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Black Enterprise
February 2002

SECTION: CAREER MANAGEMENT; Part 1 of a Series; Pg. 106
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

"ON GRADUATION 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 provider.

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 revenues.

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 have."

"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 Insurance.

"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 serious strategizing.

* 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 task.

"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 Baltimore.

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 new experience.

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.
Age: 26
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
Age: 30
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 every day."
Badge of honor: working with a nonprofit organization, teaching HIV education
Motto: "One day at a time," and "Do it now."
Marital status: single
 
Adrienne Allmond New York City
Age: 26
Degree: bachelor's of arts in public relations from Howard University
Profession: development associate for Services for the Underserved
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

Press contact:
Chuck Pearson
ACT•1 Group
Director of Marketing
(310) 750-3400
cpearson@act-1.com

 

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