(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)
c.2013 Houston Chronicle
How do you set yourself apart?
One way is to put together a skill set that separates you from the rest of your competitors.
If you're interested in business school, move beyond the usual marketing or finance classes. Take courses in statistics, cost/benefit analysis or accounting.
It may take an extra semester - or an extra class each semester - to acquire the extra skills, but it's well worth it, said Barton Smith, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston.
''You ought to be architect of your own education" rather than taking a canned program that is identical to every other student, Smith said.
Many business schools give students credit for only two courses outside the regular curriculum, he said. But by taking extra classes that teach good empirical analysis skills such as statistics, students can have the best of both worlds.
And a better chance of getting hired.
Smith advocates studying what you enjoy rather than choosing a degree largely because of high pay prospects or likely strong demand. He's seen too many students rush into what seemed like sure-fire degree programs only to find the labor market change dramatically by the time they graduate.
It's hard to forecast demand," he said, recalling the students who were drawn to finance in 2006 when the stock market and real estate were hot. But by the time they finished their bachelor's degrees and MBAs six years later, many such jobs had dried up. And thousands of other recent graduates were out pounding the pavement, too.
With one eye on the competition, Smith suggested looking down the road at potential management positions that would require skills in a variety of disciplines.
An engineer, for example, could combine management classes with engineering classes. Or human-resource classes with engineering classes. Or add accounting to the mix.
Whichever combination, the student puts himself or herself in a good position to assume a variety of responsibilities immediately, Smith said. The wider breadth also helps later if the employee wants to move toward plant management.
Watch the trends
Another way to give your career path a power boost is to watch for trends and see how you can add a subspecialty that companies value to your degree plan. That's especially important these days because companies are eager to cut costs and favor employees who can wear more than one hat.
Are you studying computer science or Web design? While you're studying coding, think about adding courses that teach human resource training methods, employment discrimination laws or marketing.
A community college in San Antonio has had good experience placing graduates who study Web design, said Mick Normington, business and industry specialist with the Texas Workforce Commission, who was in Houston recently to give a presentation on the Texas labor market.
Companies hire the graduates to design online training tools to replace human-resource training managers, he said.
''We're seeing a trend here," said Normington, whose presentation focused on the most popular and profitable careers in Texas. XXX - End of Story