Friday, April 22, 2011

Graduating from college in May? What you should have been told

It's that time of year when my calendar is filled with appointments of those preparing to graduate in May. I love working with college students and always try to find a way to encourage and help while offering a practical, realistic perspective. However, if a student is in my office for the very first time in April and he/she graduates in May, they might be a little late in the job search process. I'll still try to help but I'm no miracle worker. I am convinced there are a few reality checkpoints students, parents and professors miss along the academic journey. Here are a few tips for students and those who love them to use during each year of college:

Freshman: Discover your strengths. Even if you have decided on a career or major, take personality, skills and interests assessments that your university or college may offer. This may include: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsquest, VARK or FOCUS. Getting good grades matters along with involvement on campus or in your community. Participate in student government, clubs, non-profit events, academic organizations, church service or a sorority/fraternity to gain basic teamwork experiences and discover your passion. The interpersonal communication skills and self awareness you gain may help you rule out, decide on, or confirm a career choice. These activities also give you confidence to interact with new people(adults and peers) and are valuable in meeting potential contacts for networking later on.

Sophomore: Your grade point average is important but now is the time to gain further practical experience from internships, on-campus jobs, sororities/fraternities, clubs, pre-professional organizations, mission work, community service or any other part-time employment. This experience provides transferable skills valuable in any profession such as leadership, public speaking, writing, critical thinking, organizing, teamwork and customer service. Take an active role in learning about careers and networking. Get to know the career service professionals on your campus. I have to admit, the quality of career center professionals and the services they offer varies widely in higher education. So be wise about the advice and direction you accept. It may help to know if the person advising you has actually worked in the real world. Make sure those advising you know the latest trends with resumes, interviewing and social media by industry as well as specific professions. Politely ask specific, smart questions. Just please stop asking your room mate, friends or others who have little to no knowledge of current employment/hiring trends in recruiting, resumes or creating an effective job search plan.

Junior: Make sure you have a strong resume. I say ditch the job objective. No one reads them because they are often poorly written. Network with family, friends, professors. Ask questions. If someone tells you to email your resume to it! Within 24 hours. Attach the e-mail as a PDF and the cover letter should be the body of the e-mail. Even if there are no openings, contacts may pass it along to a colleague or someone who will consider you for other opportunities. Re-take any personality, interests or skills assessments. You may have changed a bit since your Freshman year. Be self-aware. Enhance your interpersonal communication skills by texting less and talking to people more. Recruiters and CEO's continue to seek graduates who can articulate what they are looking for, are not socially awkward--will show some enthusiasm and can verbally make connections to transferable skills during a conversation or interview. Create a financial plan (aka budget). Living at home? Moving out? Medical? Dental benefits? Do you have a realistic view of your annual salary expectations and expenses?

Senior: Make sure you are netweaving. What's that? Remember the informational interviews you conducted? part-time job? community service work or talking to friends of your friends parents? Let them know you are graduating and tell them what you are looking for. Avoid relying solely on job boards. Use all resources available to you and do not just wait for someone to contact you. Netweaving (aka networking) remains the most effective way to find a job. Schedule lunches. Talk to people. Ask professionals in your network if you can send them your resume. Avoid focusing solely on what you want from an employer (i.e. experience). When you meet people talk about how you can add value or help solve a business problem. Identify companies you are interested in and ask people in your network for the name of someone who works there. Create a Linkedin account and use it. Go to Linkedin for grads for more information. And don't forget to thank everyone who helps you along the way. A verbal, email or other note of thanks makes you memorable and people more willing to help. As a senior the fear and questions may overwhelm you. If this causes you to do nothing, just remember, Abraham Lincoln said it best, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."

If you are conducting an active job search as a new graduate it's necessary to: Be flexible. The more limitations you place on your job search the fewer options you have. Are you willing to relocate? In today's economy this is a must consideration. Be fearless. Talk to people and be willing learn new things and go to new places. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, or get negative or blame the economy, just keep moving forward. If you are curious about the status of an application or interview call or email your contact. Be kind, courteous and make statements like: "just checking to see if you need anything else from me in this process." Hiring managers and others are just busy, it's not personal. Find out what you need to know.Call them but don't stalk them.

Today's reality is the entire approach and process of gaining professional employment has changed. It's taking anywhere from six months to a year to get an interview much less obtain an entry-level job--even longer in some states. Many universities and colleges are doing a huge dis-service to students by not having early, frequent and practical career conversations. You do realize you will eventually have do something with all of that academic excellence you've acquired...right? Resumes, interviews, salary levels and recruiting tactics have changed dramatically in the past five years, yet many in academia(even some campus career centers), parents and professors erroneously advise students to use outdated approaches on everything from resume layout/content to answering age old interview questions like: What is your greatest weakness? "I'm a perfectionist." BLEH!GAG! Those who advise college students must help reset the expectations of what a college degree is all about. A college degree is simply the price of admission to the professional working world. Having a degree still matters, but we are experiencing a highly unique, recovering job market, and it requires students (and those who advise them) to re-think their approach to career planning and the tools used to secure employment. Experience matters. Parents, professors, career services professionals and students need to initiate fresh, frequent and relevant discussions about careers and what can (or cannot) be done with a specific major/degree well before the senior year of college. While everything may not be tied up in a neat little bow by graduation, students--remember to do your part and don't give up. Have a plan A, B AND C. There's no easy path to a career but there's one out there for you. It's your calling. I'm counting on you to find it. It may take some work. I'll even help. I just hope you'll talk to me about it sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Leave a comment or check a box below...if you are a student let's talk, I'm here all summer.