2016 College Graduates – Your Degree Is Just a Start

By Joe Stein

 
As we enter Spring, we just don’t enter a new weather season, but also a time where a wave of new college graduates enter the workforce. While there is always an elite group that is ready to immediately transition into their first “real” job search, there are many more that are still finding their way. Working with your school’s professional development can be very useful, but unfortunately not everyone takes advantage of this valuable resource (I wish they would). Even if you do, it is difficult to replicate an actual search.
 
Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome is to avoid falling into the trap of believing that your degree entitles you to anything in your search. While it is nice that you have reached this personal milestone, unless you studied for a specialized skill that is in high demand, your work has just begun. You will be in direct competition with not only your fellow graduates from a variety of universities, but also those already in the workforce. Like any other Job Seeker, the degree you obtained is just a start and now you have to prove to the Hiring Manager that you are the one that should be hired.
 
From the perspective of a HR Professional, the following are some areas that this new round of college graduates can improve upon compared with their predecessors.
 
·         Have Realistic Salary Demands: If you are like most college graduates, you have been saddled with student loans due to the high cost of advanced education. Unfortunately for you, this does not entitle you to a salary in your first job beyond the market for this position. I encourage you to do your homework and have an idea of what your profession pays in the WNY market. If compensation comes up in the conversation, do NOT bring up your student loans as the need for a certain salary. An employer does not want to hear about student loans or your car payment as a reason for needing a certain salary, especially if your requirement is outside of market norms.
·         Consider Company More Than Position: While your first position is important, chances are that whatever it is, you will outgrow it professionally in a year or two. If you focus on a company that has a mentorship program, career opportunities, and growth, you will be in a much better position to elevate yourself without having to start another external job search. This may require you to take a lower salary or a lesser initial position, but you will probably be better off in the end.
·         Be Eager to Learn and Work: When an employer hires someone out of college, they are well aware there will be minimal experience outside of potentially an internship or two. What he or she is looking for is someone that shows potential to them. You can do this by displaying an interest in being mentored by the Hiring Manager, and by making sure it is known that you will be willing to “pay your dues”. A good manager is eager to have fresh talent that they can mold and nurture. By making it clear that you want to be this type of employee, you greatly increase your chance of being given a shot.
·         Show You Can Be Professional: While some companies cultivate a very casual work culture, most still have a moderate or high level of a traditional professional environment. Right or wrong, if there is one area that our most current working generation receives criticism for is a lack of business/work professionalism when it is required. Show that you do not fit this stereotype by dressing professionally, speaking clearly and without slang, writing well, and having poise during the interview. You will stand out from the crowd and present yourself as someone this prospective employer wants to invest in.
·         Show Transferability: You will most likely not have work experiences that directly relate to any job in which you are interviewing for. You, therefore, have to show that what you have done and learned can transfer to the job.   Even more specifically, show how it meets the core skills or attributes that are needed. Do NOT assume that the Hiring Manager will automatically make the same connection on his or her own. You have to communicate this information in a compelling way. For example, you can show your work ethic by outlining how you went to school and worked part-time. 
·         Get Right to Work: This is a common theme in most of my advice lists and it works perfectly in this one as well. There is little to gain in taking the summer off. It may be tempting to enjoy the graduation parties and the warm weather. You may also be receiving well-meaning but ill-advised advice to relax since you have a whole lifetime to work. Your two or three months of relaxation will probably place you many months behind your competitors who are fighting for those entry-level college graduate positions.
 
The goal is to be a savvy newcomer to the job market. You can do this by quickly coming to the conclusion that your completed degree is not the end, but merely the start to your career. 
 
As always, best of luck in your job search