New graduates, do not despair. Although you will undoubtedly need all the creativity, energy and flexibility you can muster, the dismal job market is still a job market. And frankly, the world needs your talents now more than ever. But, before you upload a panicked resume to Monster.com or mass email a hasty cover letter to anonymous corporations, find out what it takes to land a job for which you are truly suited: a real step along a real career path. These four new books are designed to help.

You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katherine Brooks helps new grads formulate not just a decent response to that inevitable question, but a realistic career path--no matter the major. The author, a nationally recognized career coach, debunks standard linear thinking about college majors, and opens readers to a far wider world of exciting and appropriate professional opportunities. Her systematic method maps out insights, life experiences, academic histories and other clues using graphically appealing formulas and charts. Particular attention is paid to "unplanned events and emerging conditions" that can alter circumstances at any time. As patterns and themes emerge, readers conduct small experiments to discover what they truly enjoy, and then build strategies to find a profession to match. The book concludes with lessons in storytelling, resume writing, and interviewing, which will, one hopes, make the next step inevitable: a rewarding new job.

Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? A Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job by Ellen Gordon Reeves is designed to answer any and all real-life questions of the newly employable. Crash course though it may be, the book still demands readers take the time to get organized, set a timeline and plan a strategy. Strategies include informational interviews, formal and informal networking queries and, of course, the creation of pitch-perfect cover letters and resumes. The many realistic models for good and bad examples of the latter are especially helpful. Also great is the section on interviewing, where examples and what-ifs cover virtually every situation that might crop up. But Reeves' advice does not end with the job offer: a whole chapter is dedicated to becoming a good employee and colleague. (And by they way, the answer to the nose ring question is yes, if you plan on wearing it to work. Discretion and disclosure are a delicate balance.)

Secret for success: keep it simple
J.R. Parrish's You Don't Have to Learn the Hard Way: Making it in the Real World takes a different approach. Parrish, a self-made real estate magnate from Silicon Valley, gives teens and new graduates the benefit of his hard-won wisdom with a guide to life, personal and professional. By sharing the basic principles responsible for his own success--especially mentorship, people skills and self-discipline--he hopes to coach others to set and achieve life goals. Human relations, habits, career, love and truth are some of the crucial headings under which his secrets of success are revealed. Mini-quizzes help readers assess their own personal traits, patterns and areas for improvement.

Working World 101: The New Grad's Guide to Getting a Job by Bridget Graham and Monique Reidy draws upon years of cumulative human resource experience to present a tight, no-nonsense how-to: how to move successfully from campus to corporation. After completing a personal and professional inventory, readers are ready to hone communication skills to create a self-confident, capable, poised new product: themselves. Communication is a key theme of the guide; it drives the preparation of a resume and cover letter, the formation of a network, choice of dress and speech and the whole interview process. A handy list of online job search sites is included, as is advice on how best to use social networking sites like Facebook and more professional networking sites like LinkedIn. The authors are especially sensitive to generational challenges between Baby Boomer employers and ever-younger employees, and are quick to suggest ways to package differences advantageously.

Packaging is a common theme of all of these guides, but packaging with scrupulous attention to content (what is inside), direction (where it is headed), and intention (how it will get there). The package is, of course, the bright young thing poised to take the crummy economy by storm: you.

Joanna Brichetto writes from Nashville.

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