How New College Grads Can Get a Great Job With Any Major
It’s college graduation time, but can you celebrate? Accordingly to recent news, 53% of recent college graduates are either underemployed or unemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. And the numbers are worse for majors like humanities, art history, philosophy or anthropology. It’s enough to make those just about to graduate feel hopeless. But don’t. This blog is for you new college grads — you can get a job, and a good one, no matter what any research says.
Even in the toughest job markets, the best candidates find great positions. You simply have to know how to be one of the best.
I get what an uphill battle this seems. I also graduated in a terrible job market, the early 1990s. I was the first person in my family to go to college, so higher education was my one golden ticket. I took out student loans readily, praying I’d be solvent enough to pay the bills. I was a communications major, with an English minor. I had zero personal connections to secure a plum job after graduation.
I heard all the same scary messages about student debt and the difficulties finding a job without a technical major.
And it all worked out anyway. Even perfectly.
The emotion you feel is fear — and you deserve to feel it. I could feel phantom anxiety pains just thinking of being a 22-year old, toiling away in a retail job waiting for real life to start, with no certainty except accruing student loan interest.
Which, as it turns out, isn’t that certain as Congress resorts to brinksmanship over student loan interest rates. The favorite storyline of national news is whether a four-year degree is actually worth the price.
It is absolutely worth every penny. A few years into a career, I’ve never met anyone who regrets their college education. It’s a core part of who we are as professionals and as people.
As an executive coach, and an employer who has hired many new college graduates, I can tell you that you have more control than you think. It’s normal to feel trepidation as getting into the workforce is one of the biggest life changes you’ll have. Feel it, and move on. Don’t let it incapacitate you or strip you of hope. Do not give up or get stuck.
If you want the best chances of landing that amazing job you’ve dreamed about, apply yourself to this advice. You’ll be the star candidate everyone is clamoring to get.
1. Have a vision for yourself. Personal ambition is one of the most compelling qualities a young professional can display, and sets you apart immediately. Take the time to figure out what you want for yourself, and don’t be afraid to express it — even if it’s a goal you’ll build towards.
Many new grads don’t know exactly what they want because they haven’t experienced enough of the workplace yet. It’s fine to have a vision for now, i.e. I want to be in a position where I can be part of a team, contribute my problem-solving abilities, and gain exposure to the industry. Some day I’d like to own my own business.
A very common mistake is to communicate that you “just want a job” in order to show you’re hungry. That makes you look unfocused and desperate. (This works a lot like dating.)
2. Embrace your major. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless you’re a software engineer, nurse, or some other in-demand, specialized field, you’ll be out of luck. Don’t buy it. Never apologize for your major. You picked it for a reason, and own it with pride.
Many new hires at companies are generalists, who work hard, learn, and get trained on the job. Your goal is to figure out how your major helps you in your job seeking. For example, if you’re a philosophy major, discuss how it’s helped you manage opposing viewpoints and complexity. (Great for sales and customer relations.) Or talk about how political science has taught you about getting work done in complex organizational structures, which is spot-on for management consulting.
Being well-rounded is still a positive. One of my most useful classes from college was art history, which I took on a whim. I can’t count how many times knowing a bit about art has helped me in everything from cocktail conversation to marketing design.
3. Network and don’t stop. I got advice in college to meet with every person who will give you a meeting. It hasn’t stopped working for me. Ask every professional person you know to meet with you, and explain your vision for yourself. Then ask them who else they would suggest you meet with, and reach out to the new folks. Follow up regularly to let people know how their intros have benefitted you. People are more willing to help young people than you’d guess. (And the worse they can say is no.)
From this, you’ll start building a solid network. Most people get jobs from connections, so this is the path to land your job. And as a side benefit, you’ll learn new information from each person you meet, and expand your knowledge of various professions.
This is key — keep doing this after you get a job! The average tenure for a first job is 1-2 years. You’ll want to keep making those key connections even when you don’t need them. In fact, that’s the best time to do it.
4. Milk your internships. Most grads have done internships, which don’t pay much (if at all) so this is where you can collect. Keep in touch with people at your internships and contact them when you’re in the job search — whether or not you can or want to work there. To point #3, ask them to lunch and let them know what you’re looking to do. Call them up on a regular basis to check back in. You want to be top of mind when they hear of opportunities.
If your relationship is particularly good, ask if the company will allow you to work from a vacant desk while you job search. It gives you a professional base of operations, and also allows you to be in the water cooler talk of the organization.
5. Don’t take one interview or meeting for granted. Approach every meeting with the utmost professionalism — you never know who will refer you for a job. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve met with new college grads and they’ve done little to no research, show up in rumpled, unprofessional attire, and seem to be doing me a favor.
Do a Google search of each person and know their backgrounds. Have a grasp of their company and industry. Come with great questions to ask. And by all means, be crisply dressed in professional clothes (and shoes), with an organized briefcase.
6. Use some old-school tricks. Everyone knows it’s important to send a follow-up email to say thank you. But if you want to make a lasting impression, go a few steps further and mail personalized thank you cards. Take the time to write a thoughtful note explaining what specifically was helpful about the meeting.
Another old-school idea is to bring reference letters to the meeting. These are written by someone who can speak to your work ethic, such as a former employer or a professor. Letters show that others are willing to go above and beyond for you. They are so rarely used they make an immediate statement.
7. Do a social media audit of yourself. Prospective employers will search your name online if they are serious about hiring you. Make sure all your social media privacy controls are set, and take down anything that shows you in a light you’d rather not share. Employers can’t say this, but if someone smokes, or looks like a partier, they’re going to pass. Who wants a new hire who takes constant smoke breaks or comes in hungover?
For some of you, this may sound like a lot of well…work. And it is work. In fact, it’s exactly the same behavior employers will want to see after you’re hired. By demonstrating it now, you’re showing them what kind of employee you’ll be — a star performer.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
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