Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Working Life: College Grads
Your Prescription for Success
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay outlines the basic building blocks for a successful post-college career launch. The following article summarizes the key elements for initiating an effective job search.

Congratulations and Good Luck!
Whether you’ve graduated from college or about to, congratulations. You’ve completed one major phase of your life and are about to begin another. Now, the hard work of getting into the working world begins. College life has changed dramatically in the past 10-20 years, and the pressure starts earlier than ever for graduating seniors to find a job and start their careers. Though there are many different areas to focus on, there is a simple prescription for a successful and smooth entry into the workforce.

The all-important resume
Resumes should tell a story about who you are and what your skills and talents are. Now, obviously, a 21-year old is not going to have the same resume as a seasoned veteran of the workforce. Employers know this, so don’t worry about impressive credentials. Just do the best you can with your experience so far and find things that highlight your strengths and applicable skills.

Most college seniors have had a few jobs and hopefully an internship or two. Any kind of job, internship, volunteer work or affiliation needs to go on your resume. If you were a lifeguard, put it on (that’s a position of great responsibility). If you worked in an ice-cream shop, put it on. If you babysat, put it on. Were you a member of a club, fraternity, sorority or sports team? Did you help with fundraisers or special events? Did you do volunteer work? Remember volunteering is work; it just isn’t paid. Volunteering also shows a level of social and community consciousness and commitment that many employers find valuable. It’s also good work experience.

The most important thing about “starter” jobs is to show that you were given responsibility. Did your manager give you tasks that reflected a level of responsibility, like locking up at night, opening in the morning, making deposits, running the register? Try to find those jobs or activities in which you were part of a team and helped lead it or had responsibility of some sort, however minor it may seem to you. Studies show that perceived leadership skills are as important in the hiring decision as your major, your alma mater, or your grade point average. Whatever you did or were involved in that reflects leadership and responsibility should go on your resume.

And don’t get fancy with your resume. Resumes should be simple, easily readable and written in a standard format. Don’t go over one page and don’t use fancy fonts or colored paper. Pink paper and unreadable type are annoying to an employer. You want to stand out because of who you are, not because your resume is kitschy. And always, always, spell check. Nothing sinks a candidate quicker than misspelling liaison.

What if you have nothing to put on your resume?
If you have absolutely no work experience (and remember volunteering is work), then you are going to have to talk about your academic achievements. Ironically, this is not optimal. Stellar academics are desirable, but employers are looking for leaders and marketable skills. But it is not the end of the world, depending on what kind of profession you are trying to enter. Try to convey your academic achievements in such a way as to be marketable to the employer. A high g.p.a. in and of itself doesn’t translate to being a good employee, unless you can draw the correlation between that success and employment success. In other words, did you work with a team, run a special project, assisst the professor, do independent research or study? Find something marketable about your academics and highlight that.

Internships and volunteer work are great for experience and are essential components of a resume. If you are a student or a graduate with no work experience, then you should really consider getting an internship, even an unpaid one. If you have to, you can always work nights while interning during the day. The same goes for volunteer work. Both look great on a resume and both can provide you with work skills. You’ve got to get some work experience--paid, unpaid, interning or volunteering. Just do it.

Using your college
You’ve paid a bundle for that education. The college knows this and wants you to be a successful alum. Almost every college has a career center and or an alumni network that you can use to your advantage. Though these services can be a mixed bag – some are much better and more serious than others – they are always worth checking out. Many offer job counseling, job fairs and internship programs. Some will set up real or practice interviews for you, help you with resume and hone your interview skills. Many offer personality and skills tests that can help you focus on your career choices.

You should definitely leverage the alumni relations department, especially at schools with a lot of school spirit. Most alumni who have taken the time to register with the career center are more than willing to help and will bend over backwards to help new graduates. Usually, these alumni are broken out by profession and can be counted on to provide information about a certain field, advice on getting into it and will review your resume. They may also off internships, informational interviews and invaluable contacts in your field. Don’t be shy here – this is called networking and it is one of the best ways to get a job.

Use your friends and professors, too. Does someone have a parent, sibling or associate in your field? Again, don’t be shy. This is what networking is all about.

Taking the summer off
Some people might argue that if you’re a graduating senior, this is the last summer of freedom, so why not just hang out, go to the beach, and have a few months of relaxation before hitting the job interview circuit in September? This is, of course, a personal choice. And while it may very well be true that this is your last summer of “freedom” you need to remember that there are millions of other graduates who may not be looking at it that way. Will all the good jobs be gone?

In order to decide, you have to look at the hiring cycle of your desired profession or industry. If you want to enter one that actively seeks college graduates, then taking the summer off may be a problem. In other professions, entry-level jobs may open up all the time, so taking one last summer off may not be a big deal.

One also has to weigh the fact that this is a huge generation, almost as big as the baby boomers, so while the economy is good and organizations are competing for top talent, one still has to recognize that this generation will face a lot of competition for the “good jobs,” no matter how much time you spend at the beach.

Helicopter parents
Let’s talk about mom and dad for a minute. A generation ago, parents were not involved in their children’s careers, academically or professionally. We all just got kicked out of the house after we graduated and found jobs. Now, however, parents are playing a huge role in their children’s lives, with many parents guiding and coaching their kids all the way through college and through their entry into the work force.
While some college graduates might actually enjoy their parents’ involvement, there is a point where a parent’s well-meaning but over eagerness to swoop in and manage their kids lives does more harm than good. This is called “helicopter parenting” and it can be very damaging.

The transition from student to professional is a huge one. It’s probably one of the biggest most people make. This transition is really about becoming a full-fledged adult. You stop being coddled and start being responsible for yourself. You start to really make your own choices, and if your parents are still heavily involved, you’re not really an adult, are you? If the goal here is to create responsible, independent, creative and resourceful adults, then parents have a fine line to walk here, in my opinion. They need to see that their children must make their own choices. You can help them be as ready and informed as possible, but they need to decide for themselves, even if it means making mistakes. After all, that’s part of being an adult.

Are you ready?
We hear the phrase “workforce readiness” quite a bit in the media, and the notion that what kids learn in high school and college doesn’t really prepare them for the workplace. Sadly, this is largely true and a rash of articles about how this generation is having trouble getting along in the workplace bolsters that view. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that many managers are having to praise their new recruits more because they have grown up in a culture where everyone is a winner.

On the other hand, this is the most well educated and technically savvy generation ever. The balance that has to be struck is between technical and academic readiness, which they may have, and professional polish, which they may lack. It is not an insurmountable chasm. College graduates just need to know getting the job and succeeding in the job are two very different things.

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