Friday, April 6, 2012

Graduating in May?

Are you preparing to graduate from college in May? Have you started the job search process? I know it can be scary and confusing. But doing nothing will not make it go away. For many college seniors the fear and questions can be overwhelming. If this causes you to do nothing, Abraham Lincoln said it best, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." If you have waited until your senior year to think about the future, here are four questions to consider immediately:

1) What do they want? Employers in all professions and organizations continue to seek graduates who can articulate what they have to offer, those who show enthusiasm and can verbally make connections to transferable skills acquired through part-time jobs, community service or other experiences. Think about how your experiences translate or transfer into the real world. Customer service (know how to treat people), verbal/written communication (know how to say what you mean), and critical thinking skills (know how to use freedom within fences). These are the hot commodities. Besides a decent grade point average, employers want people who ask smart questions and help them solve problems. Employers want people to get things done without being asked. Employers want people who can add value to their organization. Employers want people who have a good attitude.

2) What do I need to get started? Real life does not stop and wait for you to figure it out. Identify some ideal employment opportunities. Make sure you have a good resume (revisit #1 above), references and have practiced answering interview questions. Create a financial plan. Are you postponing a job search and going to grad school? What are your overall expenses? Living at home? Moving out? Rent? Medical/dental? Car? Credit cards? Getting married? Do you have a realistic view of the entry level annual salary possible in your field? Research it on the internet or visit your college's Career Services Office.  I have said it before, in our current economy, you might have to take a job simply to generate income. Just be wise and don't get stuck there. If the job is commission-only or too good to be true, keep looking. Your first job does not have to be your forever job. Oh yeah, that resume you created and got an "A" on in a college class? It may still need to be re-worked for the real world or a specific job opportunity. Resumes are rarely the only thing to get you hired, but they are a necessary requirement, along with good interview skills. From graduate schools to jobs in ministry, everyone is asking for a resume. Create a good one. Get noticed. Get started. Get relevant advice for today's job market.

3) What do I have to give? If you do not have extensive experience, your transferable skills from internships, part-time campus jobs, community service or even mission trips are your best selling points. Have you talked to people at your part-time job about getting a full-time position? Are you doing community service work or talking to friends or friend's parents about jobs or people they know? Are you asking professors who they may know to refer you? Avoid relying solely on job boards. Many of the best jobs are unadvertised. Netweaving (aka networking) remains the most effective way to find a job. Let people know you are graduating and looking for work. Schedule lunches. Talk to people. Ask professionals in your field of interest if you can send them your resume. Avoid focusing solely on what you want from an employer (i.e. experience). Talk about how you can add value or help solve a business problem. Create a Linkedin account and use it. Go to Linkedin for grads for more information. Finally, don't forget to thank everyone and anyone who helps you along the way. An email or other note of gratitude is still a nice touch and people want to help nice people. Give thanks. Give your best. Don't whine about how tough it is. 

4) Am I able to be flexible? The more limitations you place on your job search the fewer options you may have. Are you willing to relocate? In today's job market, this may have to be a consideration. You can always return after home after gaining experience. Be fearless. Talk to people and learn about new places where you can use your gifts and talents. Other parts of the country are not as bad and scary as you think. Be faithful. Don't give up too soon, get negative or blame "the man" if you are not employed immediately upon graduation.  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 busy, it's not personal. Don't fear being told you did not get the job. Call them, but don't stalk them. Find out what you need to know to move forward. Be fearless, faithful and flexible to increase your chances of securing employment. It matters.

Having a college degree still makes you more attractive to employers than those who don't have one, yet we are experiencing a slowly recovering job market, and it requires students (and those who advise them) to re-think expectations when searching for employment in 2012. Turn off the computer and meet some new people. Get focused. Get resume help and practice interviewing with your school's career services professionals. Experience matters. Get some. 

It may not be easy, but it's possible. Don't give up, get depressed and make a decision to do nothing because it's too difficult. I believe you can do this. Do you?