Congratulations, graduates! You’ve worked hard for the past four (or six or eight) years and are rightfully proud of yourself. But as you head out into the brutal workplace armed with proof of your smarts and persistence, don’t expect too much from those shiny new credentials.
While a good education is never wasted, your diploma isn’t stamped “admit one job seeker to the opportunity of a lifetime.” In fact, says Ben Carpenter, it might as well read, “I’m a member of Gen Y and I may not have what it takes.”
That’s right. Too many hiring managers—66 percent according to one survey—think today’s new graduates just aren’t prepared to enter the workforce.
“Many of them cite details like typos on résumés as reasons why they don’t want to hire a new college graduate,” says Carpenter, author of the new book The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00). “But it’s not the typo that really matters—it’s what it says about you. Your communication skills. Your work ethic. Your attitude toward details. Your drive to do what it takes to get the job.
“Of course, the typo is only one tiny example,” he clarifies. “There are lots of ways to inadvertently live up to the bad rap new grads get. My point is that too many people already assume you can’t hack it in the real world. It’s up to you to prove them wrong.”
To do so, you have to know what the real world values in the first place. And that’s the point of The Bigs. Using a combination of detailed, colorful anecdotes and tactical advice, Carpenter lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job. Having done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company, Carpenter is the perfect coach.
Here, he shares what college grads need to know right now in order to stack the odds for professional success:
Things you need to know while you’re looking for a job
Don’t think about what you want to do. Think about what you can do. You’re probably trying to find a job that will fuel your passion and make you happy. If so, Carpenter’s first piece of advice might feel like a cold wake-up call: Spend less time figuring out what you want to do and more time thinking about what you can do. In other words, seek out a career doing something that you’re good at.
“Choosing a career you can do well, rather than one that seems fun and exciting, might sound unappealing—but it isn’t,” he states. “The satisfaction you get from doing your job well will far outweigh how entertaining it is. Plus, think about how unhappy you’d be if your heart’s desire failed to pay the bills. From personal experience, as well as from observing family, friends, and coworkers, I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side,” he adds.
Always ask yourself, What’s my edge? In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?
“This is a great question to ask yourself in a multitude of professional scenarios, not just when you’re interviewing,” says Carpenter. “If you’re starting a business, it can help you to define your product or service’s niche. If you’re going after a promotion, it can help differentiate you from your coworkers. In all situations, it will help you define how you can become your personal best.”
Be creative and bold. Long gone are the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as you, so if you want to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, you’ll need to stand out. For instance:
• Instead of sending out a résumé that will probably get lost in HR Purgatory, stand outside Company XYZ’s offices with a cardboard sign that reads, “Please let me tell you why I’m the person you want to fill the junior systems analyst position you posted on Monster.com.”
• If you’re interested in a graphic design position, create a mockup redesign of the company’s website. Then send it to the prospective employer with the headline, “Get ready to be blown away by your new look!”
“Or take a page from a friend of mine’s book: After identifying her dream job, she walked right into the ‘big boss’s’ office, handed him her résumé, and told him she’d call him later that afternoon,” recounts Carpenter. “The tougher the situation, the less you have to lose—so the more radical your actions should be. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get the job.”
Understand whose problem you’re trying to solve. Carpenter emphasizes that the key to being offered a job is showing the interviewer that his or her company needs you.
“Most young people I interview think their goal is to convince me how smart, accomplished, or nice they are,” he shares. “And yes, those are all laudable qualities. But the fact is, I’m not looking for Miss or Mister Congeniality. I’m looking for the best person to help my company succeed! In other words, interviews aren’t about solving your problem (finding a job); they’re about solving the employer’s problem. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to support that goal. Before sharing something about yourself, consider why the person sitting across from you should care.”