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Southern California Job Market : A Special Report On Employment Trends : First Job Can Be Hardest To Land

September 20, 1987|JANE APPLEGATE | Times Staff Writer

Looking for your first job?

Whether you have a high school diploma or college degree, if you want to be assured of finding a job fast, plan to be a custodian or a cashier.

Those two jobs, along with secretaries, waiters, elementary school teachers and truck drivers, are the fastest-growing occupations, according to a Stanford University study.

But what if you have invested time and money in a college degree and have higher aspirations?

Be prepared for a lengthy job search and a dose of culture shock, according to several career advisers who specialize in aiding first-time job seekers.

"College students have to learn that a job isn't for self-discovery or personal glory," said Walter Brown, associate director of UCLA's placement and career planning center.

Brown said that first-time job seekers frequently have a tough time making the transition from the friendly, insulated atmosphere of a college campus to the cold reality of the working world.

"In school, an A means you were 90% correct," Brown said. "In the work world, if you have a 10% error, you'll get an F."

He said many new employees fail miserably at their first job because they are unaware of proper office etiquette and the importance of discretion and loyalty. They also fail to recognize that a strict pecking order exists in nearly all work situations. For these reasons, Brown said, many very bright, successful students have trouble accepting the fact that they are rookies in the real world.

Although major companies actively recruit on college campuses, and UCLA and other schools offer job placement assistance to graduates and alumni, most first-time job seekers are not going to find their dream job right away.

"The whole concept of a college degree as a ticket to middle-class America is eroding," Brown said. "Now students are quicker to take a clerical job." One recent graduate's experience is typical.

With two bachelor's degrees--one in biology and one in psychology--from UC Irvine, Mary Jo Newman, 22, was confident that she would find a job with a pharmaceutical company right out of school.

When Newman's efforts to land a job as a clinical research associate failed, she decided to work for one year as an administrative assistant for the home builder that she had worked for during college.

"It was a job I enjoyed doing, and I knew I wouldn't be there for the rest of my life," she said. "The odds of finding a good job directly out of college are nil."

Earlier this month, she landed her first "career-oriented job," as a claims adjuster for a major insurance company in the San Fernando Valley.

Although the shift in Newman's career goal seems drastic, career advisers say that it is common for first-time job seekers to find work outside their field of study.

In fact, many corporations prefer to hire liberal arts majors because they like to train new employees from the ground up.

"The degree to have now is the liberal arts degree," said Anna Miller-Tiedeman, a former USC professor and founder of LifeCareer, a counseling center in Ladera Heights. She also suggests taking a variety of college courses on "fascinating subjects" rather than focusing on a specific topic.

Miller-Tiedeman, author of "How to Not Make It and Succeed," advises first-time job seekers to accept any type of work that seems interesting.

"Cast around and see what's there," she suggests. "If it feels halfway right, go after it, because nothing says you have to stay."

Miller-Tiedeman also recommends that first-time job seekers think creatively about what kinds of things they like to do and turn those interests into jobs. In her book, she writes about a woman who began making and selling Christmas ornaments on a small scale. As her business grew, the woman found that she needed a computer system to keep track of all the orders and billings. Her husband volunteered to set up the system and found that he was fascinated with computers. He eventually opened his own computer store.

Miller-Tiedeman and others strongly recommend that job seekers read "What Color Is Your Parachute?" by Richard Bolles.

One excellent section deals with informational interviews. Bolles encourages job seekers to call up companies for information about what kinds of jobs they have available and what kind of employees they prefer to hire, before the person begins a formal job search.

Meanwhile, college career counselors say that they are changing their views of the current job market.

"There are no career paths any more," said Jerry Houser, associate director of the career development center at USC.

For example, the deregulation of the American banking industry, with its mergers and upheavals, has sent many experienced bank executives into the streets looking for work.

Houser suggests that first-time job seekers think about finding jobs with small rather than large companies.

"Don't just think of Procter & Gamble, NCR and Bank of America," Houser said. "Think small."

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