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College Corner

Taking on the Real World

Final exams, final papers and certification exams. Any student about to graduate can tell you about the stress that comes with the final weeks before the big day. With all of that to consider, the last thing most students want to think about is how they're going to transition into life after education.

"The last few months leading up to graduation, no matter what kind of program, are always stressful for students," said Christine Mehlbaum, MEd, RT(R), an assistant professor of radiology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. "But students need to know that they're working and learning to get a job, and students should start looking to the future as soon as possible."

So how do you choose a career path, and when should you start searching? Once you find a job, how do you know if it's right for you? And, what about those student loans-how on earth will you ever pay them back?

ADVANCE looks at these and other major issues you're likely to face as you prepare to step into the working world.

Building a Network

Research, research, research, stressed Mehlbaum, who is also the radiologist assistant program coordinator at Bloomsburg.

"One of the first things [students] should do while they're still in school is to start putting feelers out to hospitals and other companies they think they'd like to work in," Mehlbaum said. "Visit them. Get to know the employees. You want to see what places are like, what kind of equipment they have. Do some observations and talk to those who work in each of the facilities."

Explore websites, newspapers, professional journals and other resources that specialize in health care, Mehlbaum said. This will give you a better idea of the various job possibilities available before donning a cap and gown.

Networking is also imperative for anyone looking to begin a career, added Joanne S. Van Kampen, owner of JVK Consultants, an executive search and market research consulting firm. After all, it's often not what you know, but who you know that gets that initial foot in the door.

"Graduates or upcoming graduates need to network where they've completed their program," Van Kampen said. "Professors, counselors, family and friends and the Internet are good resources to help identify job opportunities."

You should also look to current or previous employers as valuable resources during the job search, as many facilities look to hire interns to fill open positions. Like an interview, Mehlbaum explained, clinical rotations give students the opportunity to prove their skills and knowledge before graduation day. If a director knows what kind of worker someone is, they will, in most cases, hire that student full-time.

Selling Yourself

As you research the job market, different facilities and job options, put together a résumé and cover letters to send to various employers, if you haven't done so already.

"Don't wait until after graduation to put together a résumé. I would get [one] together now, especially because students who compile their résumés while they're still in school have an advantage over others," advised Mehlbaum. "This way, you can ask a professor who's familiar with the field to critique it."

As graduating HIM students, consider sending resumes to hospitals and other potential employers before graduation day, especially if it will alleviate stress. However, make the date of graduation and your availability clear to avoid confusion.

"The lingering question of, 'Will I be able to find a job?' grows heavier for every student approaching graduation," writes Shannon Sutherland, BS, RDMS, RVT. "About two-thirds of the way through my program, I had to start answering this question in order to lessen the stress and anticipation. I began by getting my résumé in order. As for any professional starting a new career, the résumé can be very challenging."

And remember the purpose of a résumé: to highlight your strengths and experience, Mehlbaum said. Résumé should emphasize clinical rotations and other on-the-job experience. At the same time, keep résumés as short as possible.

"Clinical work is so important because that's what gives you credibility in the eyes of hospitals that are hiring. You want to bring that to their attention," Mehlbaum said. "If you're concerned about [résumé] length, discuss your clinical experience in your cover letter."

Consider holding mock interviews to brush up on interview skills and to become familiar with the process, she added. Educational program directors or the director of HIM at a clinical site make great guinea pigs.

Taking on the Real World

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