For African-American careerists fresh out of college or in their first full-time professional gig, there's some stiff competition to consider. With more than 1.7 million collegians graduating in 2011, your biggest fear may not be how to get a job, but when it will happen. In today's tight market, finding a job that suits your skill set and earns you a comfortable wage will require more diligence than forwarding your résumé to a friend. Enter the 2012 ESSENCE Money & Careers Dream Team. We asked top careerists, financial experts and entrepreneurs, all who have been there and done that, for smart solutions to the money and career hurdles you're likely to face in your twenties. The consensus: With purposeful planning, you can move into the next decade at the pinnacle of your game.
THE CORPORATE EXEC SAYS:
CHERYL PEARSON-McNEIL, 50, Senior vice-president of public affairs and government relations, Nielsen
Network your way to a new job
"Often, getting the job comes down to building relationships. Seek informational interviews in which you talk to people who can share information about their company, line of work and career track. After each interview, ask for three other people to network with. Instead of asking for a job, you are gaining exposure. This keeps you top of mind for the next available job."
Customize your résumé
"A résumé is not meant to get you a job, it's meant to get your foot in the door. The interview gets you the job. Before sending résumés, download the company's annual report, Google your potential manager and tailor your résumé to fit the position."
Make yourself promotable
"Have an 'I've done good' file stored on your computer. I have a cap: Every four years I either move up or move out. In the first two years, make your mark. In the next two years evaluate where you want to go within the company. Even in a down economy, when you are really good at what you do, there will be a job for you."
Pearson-McNeil has a proven track record of building brand awareness, totally reshaping Nielsen's negative image among African-American consumers. She leads the company's multicultural advertising strategy and manages its African-American advisory council.
THE CREATIVE ARTIST SAYS:
NATALIA ALLEN, 29, Design director and owner, Design Futurist
Show your passion
"Finding a mentor requires your taking the initiative. Once you master that skill, people will seek you. My approach is, 'Hey, look at what I am doing already. Here are my challenges. Can you help me?' My passion is discovering new technologies, integrating them into products and innovating in my industry. As people saw me take risks they began to reach out and help me."
Sell yourself to decision makers
"Be sincere when making claims and don't overstate what you can do or what something is worth. Build trust and momentum over the life of your career versus skyrocketing and crashing. We tend to have a shortterm vision of what we want to accomplish. Think long-term."
Work around obstacles
"You have to have tenacity. It's not something you're born with; you have to build that muscle. I read biographies voraciously and I network sincerely. Find characteristics in other successful people to pattern yourself after."
Allen, aka the Conscientious Fashionista, has designed innovative and sustainable textiles and clothing lines for multinational brands, including Saks, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. Her modern high-end apparel line, Essentialist, debuted last spring.
THE SOCIAL ACTIVIST SAYS:
ERICA WILLIAMS, 28, Founder and CEO, Foolish Life Venture
Try to get your cause noticed
"Be able to articulate what you are working on, what you know, what you don't know and what you care about, especially as a young woman of color. Have the fortitude to come into any space humble and willing to learn, but recognizing your leadership abilities."
Learn to advocate for yourself
"You don't enter a nonprofit career to get rich. But that doesn't mean you can't be compensated for your work. You can negotiate salary by leveraging your skill set. Some organizations fund-raise to pay talented people. Look at what you can add to an organization to raise your salary."
"Know what you know and don't assume what you don't know. You can always learn new skills to increase your value. Don't assume you have to do just one thing if you are driven by a cause. Open up your view and explore all the ways you can make a difference."
Use social media effectively
"Branding yourself online doesn't replace doing it off-line, but social networking is an easy way to amplify your work and make a real impact on people's lives. Whatever you do online should have an off-line component. Just make sure to have the right balance."
Williams is a social commentator and advocate working with major corporations to produce online content geared toward getting younger people involved with social change work. Most recently she was a senior strategist at Citizen Engagement Laboratory, where she oversaw projects that used digital media to engage communities in cutting-edge campaigns.
THE ENTREPRENEUR SAYS:
JESSICA O. MATTHEWS, 24, Cofounder and CEO, Uncharted Play, Inc.; uncharteredplay.com
"We invested $200,000 in personal savings and funds from family. We also won $20,000 from Harvard University and received $70,000 in grants from private and public institutions. If your idea is good enough and you communicate it effectively, you should be able to generate revenue relatively early so that you don't have to wait for one great benefactor. "
Make your company attractive
"Speak at industry conferences, especially in venues where there are potential corporate clients. We are releasing a new version of the SOCCKET, a portable generator in the shape of a soccer ball that acts as both a power source and safe play equipment for children in economically disadvantaged countries, this summer in Rio de Janeiro during a United Nations conference. Major organizations involved in sustainability will be there. Always look for an opportunity to tell your story."
Hire top talent on a budget
"During the initial start-up, my team worked for free for several months. I understood that my generation wanted a chance to jump up the ladder—to become VPs of their companies by their thirties. Also, as business owners, you must understand all the roles of the company. I taught myself accounting so that I know what to expect and the right questions to ask when I hire a chief financial officer."
Matthews is codeveloper of the SOCCKET. She drives the creative vision of the award-winning social enterprise founded in 2011 upon one simple idea: Fun can be functional. In the first half of this year, the company generated half a million dollars in sponsorship revenue.
THE MONEY COACH SAYS:
DEBORAH OWENS, 53, President and CEO, Owens Media Group, LLC
Build your emergency fund
"Be creative to figure out how to eliminate debt and save more. What are some of the other skills you can use to create another income stream? That may mean tutoring or teaching an online course that yields an additional $3,000."
Invest for success
"In your twenties, you've got the one thing that money can't buy when it comes to building wealth and that is time. If you invest systematically in your 401(k), each month, you'll be investing at different price points. In the long run it's the most effective way to invest. Consider investing in an index fund that encompasses the overall market and that will give you diversification."
Grow your wealth
"Wealth is a mind-set. Financial independence is an outcome of your attitudes and behaviors. You have to be able to delay gratification. What can you do now to cut costs and spend less to give you a sense of value and worth so that you feel you aren't being deprived? In life there are trade-offs."
Owens has more than 20 years' experience in the financial services industry and is a former financial adviser and VP at Fidelity Investments. She is the author of A Purse of Your Own: The Easy Guide to Financial Security (Simon & Schuster).
THE GLOBAL STRATEGIST SAYS:
FELITA HARRIS, 37, Senior vice-president of global sales, Donna Karan International
Practice your "elevator pitch"
"The elevator pitch enlightens a potential employer about your most impressive achievements, what sets you apart and why you've selected that company. Noting three of your business strengths will help to focus your pitch. At the next networking event get a list of attendees. Know who you want to meet and what you plan to accomplish."
Don't take no for an answer
"No is the first step to a hopeful yes. It's fair to go back to reframe your request or restate your objectives. Everything is negotiable."
Work where you feel supported
"Align yourself with Team You—people who support you. Go where you feel celebrated. I use that as a point of reference whenever I make a decision. Meaning, if you're being acknowledged, accepted and nurtured in an environment, and you can contribute your gifts to the best of your ability, then you are being celebrated. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Working at a company is a two-way exchange."
Harris got her start at Neiman Marcus in 1996 and since then has worked with Armani, Nordstrom and Piazza Sempione. Born in Chattanooga, she spent her formative years in Pisa, Italy, the country that ignited the spark in her for serious fashion.