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Land Your First Auto Job

With work-study and internship programs at high schools and technical colleges becoming more popular, some automotive technology students know exactly where they will work when they graduate. Many others, however, must go through the grueling job-hunting process. If you're in the latter category, read these tips to help you find your first automotive job.

Evaluate Your Skills

You should be able to answer these two questions before starting your job search: Where are you now, and where do you want to be in three to five years?

To answer the first question, realistically assess your attitude and how you conduct yourself on the job, as well as your current knowledge and experience. For the second question, you need to figure out your long-term goals.

The trick is to look for a job that will match your skills and also allow you to progress toward your three-to-five-year goal. "If you're interested in emissions and driveability, don't go to a suspension and brake shop for your first job," advises Bill Haas, vice president of service repair markets for the Automotive Service Association.

Understand What They're Looking For

In your search for that first job, understand that most potential employers know it will take time for you to gain the knowledge and experience that will make you a skilled technician. They will be looking more to see if you have the skills you will need to succeed.

"Basically, most of the garages I talk to are looking for two things," says Rubin Charles, director of automotive studies at the E. C. Goodwin Technical School. "They're looking for people who are dependable -- who will show up [on time every day]. And they're looking for a good attitude."

Make sure that you demonstrate both traits by arriving at least 10 minutes early for your interview and being courteous and attentive throughout.

Understand What You're Looking For

"Many [graduates] already have an idea of what they can expect on the job, since many school programs have internships," Haas notes. The problem, however, is that most of these programs are associated with franchised dealers, and not everyone wants to work for one.

"Most independent shop owners started in a franchised dealership," Haas says. "And there's a reason why they left. Not everyone fits well [into a dealership shop]."

You, too, may prefer the independent shop environment. Unfortunately, Haas notes, "independent repairers have not done nearly as well in creating training opportunities that will support people who want to make a career in an independent shop."

Fortunately, many factory-sponsored programs will give you the skills and knowledge you will need to eventually move to the independent field. "A lot of the basic technology crosses over," Haas says.

Declare Your Goals

While you definitely want to be cooperative when interviewing and once you land your first job, you also need to let the employer know your goals and aspirations. Expect to start at the bottom, but make sure your potential employer will allow you to work your way into more profitable and challenging work.

"New employees have aspirations, but they have to understand that everyone comes in at the same level," Haas says. One may start doing oil and lube work and replacing headlamps, for instance. "But the individual should make it known to the shop owner what they want to be doing in six months or three years." If you find a potential employer does not share your goals, look elsewhere.

Use Rejection to Advance Your Career

If you realize during an interview that you're not qualified for the job, don't just walk away. Ask: What training would you need? What level of experience? What certifications? In many cases, your interest and willingness to work on your shortcomings will create a positive impression and make it easier for you the next time you apply.

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