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Learn to focus your job search.

Q: I’m in search of a Java or Visual Basic programming job, after graduating in May. I’ve also had some intern experience programming. I applied to thousands of companies through e-mail and online forms and a number through the mail. I have also posted my resume on numerous job boards. What else can I do?

A: As tempting as it might be to take the more-is-better approach when applying to positions, it’s not always effective to simply blanket the corporate world with your résumé. Your first goal as a job seeker shouldn’t be to get an enormous number of HR people to read your pithy cover letter, but rather, to deliver your information to the right inboxes.

Toward that end, a generic cover letter and standard resume aren’t enough in this tough market. Simply having the requisite skills and a fierce desire to work won’t make you stand out from the other couple hundred candidates, unfortunately.

But, if you research the companies that have openings and craft your cover letter to include specific ideas for an individual firm, you’ll increase your chances considerably.

The first step is to target about a dozen companies that really interest you, and research them thoroughly, via the Web and informational interviews. Try to reconnect with your internship contacts, who may know good places in your area that are looking to hire.

Find out what kinds of projects are being undertaken at the companies, and think about how your programming skills and internship could help that specific firm to cut costs or improve efficiency. After that, tailor your cover letter to reflect your knowledge of the company and how you can contribute. The HR department will thank you for it.

Q: James Mathewson’s column in the October issue mentions training unskilled people to be better computer repairmen. I’m interested in that, and have received literature from a school offering a course in it. Is that a good way to go?

A: Computer repair is a good, solid path to take, given the potential future of the field. Not only will our wired society continue to need people to fix mechanical snafus, but PCs are poised to be the universal platform for all kinds of smart appliances and home entertainment systems. Also, home offices and home automation systems will rely on PCs more frequently.

For this reason, being a PC repair person should make you very valuable, especially if you expand your knowledge beyond tinkering with desktop units.

Getting expertise in home networking, including both low-voltage wiring and wireless options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, along with power quality, home automation, and home entertainment systems, should keep you in constant demand.

With these skills and good professional communications skills, you should be able to start your own business. To begin, you may want to approach companies, like law firms, that use many telecommuters, and then expand your advertising to target a mix of more home-centric customers.

Q: Right now I have an AA degree in Electronics, and I’m looking for an online university to get my BS degree in IT. I was wondering if employers will trust a degree from an online college, and how I should go about finding a good one?

A: The demand for online degrees is booming, and many universities are trying to meet the needs of students like you who want to attend virtually. However, not all are reputable, and your top choices should be checked out before you plunk any money down for education. The first step is to get a listing of colleges that offer online or distance courses that apply toward a degree and seem interesting to you.

For this, try sites that have searchable databases, like Peterson’s or

You may want to consider colleges near you that have minimal on-campus requirements, to take advantage of the school’s non-virtual benefits, like employment counseling, one-on-one tutoring, and cutting-edge computer labs. Talk to the admissions department at each college about what’s expected of virtual students, and peruse the online course catalogs to see if the classes seem to fit what you want, and if the professors have the type of qualifications that you trust.

Employers won’t question degrees from accredited colleges, so stick with those, and be very wary of any online universities that offer credits for “life experience,” or grant degrees quickly and painlessly for a fee.

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