For the past few years, employee advocates — and I am one of them — have urged long-term job seekers to take any job they can...

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For the past few years, employee advocates — and I am one of them — have urged long-term job seekers to take any job they can get until the employment market looks a bit better.

To me, it’s still an iffy job market, but there are some small signs of improvement, especially for the nation’s 1 million recent college graduates.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, based in Bethlehem, Pa., expects “the job market for new college graduates to be better this year than it has been since the early 2000s, with employers indicating they’ll hire 13 percent more new graduates from the class of 2004-05 than they hired in 2003-04.”

Often, just how well new grads are absorbed into the labor market is an indication of how more mature job seekers will fare in their search. And that might mean it is time to give all job seekers this advice: “Don’t necessarily take the first job offered.”

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That suggestion comes from Susie Mathews, president of Winning Directions, a training, consulting and coaching firm based in Mequon, Wis. Mathews, who has a bachelor-of-arts degree in psychology, observes that “so many people settle for less — they’re so desperate to get a job that they will take whatever comes first.”

And what happens too often is this: “Six months down the road, it is not at all what they thought it would be and, more importantly, what it could be,” said Mathews, who gives workshops and seminars for organizations and employees.

But what if jobs are hard to find? Wouldn’t it make sense to glom onto that first job offer in order to feed yourself and your family? The consultant agrees the job market isn’t great, but insists her approach “transcends any job market. It makes no difference whether it’s good or bad. If the job is not a good fit, you only wind up showing up to your job every day as an organizational robot, feeling miserable — as if you’re on an endless treadmill or a revolving door that leads to nowhere.”

But if you turn down the first job offer you get because you know you’re going to hate it and instead find a better job, “something you love, that you know you’re good at, you will be doing something you know you have a chance of being happy at. When you’re in a position you don’t like, you find yourself struggling and surviving, rather than striving.”

Instead of going through the motions at work, keep on looking, Mathews advises. “The best way to begin is really to understand what you want to do,” she said. “Discover your gifts and talents, [catalog] your successes and achievements — that way, you will learn your skills. Then do your homework and try to find out all you can about a specific job before you actually take it. You wouldn’t buy a $1,000 suit without trying it on.”

And, she adds, “make sure before accepting a job that it’s something you can sink your teeth into every Monday morning.”

Mathews knows the pitfalls of accepting the first work offered. “In 1992, I took a sales job in which I sold advertising space for a book cover, ” she said. “I was desperate. My former company had closed down. I had three days of training and then was supposed to sell. I was miserable. I hated it. Nobody wanted to buy. My self-esteem was shot. I quit within a week. I realized if you jump into hot water, you’re going to jump out really fast.”

That’s why she says, “If it’s a good job, take it. But unless it makes your heart sing, don’t grab it.”

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.