Tell you what, I’ll meet you halfway on this. Having recently been asked by a local non-profit to prepare a presentation on the “Top 10 Tips for Young Professionals” to be delivered in April, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the best advice I could give to aspiring professionals who are just starting out in the working world. Given the I routinely work with people who are older and more established in their careers, it’s an intriguing challenge to tease out the advice that might be most appropriate to this particular age group.
Up to this point, I’ve come up with five pieces of advice I feel pretty comfortable with — and passionate about sharing — and I have a number of ideas I’m milling around in my head to see if I think they’d resonate with the type of audience in question. But if any of you have worked closely with people in this demographic, or can catapult yourself back to the early days of your own career and envision things you’d wish YOU’D known when you were just starting out, I’d certainly love to hear your comments/ideas!
Here are some thoughts I’ve cobbed together thus far:
1) Drop the entitlement attitude and be willing to pay your dues. In my experience, and that of many hiring managers I’ve chatted with, twentysomethings can frequently come across as having unrealistic unexpectations about their marketability, titles, and earning potential when just starting out. In fact, I’ve met a number of new graduates who seem to expect to slide right into the corner office, their very first year on the job, versus fetching coffee or doing whatever needs to be done to get ahead in the organization. Until Gen Y rules the world, however, this attitude is going to continue to be the bane of many early-career professionals. While a certain amount of confidence is admirable, most younger candidates will get farther, faster if they drop the attitude and show a willingness to bust their butt for their next potential employer. Language like “I’m willing to pay my dues” or ” I just need a chance to prove myself” tends to strike a major happy chord with many managers over the age of 40. After all, most of us bet on ourselves in this fashion, back in the day — and this sweat equity ended up paying off with opportunities to quickly advance!
2) Milk your education for all it’s worth. If you went to college, you (or your parents) likely spent a LOT of money on your education these past few years. Make sure you maximize this investment during the course of your job search. Don’t short-change yourself by simply listing your degree in one-line fashion. Deck your education section out fully and mention any honors, activities, special projects, or specific courses/classwork you completed that might be relevant to your future target field. What’s more, go the extra mile by engaging in a concentrated course of self-study related to the jobs you’re trying to get — listing some of the books, blogs, professional associations, and other learning sources you’re consulting regularly to “get smart” on your desired occupation in a hurry. Oh yeah. And the career center and/or alumni office of your alma mater? Leverage the heck out of it to build some bridges into the working world. Such resources seem to be chronically underutilized.
3) Skew your efforts toward organizations that hire young professionals. Simple data mining makes it easy to find companies that routinely hire younger candidates with little or no experience. Search LinkedIn for people with the title “campus recruiter” in their profile. Keep your eyes peeled for organizations that host campus job fairs or sponsor promotional events aimed at student populations. Pay attention (duh) to the places where lots of your classmates get hired. And scan job sites like SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com for relevant keyword/phrases: e.g. new graduates, entry-level, no experience, willing to train, management training program, and any other terms that might signal an organization willing to hire somebody without a ton of hands-on experience.
4) Ditch Facebook; learn LinkedIn. Okay, sure, Facebook can definitely play a role in effective networking and many companies are starting to use the site more in more in a professional capacity. But at the end of the day, LinkedIn is still light-years ahead in terms of being a viable job-finding resource. So if you (or your college-age child) still hasn’t learned the difference between these two social media sites, and isn’t leveraging LinkedIn to engender referrals to the right kinds of people around town, this could be a huge area for improvement. No matter what field a young professional might be seeking to enter, you’ll find thousands of relevant recruiters, executives, and hiring managers on LinkedIn who might be a mere one or two “warm” relationships away — and ripe for referral possibilities.
5) Do lots of informational interviewing; just don’t call it that! Others may disagree with me on this one, but after seeing decade after decade of new graduates go through the motions of asking for “informational interviews” with companies — without really following through or having a clear agenda — I think the phrase itself has lost its luster. Not to mention the fact that the term was invented well before we had the ability to jump on a company’s website and absorb as much “information” as we could ever possibly want about an organization, their products, and how they do business. So while doing serious career research is still an important part of success for the ambitious new graduate, and a way to acquire invaluable advice from people already established in a given field, don’t go about it lightly. Do your homework first, formulate some intelligent questions, and then (and only then) approach some appropriate industry veterans to ask for “career advice” and help validating some “career research” you’ve conducted. Show a little spunk, conduct the meeting successfully, and who knows? That positive impression might get you on the short list for a potential new role or lead to the perfect job referral!