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Job seekers are told to network. But how do they start?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 25, 2009 - For people who have lost their jobs or are afraid that time might come, networking is often the first step toward new employment. But where to turn?

A new initiative called the Go! Network is attracting hundreds of job hunters to weekly Tuesday morning seminars and breakout sessions. A group of corporate and nonprofit sponsors, including the United Way of Greater St. Louis (which initiated the effort) and Anheuser-Busch, are collaborating to offer these events, where human relations managers and other speakers dispatch tips on everything from polishing resumes to networking to "branding yourself."

Nearly all who attend these sessions are between jobs. Chuck Aranda, director of the Go! Network, said that's become an increasingly large group within the last year.

"This is a direct response to the economic environment," said Aranda, who is also director of the company Celtic Creative, the coordinating body for the initiative. "With so many jobs lost, we figured we needed to give people a chance to network."

The initiative started last month and includes at least four more Tuesday events, including a March 17 career fair. More than 200 people had registered for the most recent session, in which 25 human relations employees led group discussions about how to integrate personal stories into job interviews.

Aranda said most people who take part in the seminars are between ages 30 and 50. And while these job hunters have likely gone through the application and interview process before, many younger St. Louis residents have not (or need a refresher).

So the Beacon asked two of the HR leaders - Jennifer Deck of Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co. and Mara Calcaterra of Momentum Worldwide, a marketing agency - to respond to questions that pertain to job seekers who are in their teens and 20s. Here's some of what they said:

What's your advice on how to create a good resume?

Deck: Be concise, and use key skills and characteristics to make your points.

Calcaterra: Think about telling a story. The top of the resume should engage the reader. Whatever is more impressive - your education or your work history - should go first. Unless you're going into a field that's about degrees and credentials, your experience should probably be first. Also think about customizing your resume for each job so it doesn't look cookie cutter.

How do you stay calm during your first job interview?

Deck: Be prepared and confident in talking about yourself. Typically young applicants will talk about what activities they are involved in but not take ownership of the results.

Calcaterra: Practice - whether it's with a friend or in the mirror. Be confident and prepare questions. Look at the job description and company profile. The interviewer can tell if someone knows about the company.

Do you communicate often with career placement directors at colleges, and should students bother to get to know them?

Deck: If I were a student, I'd stay as close as possible to the directors. We utilize them and rely on their recommendations in many cases.

Calcaterra: Absolutely, students should take advantage of placement directors. It's a complementary service, and they can do things like mock interviews.

When should you stop including high school and/or college activities and related information on your resume?

Deck: As soon as you're a few years out of school, you should stop including that type of information. If you're out of college and have a professional job, you should probably stop putting down anything about high school.

Calcaterra: I'd just say keep everything relevant to your career.

Would you consider hiring someone without a relevant internship?

Deck: Yes.

Calcaterra: Yes, but probably the rest of the credentials would have to be pretty good. People should think of extracurricular activities as transferable skills. If you've been in student government, relate that to skills you'd use on the job.

Should you have a business card if you're still in school or if you're between jobs?

Calcaterra: I like that, because it's hard to whip around a resume when you're meeting someone casually.

Do you check applicants' social networking sites (or other websites) for potentially inappropriate content?

Deck: I don't.

Calcaterra: Yes. You don't want to have anything out there that you wouldn't want a recruiter to see. I should also say that whatever phone number you have on a resume, make sure not to answer it in a bar. Always assume there's a recruiter on the other line. Think, too, about setting up an e-mail account just for job searches.

It's well established that many young employees nowadays hop from job to job early in their careers, sometimes by choice. Does such a candidate need to explain themselves to an employer?

Deck: Yes, the job seeker still needs to explain it, because they are being interviewed by people with a work history that might be different from theirs. In other words, the new generation needs to realize that length of service is still important to older generations.

Calcaterra: On the resume, it's important to list things like reasons for changing jobs. Say "downsizing" if that's the case. There's nothing wrong with saying you moved for a better position.

Should job seekers who are thinking about starting a family bring up issues such as job flexibility during the interview?

Deck: Don't talk about it. If the job itself has flexibility the interviewer will tell you.

Calcaterra: Stay away from that. You never know how it's perceived, and the recruiter shouldn't be bringing that up, either.

Contact Beacon staff writer Elia Powers .