Nine months into her first job, Mary Wisniewski returned in April from a business trip to Switzerland — and was laid off. "It feels like I...

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Nine months into her first job, Mary Wisniewski returned in April from a business trip to Switzerland — and was laid off.

“It feels like I dreamed it up,” she says. “I could understand being fired if I messed up, but I never would have thought I’d get laid off.”

As employers look to shed workers in a struggling economy, Wisniewski and other recent college graduates are finding their jobs are over just as they have begun.

Job counselors say an early layoff need not damage a career. They encourage recent graduates not to take layoffs personally but to deal with the issue honestly and to quickly begin looking for another job.

“Getting let go is never a good thing, but it’s not nearly the black mark on your résumé it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago,” says Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, which helps college students and recent graduates land their first jobs. “It happens to the best of us, and it’s beyond your control.”

Karsh says those who have been laid off should reassess their situation and try to use the layoff as a catalyst to find a more suitable job.

Marcia Harris, director of University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, urges those laid off to get a letter of recommendation before leaving the company, explaining what happened and why and indicating the employee wasn’t at fault.

Harris says recent graduates may have to take temporary, freelance or part-time positions to pay the bills while they seek another full-time job. Most won’t have big savings cushions, and many will still be repaying student loans.

Recent graduates should check with their loan providers. Many can help work out a deferral of or reduction in payment during times of distress.

Robert Graber, chief executive of Wallstjobs.com, a financial-services recruiting source, recommends job-seekers should do as much networking as possible, through talking with friends and associates, attending events, and participating in alumni clubs and nonprofit groups.

Harris says many college career centers offer services to alumni free or for a small fee.

Wisniewski, who graduated from Pepperdine University last year and moved to New York to be an editor at a jewelry-industry magazine, has found the job hunt tough in this economy.

She has interviewed with a handful of companies. “I don’t want to leave New York, but I might have to,” she says.

Wisniewski says that she has been advised that her layoff shouldn’t be a problem once she explains it, as many hiring managers expect to see these situations in a poor economy.

Gerry Wilson says that getting laid off turned out to be a good thing. He graduated from Princeton in 2000 and took a job with an Internet software company. After two months training, he headed to New York to begin work. The first day, he was told his consultant position was eliminated.

Wilson parlayed his expertise with the company’s software into another consulting position, making nearly double what his salary would have been. He saved enough money to attend business school.

There, he developed a plan for his own business, yoonew, an online exchange that lets sports fans bet on a shot at Super Bowl or World Series tickets, long before the event. He now runs yoonew.

“All I have done has been because I was laid off on my first day,” he says.