The simple truth is that an MA is only the first step to a successful career and there are numerous other things to consider before you set sail for the sea of professional opportunities.

You have aced all your classes while pursuing your MA degree. You have turned your intellectual passion into a stockpile of knowledge, into the crowning touch of your CV and you are now busy counting the days left until graduation. The insistent urge to carpe diem (seize the day: from the Roman poet Horace) resounds in your ears. You are eager to leave the confines of your alma mater and delve into the money-making world of keen and capable professionals. Your gut feeling tells you that you are a manager in the making, a future success. But it fails to warn you of the obvious: a shrinking job market and a global recession which, although subsiding, is still very much in evidence.

The simple truth is that an MA is only the first step to a successful career and there are numerous other things to consider before you set sail for the sea of professional opportunities. Here is a "to do list" for aspiring job applicants:

Make an early start

Don't be fooled. These days, time is the rarest of commodities, so as soon as you undertake an MA programme you should get down to outlining your long-term career goals. Knowing where your professional interests lie will help you stay on the lookout for the right kind of job. And it's good to keep in mind that a job search is much more than a quick scan of the job section in daily newspapers. Talking to working alumni can be an eye-opening experience. It gives you first-hand information on the dos and don'ts of job hunting and you may also find out which companies are looking for new employees rather than laying people off in this continuing financial crisis.

Internships help

Once you've made your career choice, you should work towards gaining more practical experience in your preferred field. Consider doing an internship. It will add extra value to your CV and can even boost your finances, as some companies are willing to pay for the services of promising professionals in the making (voluntary work is also an option for those who find themselves last in the queue for paid internships). By doing over and above what is required, you will certainly earn positive recognition from future employers and you will get the chance to test your skills in a real working environment.

Hone your skills

Having a clear idea of your professional setting and landing an internship in a suitable field will help you make an objective assessment of how your skills match up to the job of your choice. You will either find that you are on the right track or discover that there is still room for improvement and be motivated to embark on further optional courses.

The career services department can be your best friend during and after your MA studies as it has developed an extensive corporate database and usually keeps track of sectors that are recruiting (you may even get a idea of what remuneration package to expect). It can also put you in touch with the local alumni network in your city or region. Some graduate schools even assign a personal career adviser to their students (this practice has proved quite successful and has helped 95% of Cornell MBA graduates to find jobs by the end of the end of the school year).

Career fairs are an excellent starting point

Elite graduate schools pride themselves on their career fairs as they usually attract top corporate recruiters and provide their graduate students with exclusive access to leading companies. Also, if you are among the shortlisted candidates, you will be invited for an interview to discuss your skills, goals and general career plan. This is your chance to "shine". Remember, you won't get a second chance to make that crucial first impression.

Come prepared for an interview

Bring your CV and make sure it is concise, consistent and to the point. Outline your strengths; show your interest in the industry as well as your knowledge of the culture of the industry "It doesn't hurt to know about those you are working for," says Jake Leonen, an MA in Political Science from Boston University, who held an internship with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. "Before the interview I went through Senator Gillibrand's website looking for her positions and things I could be interested in. I also had to make a point of putting my political beliefs on the backburner, as I was in the position of learning from the internship as opposed to changing the institution."

Remember that over-confidence can also work against you. Try to speak with conviction, but not fanatically. Finally, be realistic: don't demand the best pay or a top position. Retain some humility and remember that your new employer should provide you with an opportunity to move up the corporate ladder