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Grad guide: Making that first job last

TODAY Financial Editor Jean Chatzky shares 6 smart and simple tips to help twentysomethings navigate the work world.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Graduation season has come and gone, and that means twentysomethings are gearing up to take the workplace by storm. Fortunately, it's a good year to be a graduate: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), college hiring is expected to increase a whopping 17.4 percent from last year.Locking in that coveted job offer is certainly an accomplishment, but you have to keep in mind that the offer is only a small chunk of the big picture. Maintaining a steady paycheck means holding on to that job. That's a part of the battle that recent grads too often overlook. Hannah Seligson should know. The recent grad got her first job and got fired from it within the span of a year. Spurred on by the experience she interviewed more than 100 newly minted employees to figure out what they knew that she didn't. She turned her research into a book, "New Girl on the Job: Advice From the Trenches" (Citadel). The next time around, she notes, she'll approach the workplace with a greater sense of fulfilling her employer's needs rather than her own."A lot of young people come in with a sense of entitlement, and that's a major turn-off to employers," says Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of "My Reality Check Bounced: The Twentysomething's Guide to Cashing in on Your Real-World Dreams" (Broadway).So how do you get on the boss' good side, and maybe even come out with a promotion?Do some soul-searching
You have a better chance of being successful in a career you enjoy, and you might as well give yourself every advantage. So while it can be tempting to shoot off hundreds of resumes to avoid ending up on your parents' couch, that's the wrong approach. Take some time to think about what you'd like to be doing. A good way to start is by heading to your college's career center while you still have the privilege. If that's not an option, you might try making a list of some specific interests, then talking to some people in those industries. You don't have to shoot for CEOs here. Friends who graduated a few years before you can be a great resource.NetworkIt could very well be the No. 1 tool for advancing your career, but the idea tends to make people nervous. It's really as simple as striking up a conversation -- and you'll quickly learn that people love to talk about their work. Then you hand them your card, take theirs, and follow up. "This is the most underutilized asset. You've got to build your fan club, and that to me, being 29, is the best thing I've ever done. The people who advance the fastest tend to be the ones who have these networks," says Dorsey. About twice a year, shoot off an e-mail to some key contacts to update them on where you are professionally, so you stay fresh in their minds. So many jobs are passed along by word of mouth, and your e-mail could hit their inbox when they have something to share. Keep a work journalNothing makes the days run together like a 9-to-5 routine, so it's important to keep track of your successes. Make a note of any major projects you complete, ideas that are praised by your boss or co-workers, or other accomplishments that may set you apart. "When you go in to negotiate for a raise or a promotion, you'll have a running concrete list of things you've accomplished. It will give you more leverage and bargaining power," says Seligson. Enlist the help of a mentor
"Find someone who is where you want to be or has done something you'd like to do and build a relationship where you can learn from them," advises Dorsey. The extent of the relationship could be coffee once a month or lunch once a week, but the key is to optimize the time that this person offers you. Bring some of your work to share, ask him all your burning questions, and take any advice or criticism seriously. It can really help shortcut your learning.Err on the side of professional
Chances are you spent hours polishing up in preparation for the interview, so don't drop the act once you've gotten the job. Small, permanent changes across the board can make a huge difference in how your colleagues and supervisors see you. "Dress for the job you want, speak for the job you want, e-mail for the job you want," says Seligson. "It can be really difficult because it's a transition, but this is a time when you have to step it up a notch." That includes cleaning up or deleting those MySpace and Facebook pages. Companies know those are a goldmine when it comes to digging up dirt on a job candidate or employee.

Ask for opportunity
The truth is, you can probably stay employed by simply fulfilling the job description. But do you want to retire in an entry-level job? Probably not, but to get to the top, you have to take some initiative. "Doing the minimum and thinking that's good enough is one of the biggest mistakes that a recent graduate can make," explains Dorsey. If a project comes up that you'd like to work on, offer to help out, then do your best to show them what you're made of. Chances are, they'll remember your performance come annual review time.

With reporting by Arielle McGowen.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .