Graduation can be exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. After years of sitting through classes, pulling all-nighters, and cramming for exams, culmination comes as a seemingly long overdue reward. However, the idea of moving into the next phase or stage of your life can be REALLY daunting. Establishing yourself in your career is almost like being a freshman (first year student) all over again, starting at the bottom eager to get to the top. After graduation, you find yourself back at the bottom, AGAIN!
If this was all you were facing, I’d offer some great suggestions about managing change and transition, but the reality for your generation is that 1 in 2 college graduates will be jobless or underemployed in 2012, which was reported yesterday in the Huffington Post. So after you’ve been told all your life that a college/university education is the key to success, 50% of you will still be waiting tables, making coffee, or serving cocktails post graduation.
So if you’re that 50%, and have already begun sending resumes out to little or no response, here is what I suggest:
1. Stay positive and be patient!
Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you’re usually right!-Henry Ford
Stay positive. The right opportunity will come at the right time with the right attitude. While it is easy to get discouraged, it takes up more energy and while you’re feeling sorry for yourself, the right opportunity may pass you by. Don’t take the rejection personally, the right organization will find you if you have a “I think I can” attitude.
Exercise patience. It is a tough and competitive market so plan on the search for a job taking more time then you thought. Have realistic expectations for the position and pay as a new graduate. Unlike the Beibs, fortune and fame have to be earned by hard work and strategic planning. Be willing to start at an entry level position to learn the ropes at a living wage. Simon Cowell started in the mail room, and in an interview he said the best advice he could offer people starting out was be willing to work hard and work your way up, and learn from those with more experience.
2. Volunteer or Intern:
Build your skill set and relationships. Volunteering or Interning with an organization doing work you are interested in gives you the chance to:
- Get your feet wet and have practical training in your field of interest.
- Develop relationships and network with established professionals.
- Stay up to date on work opportunities and trends in the field.
It will also keep you busy and give you a reason to get out of your sweats.
3. Take a holistic approach to find your niche.
Set yourself apart. When building your resume or interviewing, keep in mind the breadth of experiences you’ve had, don’t overly focus on your formal educational training or work experience. In a survey of 428 personnel directors in the US, the top 5 most important skills being considered in job applicants are:
- Oral communication skills
- Listening ability
- Written communication skills
- Technical competence
Your specific degree was #10 and work experience #8. So be sure to highlight those experiences and skills you have that you might otherwise place in “Additional Skills” and move them to the top of your resume and cover letter. Consider how your experiences traveling, volunteering, being mentored, working at a camp, etc., each uniquely qualify you within your desired field.
If 100 people apply, and you all have the same academic qualifications, which characteristics can you offer to set you apart from the others?
4. Rely on relationships
More and more, I hear people say, “It’s who you know”!
Let people know you’re looking for work. Contact family, faculty, people at church, your friend’s parents, fellow volunteers, classmates, and so on. Create an exhaustive list, and then send out a brief email with your resume attached! (When I hear about job openings, I’m always thinking of the young talented people I know first.)
Keep your resume up to date. This will allow you to send it off at a moment’s notice. Carry hard copies with you since you never know who’s going to come into your place of work. It may seem old school, but as long as you have Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers hiring, they’ll be impressed if you have a resume on hand, we like take aways.
5. Make yourself visible!
Connect with the professional associations! Set aside a budget to join, attend meetings, or present at their annual conferences. Most people involved with the associations are leaders within their profession; they will help you raise your profile and network. Once a member, it’ll be beneficial to volunteer within the association, in any capacity, to make vital relationships and get your name out there.
Present at a Conference! Maybe you think you’re too young or inexperienced to present at a National Conference, you know more than you think you do! Last year, I was fortunate enough to co-present with two Gen Y’s (more than 15 years my junior) at two different National Conferences. Their insight, experience, and expertise were critical elements to the success of our presentations. If you don’t feel confident going it alone, find someone to co-present with, and don’t worry about making your proposal/presentation complicated. Keep it simple. Focus on your own experiences and what you already know. Volunteering at conferences is also another way to meet people and share your knowledge and experience, and often, there will be a reduction in the registration fee!
(For those of you interested in intercultural relations/communications, visit www.sietarusaconference.com to learn more about their upcoming conference! The Call for Proposals are due May 15. Scholarship information will be available soon!)
Build an online presence! Start a webpage or blog to have a professional online presence. If a potential employer Google’s you, have an online presence which reflects your professional objectives. Which means if you have anything online (like on Facebook) that you don’t want a potential employer to view, then change the account name, make it private, and open a separate account with your professional name. (Just recently, I was sad to see a young woman I respected lose a position with an organization because of the content of her Facebook page, it’s real people, so clean it up or lock it up).
I’ve been a graduate twice, both times facing the uncertainty of the future and finding myself starting over. Remember it’s the chance to be creative, re-invent yourself and dream big.