David Witte graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Like many other graduates, he had trouble finding work.

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David Witte graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Like many other graduates, he had trouble finding work. He moved home, took a temp job at a factory and applied for the Peace Corps.

But Witte, now 26, didn’t languish in his childhood bedroom for long. He made a series of savvy career moves that landed him a job as a junior architect with Callison, a Seattle-based international architecture firm. Since getting hired in January, he has found a mentor at work and thrown himself into career-specific volunteer opportunities.

Witte is “doing exactly the right things” to accelerate his career, says Elizabeth Atcheson, of Seattle-based Blue Bridge Career Coaching, who works with lots of new grads. Here’s her list of pointers to help career newbies jump-start themselves into the work world.

Make a self-assessment. Know yourself — what you like to do, what’s important to you and what you like to think about, says Atcheson. “People who skip this step end up wasting a lot of their own time, and time is valuable because you’re not making money,” she says.

Develop a strategy.
Once you know your ideal job or field, take a step back and look at the economic reality of the area where you live, as well as your own economic reality, Atcheson says. Can you take on a part-time job, volunteer work or an unpaid internship in the field that you love?

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Present yourself. Make sure your résumé is shipshape. If you don’t have a Linked-In profile, create one. Figure out what differentiates you, and make that part of your “elevator pitch.” Every single person who crosses your path could be a potential job lead, says Atcheson.

Cultivate your online presence. This is a big one. You know about LinkedIn, but did you know that it offers free monthly webinars on how to use its latest features? “Using LinkedIn proactively and skillfully is one of the most powerful tools you have,” Atcheson says. Also, create a blog where you write about topics in your profession, and use Twitter to promote it. Follow others in your field, and participate in field-specific discussion groups.

Use your alumni network. Witte found architects through alumni publications while he was in the Peace Corps in Peru, and connected via email. One of those contacts was at Callison, where he now works. “Alumnihood is the golden key,” says Atcheson, and it’s easy to find alums through Linked-In. When you connect, though, forego the canned LinkedIn invitation and opt instead for a personalized, respectful note with your shared school in the subject line.

Go on informational interviews. In your emails (again, respectful), “ask for 20 minutes, offer to bring a latte,” Atcheson says. “You want to meet them in their office because you’ll learn so much more. All around are the artifacts of their profession. And you might meet other people.”

Be in the right place at the right time. Hang out where you want to work, through networking, informational meetings and volunteering, she says. While waiting to hear back from the Peace Corps, Witte took a $10-per-hour job where he had been an intern, and when someone went on maternity leave, he filled in for her.

Tend to your network. If you build your professional network thoughtfully and deliberately over time, it’ll be there when you need it, Atcheson says — not just in your 20s, but every time you transition in your career. “If you’re always there, ready to help someone else, that comes back to you, big time.”