SECTION: CAREER MANAGEMENT; Part 1 of a Series;
GETTING A FOOTHOLD ON YOUR CAREER
BY WINIFRED DESOUZA & SONIA ALLEYNE
IN AN UNCERTAIN JOB MARKET, HERE'S HOW TO STAY OPTIMISTIC
ABOUT YOUR FUTURE
DAY, I FELT THE WORLD WAS MINE," EXCLAIMS 26-year-old Brian
Pittman. "The next day reality set in." Pittman, a
graduate of North Carolina A&T State University in
Greensboro, North Carolina with a degree in computer science,
would soon be heading to Arlington, Virginia to work as a
systems analyst for Network Connections, an Internet service
Before attending college, Pittman focused on entrepreneurship.
He had considered taking over his father's construction
business. He enrolled as a computer science major, but like a
typical student, he considered many different courses of study,
even one in history. "[Computer science] caught my
interest," Pittman explains, "but there was also all
this growth in the industry. It became the major to have. It was
one of those you'll-do-okay majors." These were his
thoughts when he graduated in 1998 during the height of the
booming tech industry. But the death of the dotcoms, the events
of September 11, and this country's recession, have redirected
many thoughts on career strategy. Preparing for career combat
can be a harsh reality for young professionals just getting a
foothold in the workplace. In a recession, keeping a job,
particularly for eager and optimistic new entrants, has more
challenges than ever. "It's a different world out there.
Newcomers to the workplace aren't being wooed or coddled because
they have B.A.s or M.B.A.s. They have to go into the workplace
ready to show what else they bring to the table," explains
Victoria Lowe, CEO of Alert Staffing. "And those traits
have to be shown ASAP. No one has three months to get
acclimated. It's get in and get to it," adds the career
specialist, whose company was ranked No. 13 on the BE
INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $ 204 million in annual
But it may seem that young employees are already adjusting to
that pace. A recent survey indicated that the younger an
employee, the shorter their tenure at a company. The median
tenure for those in the initial throes of a career (aged 25 to
34) was just 2 years and 6 months.
Pittman stayed with Network Connections only one year before he
felt he had outgrown his position. He found more challenging
opportunities at the Alexandria, Virginia-based engineering and
systems integration company, New Age Systems, where he is
presently working as a systems engineer. As much as Pittman
likes his work environment, this country's economic slump is
forcing him to go back to school for either a master's degree,
or for advanced certification in computer science.
"I want to keep my options open," he explains.
"The more education you have, the more choices you
"I've had friends who've gone into work at 9:00 a.m., and
were headed home by 9:30 a.m. because they'd lost their
jobs," he continues. "When it starts to happen close
to home, it really makes you take stock of where you are."
In her assessment of the insurance companies in her area, Stacy
Mitchell already knows that there are thousands of claims
adjusters in Atlanta. "I know I could be replaced any
day," the 30-year-old North Carolina native acknowledges.
She is currently enrolled at the University of Phoenix, in an
online master's degree program in healthcare management, to
broaden her options in public health.
Mitchell has changed jobs several times since graduating from
Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina in 1994. Her
first job was with Roche Laboratories in Atlanta, where she
worked processing results in the histology lab. That job lasted
7 months before she moved to occupational medicine, where she
educated and offered client services -- such as worker's
compensation, and return-to-work programs -- at what would
eventually become Novacare Occupational Health Services. (The
company was bought and sold three times during her 3-year
tenure.) Frustrated with the lack of stability, she secured a
position with insurance company, Crawford & Co., an
international, third-party administrator, where she cut her
teeth at claims adjusting. After a 2-year stint, she moved to
Gallagher Bassett Services for a year and 8 months, and then
applied to One Beacon which merged with what is now Montgomery
"I would just move my boxes to another desk, another
location," offers Mitchell about her surviving the buyouts
and mergers, "I learned to keep my knees bent."
Both Mitchell and Pittman feel that returning to school will
provide them with more flexibility and marketability in their
career choices. But according to Janice Bryant Howroyd,
chairman, CEO, and founder of ACT•1 Group in Torrance,
California, employees with minimal years invested in the
workforce need to be more specific and more detailed in their
planning. She offers several key points that should be part of
* Match your personal decisions to your career goals. It is very
important that young professionals determine how their personal
lifestyle over the next five years will impact their careers
goals and aspirations, says Bryant-Howroyd. Do
you live at home? Are you married or do you plan to get married?
Are there children, or do you plan to have children? Are you a
homeowner, or do you plan to relocate? "You also need to
learn to do more with less," she offers. "Sit down and
determine your expenditures on a daily basis -- everything from
rent to entertainment and even toothpaste. Put it on a chart
with columns and heads. What is it costing me to live? This will
help you determine not just how much you spend, but trends in
your spending. It may be frustrating at first," she
continues, "but it will help you figure out whether you
need to make a career change or a job change -- which are two
different things. You may work several jobs on your way to
developing your career."
* Improve your health habits. This is very important. Making
sure that you are physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy
will phenomenally affect your attitude and your ability to focus
and perform when learning new things, or moving on to new areas.
* Understand what works best for you in a business culture. Do
you perform better in smaller, more independently run companies?
Or larger, more corporate environments? There are advantages to
both, Bryant Howroyd explains.
