It’s a story that’s being re-told pretty much everywhere across the country: on the one hand, we have new college grads who can’t find an opportunity that launches them towards a great career, and on the other hand, we have employers that desperately need an infusion of new talent. So why isn’t supply meeting demand?
There are many reasons for this, including the fact that some employers, frankly, need to do a much better job of making their workplaces more “new grad friendly” – which, by the way, has nothing to do with catering to the whims of Millenials, and everything to do with finding smarter ways to challenge, engage and inspire them.
However, there are plenty of employers out there who “get it” and are offering exceptional entry-level opportunities – provided, of course, that new grads know what really matters at this early stage of their career journey.
So, with this in mind, here are 5 things that college grads like you need to know about building a great career that will reward you professionally and personally in the years and decades ahead:
1. Focus on Experience — not just Income
Landlords, credit card companies, banks, and even the super-friendly Baristas at Starbucks don’t accept “experience” as a form of payment (and showing them this article won’t change that, though you’re welcome to try). Obviously, you need to ensure that you’re being compensated at a level that enables you to, well, live.
However, at this point in your career, experience is far more valuable to you on two levels: one, you’ll significantly increase your earning capacity that will pay off exponentially down the road; two, you’ll discover some helpful – possibly even profound – insights into what really motivates you. Indeed, many of the world’s most successful people in all walks of life started their careers doing something very different. Who knows where you’ll end up, what you’ll do, and how far you’ll go?
2. Master the Art of Networking
If you haven’t discovered this already (though chances are you have), most employers don’t care much about where you went to school or your grade point average. What they’re really interested in knowing is whether you can develop strong relationships and work well with others – because those traits translate very profitably in the business world.
So take that as more than a hint – it’s a pretty blatant signal, really – to start mastering the art of networking. Seek out groups, mentors and like-minded professionals within and outside your current field, and become a proverbial sponge. Soak up every last piece of advice! And of course, find ways to be valuable to others. True, you may not have the influence or power to “make it rain”, but you can certainly find other ways to stand out and demonstrate that you’re a valued member of anyone’s network – including those who will directly and indirectly shape your career journey.
3. Create your own Spotlight
Yes, the job market is competitive. But guess what? It has always been competitive, and don’t let anyone’s nostalgic reflection of the so-called “good old days” convince you otherwise. Hindsight sometimes isn’t 20/20 – it can be fictional as well.
So in light of this competition (which again, isn’t new and will never go away), you have a choice: you can wait – possibly forever – for the spotlight to find you, or you can create your own spotlight by showing prospective employers what you can do!
Now, just so there’s no misunderstanding: this isn’t about bragging or self-promotion. It’s about demonstrating that you’re investing in yourself, and that a savvy employer should do the same. Perhaps you’ll create a website that features your work (it doesn’t necessarily have to be creative/portfolio type work either – you can provide case studies of your projects and successes). Or maybe you’ll volunteer with a professional association or a community group. Whatever you do, remember: don’t be the best kept secret in your field! Shine on and see how many opportunities appear.
4. Learn the Art of Engagement
Do you look at people in the eye when you speak and listen to them; not in an aggressive way, but in a warm, welcoming and open-minded way? Do you turn off your phone’s ringer when you’re engaging in a conversation?
Believe it or not, but the quality of your attention is enormously important and, frankly, valuable. Other people can literally feel when you mentally “aren’t there” (and even worse, they can see it when you’re checking your email in the middle of the conversation). In my hiring experience, it’s very refreshing to see a candidate who looks at me in the eye, and isn’t tethered to their gadgets. In fact, it often tells me more about them than anything they might say.
5. Audit your Social Media Profiles
And last but certainly not least…
If you’ve traveled in the last couple of years and stayed in a hotel, there’s a very good chance – it’s probably close to 100% — that you did some background research by reading reviews and seeing what other guests had to say. Well guess what? Travelers like you aren’t the only ones doing some background research: employers are, too. And they’re starting with (and sometimes ending with) your social media profiles – e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on.
Now, this doesn’t mean that your social media profiles should be sanitized to the point of being generic. After all, they’re your profiles, and should reflect and express your individuality. However, this does mean that you need to audit your content and ensure that it’s “work safe”.
Essentially, for every post, tweet, picture or comment you create – on your social media profiles, and those left by you on other people’s or organization’s — ask yourself whether you’d want a potential employer asking you about this in a job interview (whether they will or not is beside the point). If your answer is yes, keep it. If your answer is no, get rid of it. It’s really that simple.
Although this is much harder for a new college grad to see than it is for someone reflecting back on decades of experience, believe me when I say that the journey ahead of you is going to be far more interesting, exciting and rewarding than you can imagine – but that’s not going to happen by itself. You need to play a major part in your career story, and the 5 tips above will launch you in the right direction.