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'Don't follow the traditional path,' says CEO: How to get ahead in your career as a recent grad

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In the 2019-20 academic year, colleges and universities are expected to award nearly 3 million associate's and bachelor's degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That's a lot of graduates looking for work in a turbulent economic time.

Graduation is usually a time of promise and excitement for young people. But entering the workforce at a time when layoffs are common and companies are readjusting to business during and ultimately after the coronavirus pandemic is more complicated. Recent grads "are going to need to show some initiative," says Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. When seeking out work, he suggests, "don't follow the traditional path."

Here are four ways recent graduates can further their careers right now. 

'Compile a list of alumni'

If you've just completed a degree, there will be people both in your graduating class and even people just a year or two ahead who've already found work in your field.

"Compile a list of alumni that you know and reach out to them," says Brian Martucci, finance editor at Money Crashers. You can also reach out to your college's alumni center to see if they can provide contact info for alumni in your field.

To do this, send them an email saying you've recently graduated, are looking for work, and would love to hear from them about what their career path and work experience have been like and if they know of any job leads.

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'Take a bit of a risk' and contact employers directly

In every field, there are leading companies. To find out which employers could present opportunities in your industry, "do your homework," says Wyman, then "shortlist potential employers in your area of interest."

Once you have your list, use social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook to see if you have mutual contacts with anyone who works there who could connect you. Reach out to that mutual contact and say you want an "informal chat" to inquire about work or even internship opportunities at the company, says Wyman.

You could also look up that company's contact info and reach out directly to someone in the HR or recruitment departments. "People may need to go out and take a bit of a risk and contact some employers directly," he says.

Have a 'video chat with one contact a week'

Keep setting up informal chats with people in your industry, whether it be people you know personally or don't, and "set yourself a goal of having a phone or video chat with one contact a week," says Wyman.

"Just this talking to people is going to keep you in circulation," he says. Reaching out will help you build a network in your field and keep you on people's radar when they hear of relevant opportunities. 

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Explore apprenticeship programs

Jobs and internships aren't your only options. Consider paid apprenticeship opportunities, says Wyman, which could give you hands-on experience in your field and a leg up on the competition. 

"Through an apprenticeship program, you can obtain paid, relevant workplace experience while acquiring the skills and credentials that employer's value," according to Appreniceship.gov. Find apprenticeship opportunities on the Department of Labor's website. If you want to work in construction, for example, consider an apprenticeship as a carpenter. 

To further your career at a time like this, or just to get a first job, "I think it's important to be flexible," says Martucci. You may have to take a position in a field you hadn't initially been thinking of. That opportunity, however, "provides valuable experience," he says, and "might even reveal to you that you're good at something that you didn't realize you're good at or you're interested in something that you didn't realize you were interested in."

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