if that means moving on within months of taking the first job. Research the job openings in the areas of the country and industries that are affected the least by this lousy economy. These are all wise actions to take now, but don't forget them when the economy improves—and it will, eventually.

Molly Joss is an IT veteran who writes about career and job issues, among other topics of note.

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