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Executive-class help to get that first job

Recent grads hire image consultants in effort to wow corporate recruiters

How do you package a college grad?

For up to $3,000, D.A. Hayden and Michael Wilder , owners of a Boston marketing firm, say they can create personal ``brands" for graduates that recruiters won't soon forget.

``When we say that we can package a graduate," says Wilder, ``it means finding out the personal strengths of the graduates or seniors we're working with, and using those strengths to create a personal story that will be compelling to an employer."

Job prospects are up 14.5 percent over last year for the class of 2006, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a group of about 1,000 corporate recruiters and career counselors. But that hasn't stopped some parents from signing up their young adult children for résumé-writing services, career counselors, employment agencies, or sessions with consultants like Hayden-Wilder to polish their offsprings' personas in preparation for the labor market.

Career specialists are routinely hired by corporations seeking to groom promising executives for an appointment, and established professionals often rely on consultants to help them advance or change careers. Now, college seniors and recent college graduates are hiring public relations, marketing, or human resources professionals to give them a leg up as they prepare to compete against their peers for entry-level jobs.

Elizabeth Clabby , 21, who graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in marketing from Providence College, is one of 115 newcomers to the job market who have signed up for eight 90-minute private sessions with Hayden, former president of Arnold Public Relations Inc ., a division of Arnold Worldwide , and Wilder , former executive vice president, since they founded their firm nine months ago.

``It's expensive, but well worth it," said Clabby, whose mother paid $3,000 for the full package. ``They show you how to network and present yourself in a way that works for you."

Clabby's mother, Nancy Mobley , president and chief executive of Insight Performance , a human resource consultancy, said she had felt ``unempowered in terms of being able to help Elizabeth with the job search process."

``But they took her accomplishments, which are relatively limited, and packaged and branded her in a way that I could not," said Mobley.

Joe Swinger , author of the book, ``Leave Your Nose Ring at Home ," teaches graduates how to create what he describes as a powerful first impression. Swinger, founder of in2momentum, a personal development firm in Salt Lake City, says new graduates often are unclear about their career goals and that can hurt them during an interview.

``By the time they get to the interview, they are not being genuine," said Swinger, who charges between $500 and $1,500 to help recent graduates focus their goals and present themselves.

Swinger says campus career centers are not as effective because students tend to wait until the last minute to seek help, and the centers are not always staffed by experienced individuals.

But Marie Stein , director of career services at Northeastern University, says the consultants are cashing in on services that most colleges offer for free.

``We do not call what we do PR," said Stein. ``But PR firms are adopting our principles and are calling it something else. We offer the same things, including videotaped mock interviewing and lots of individual attention."

Critics also say that fee-for-service career support for new grads usurps the personal initiative it takes to develop valuable job skills. ``My concern is that, with all the handlers out there, at some point these young people have to perform on their own," said Michael Sciola , director of the Wesleyan University career resource center .

``At some point, it becomes dangerous territory," he said. ``Young people have to sink or swim on their own. Also, what's next? Private consultants to help the new hire do his or her job?"

Hayden-Wilder says its one-on-one sessions pinpoint poor communication, including nervous tics, nail biting, slouching, and repeated use of such words as ``like," ``you know," and, ``uhm." The sessions are often videotaped for review by the clients.

``I could see myself make certain mistakes and when I could see them, it had more impact on me," said Rob Wykoff, 25, of Beverly, a 2003 American studies graduate from Colby College in Maine. Wykoff spent the last three years fixing skis and bikes and selling sporting goods at a store in Wyoming before returning home to ``regroup and move on to the next phase of employment."

Hayden-Wilder says it encourages its young clients to focus on what they provided during an internship or summer job, and it prepares clients for interviews. The firm estimates that it takes one to six months for graduates to find work after completing the session, which ranges from an $800 résumé-writing class to group sessions or personalized support.

``Kaplan works to elevate test scores," Hayden said of the New York-based test preparation and admissions company, Kaplan Inc. ``There are also counselors to get them into the right prep schools, into the right colleges, and when people are senior executives, other counselors to help them get the right promotions. We get people ready for the career world."

Diane E. Lewis can be reached at dlewis@globe.com.

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