By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/26/2006 3:30:42 PM ET 2006-12-26T20:30:42

Just because you don’t plan on applying for a job in the immediate future doesn’t mean you should sit on your duff. Start planning now!

If you’re finishing up school or looking to life after the military, it’s never too early to job hunt or begin a networking frenzy, especially if you plan on working in the business world. It’s also never too early to start connecting with HR managers and company officials at firms you might want to work for someday.

Here are some of your recent questions:

I am an Air Force Officer and I am about two years away from getting out of the military. I have a engineering degree as well as an MBA, but don’t directly use either degree in my military job. By the time I get out [of the military], it will have been eight years since my undergraduate degree and 4 years since my MBA.

Because what I do is not replicated in the civilian world, is it OK for me to start contacting potential employers now and ask them what I can do to make myself more competitive two years from now? I’m not sure what field I will be working in, so I am curious what potential HR directors will think about my experience.
—Chris, a military and MBA man

It’s always a good time to connect with HR people at firms you’d be interested in working with. (I’d probably wait until after the holidays since most people have eggnog on the brain right now.)

But before you do anything, you should figure out what type of job, company and industry will make you happy. This is going to take a bit of research on your part. Read everything you can get your hands on that looks at a firm or field that sounds interesting to you. Also, contact the school where you got your MBA and take advantage of any career services such as coaching or industry data, advises Carol Alm, associate dean of graduate program services at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

When you have more of a direction then start contacting employers. Start out by networking with anyone you know who might know someone at a company, or in a particular industry. Now is the time to contact any individuals you went to school with, or old friends, and friends of friends, especially if they’re working in Corporate America.

When you pinpoint one or two companies you like, e-mail or send letters to HR managers. Their contact information is usually on the company’s Web site, or you might have to call the company directly. Cold calls or e-mails may be met with no answers, but keep trying. A good opening line, notes Alm, is “I’ll be getting out of the military and I’d like to know…”

And don’t worry about the time between your MBA and when you hit the work world. Most employers understand military service. Play up the valuable experience you are getting right now even though on the surface it might not be related to any corporate job.

As one CEO said when I interviewed him for book, “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office”:  “In the Marine Corps I learned independent thinking and how to make decisions under stress.”

That’s a valuable selling point for any employer.

I will be graduating in May 2007 with a degree in business marketing and management. Spending so much time and money on college, I truly do not want to start off at a job that pays $30,000 a year because I could have made that salary after graduating high school and going to work full-time. What kind of job search do you suggest I do, and when should I start?
—Katie Krzyzak, Hillside, Ill.

Start now! The key is figuring out what you want to do and what type of company you want to work for.

Don’t worry too much about the money right now. You may have to take what you consider to be a low paying job to start out if you think it will give you the valuable experience you need. On the flip side, don’t take slave wages because it will be tough to ever make big money at that firm down the line.

Start researching firms that might be a good fit in marketing, if that’s the direction you want to go. Check out company information online. If it’s a publicly traded firm, there will be a wealth of information on the company’s Web site. Make sure you go to every job fair at your school when companies come to campus looking for future recruits. I would even try to connect with those firms beforehand so that you can set up an interview.

One women executive told me she sent out about 15 letters to the HR managers of the nation’s top financial giants during her junior year in college, and she also asked for the financial reports of every firm. When she graduated, the majority of those companies called her in for interviews and she ended up with her choice of jobs.

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