Smaller companies offer great learning opportunities because
staffs are considerably smaller and employees usually have to
perform tasks that are not specific to their jobs. "As a
result, you get to talk to everybody -- from the bottom to the
top -- which is where you can identify and find mentors, people
who can guide you on your path. In a smaller environment, you'll
probably also be more involved in external communications, which
would help you develop a network," she explains. There is
also less chance of being laid off in a smaller company --
particularly if you are the only one who performs a certain
"Large companies can offer you the opportunity to learn at
your own pace," says Bryant Howroyd. You
were probably hired for one particular task which could provide
you the opportunity to develop outside projects. "Working
for large companies also helps to build a great resume."
* Recognize that jobs don't have futures, people do. It's up to
the individual to determine where you want to go with your life
and how you are going to get there. "What's great about
[recent graduates] is that they have wonderful opportunities to
change employment, or change careers, without too much dramatic
impact," she states.
FINDING YOUR FOOTING
Just four years ago, Adrienne Allmond was working diligently at
her first gig, straight out of Howard University. It was
"not what I wanted to do forever, but I'll never regret
it," says Allmond, who worked as an athome companion for
one year, caring for a terminally ill patient and her elderly
husband. "It taught me that I wanted to help people,"
stresses the 26-year-old.
Before her medical stint, Allmond studied public relations at
the historically black college, but found it challenging to
parlay her academic training into a job in that field. She was
eventually hired as a public relations assistant at Community
Health Charities of Maryland (CHC), a small organization in
Within a year, she was promoted to manager. Standing out among a
small staff of about ten, Allmond enjoyed working for a company
that raised money for needy people. "I felt appreciative
that I got to work in an organization that was in line with what
I'd studied. I was also looking for another experience, and
considering moving." When CHC under-went a restructuring
and Allmond's position was phased out, she was able to find that
Allmond headed to the Big Apple, hoping to find more challenges
in a bigger city. "I was out of work and it was
tough," she recalls. "In college, we were taught that
jobs were abundant. In New York, it seemed that you had to be
part of a secret society in order to get hired. I thought that
having a college degree guaranteed certain things."
"It was really discouraging at first. I interviewed
endlessly," explains the Baltimore native. "I had
never looked this hard for a job. Employers wanted three to five
years experience. I didn't have that, but I would never have it
if I didn't start somewhere." Allmond hit temporary
agencies, Internet Websites, and relied on word of mouth.
"Then someone suggested I go to the Urban League and meet
with a career counselor." Snell King helped tailor her
resume to highlight her experience in P.R., and eliminate jobs,
like nursing, that were unrelated to her pursuits. "He even
sent it out to his contacts," she beams.
"Finding a job, in any economic climate while you're
unemployed, is an extreme challenge, but it's not
impossible," states Hal Gieseking, a Williamsburg,
Virginia-based career expert and author of 30 Days to a Good
Job. "Connecting with an expansive support group is
invaluable," says the job coaching veteran.
But there are other approaches. According to Bryant Howroyd,
young professionals must understand that it is important to
learn the language of their area of pursuit. Every industry has
jargon. "They are not bringing a significant amount of
expertise [to the position], so they have to be able to hear
quickly," she says.
"New hires with little experience can identify with
anxiety," Lowe insists, "but the greatest challenges
facing today's new entrants to the workforce, include showing
that they are aggressive, technologically skilled, adaptable,
and able to multitask."
Allmond understood. She marshaled her network through friends
and the Howard Alumni Association, and with King's efforts,
earned a job in the charitable field at Services for the
Underserved (SUS), a 22-year-old agency that offers assistance
to the elderly, disabled, homeless, and terminally ill. "I
went through three interviews to be a case manager, and then I
was hired instead as a development associate," says Allmond
who has worked with SUS for about six months now. "They
noticed that I could handle multiple tasks, had excellent
writing skills, was computer literate, and able to do the job of
at least two people. Before, I had no choice but to be a little
overworked, yet it turned out to be a blessing."
You never know what other positions are available and not
advertised within a company. Your interview must show that you
can handle not only the job for which you are applying,
butwhatever job that may arise.
Presently, Allmond is "raising the public's consciousness
about SUS's message" by planning special events that lure
generous donations. Her new levels of assertiveness have her
feeling more confident about her career journey.
Brian Pittman Washington, D.C.
Profession: systems engineer at New Age Systems
Degree: bachelor's of science in computer science from North
Carolina A&T State University
Passions: travel, basketball
Diversion: was considering going back to school to get a history
degree and teach
Future goal: to own his own business
Motto: "Never accept anything at face value."
Marital status: single
Stacy Mitchell Atlanta, Georgia
Degree: bachelor's of science in biology (pre-medicine) from
Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina
Profession: claims adjuster for Montgomery Insurance
Original career plan: to be a doctor
Passions: reading fiction, listening to jazz
Survival tactic: "I'm aggressive about making a difference
Badge of honor: working with a nonprofit organization, teaching
Motto: "One day at a time," and "Do it now."
Marital status: single
Adrienne Allmond New York City
Degree: bachelor's of arts in public relations from Howard
Profession: development associate for Services for the
Greatest strength: "I'm an opportunist. I'm honest,
optimistic, ambitious, and have a passion for life."
Life goal: to be able to have a profound impact on someone's
life; to be able to open a door, give an opportunity to someone
from a disadvantaged background
Motto: Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through
Christ who strengthens me."
Marital status: single
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