Early Career Lesson: The Thing I Wish I Knew

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More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?

I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.

I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.

After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.

If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.

When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.

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Are You Making the Most of Your College Years?

After listening to the #InternPro radio show the other evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were any college students taking notes. During this show, different Talent Acquisition Specialist and University Recruiters were able to provide some wonderful details in regard to internship and entry-level recruitment. Some of the tips and information were slightly surprising but honestly made sense. Being that I currently recruit for entry-level positions, I could confirm that I run into these issues regularly. More often than not, I hope that college students are taking the time to research the job markets that they will be entering soon. Also, I hope they are able to determine the things they need to do to make themselves an attractive candidate upon graduation.

It’s time to get real about your professional future:

  • College degrees are not enough: in some specialized instances, it may be. However, the college degree has become so common that it does not make a candidate special anymore. Think of it as if it were the high school diploma a few years back- a large amount of people have it. You need to be strategic and determine the best way to build soft skills, in and out of school.
  • Even entry level positions want some sort of experience: maybe your GPA is looking mighty fine but do you have any real world experience? It doesn’t necessarily have to be job related (even though that would be ideal), but recruiters are looking to see if you took initiative to build skills during college.
  • Don’t think you don’t have time: I get it, college class loads can be daunting to the point where you don’t believe that you have time to take on anything else. Maybe that’s true but getting a job isn’t the only way you can gain attractive experience. Join clubs, networking events, fraternities/sororities, volunteer, or intern. This can not only help you build skills but it could potentially help you network with people who will aid in your job search down the line.
  • Stop templating your resume format: I know that writing resumes from scratch is tough but using common key words and formatting will not do you any favors. Don’t use the common words to describe yourself on your resume, or if you do, make sure you have something to show so you can back it up (such as a portfolio).
  • Put your social media skills to good use: we all know how you’re an expert at social media but casually socializing on it isn’t its only function. Take time to build social media profiles that are professional and use it to build your personal brand. This can help you gain momentum before you’re ready to start your job search.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute: getting a job is really hard. It is time consuming, the interview process can be long, and you need to be strategic. Don’t wait until 2 weeks before graduation to look for job. Job searches can sometimes take several months (unfortunately, that seems to be more common than not these days), so make sure you start early so you aren’t left scrambling around graduation time.
  • Do your research: no one likes a job hopper and most candidates fall into that category because they are unhappy with the employer that they selected. To avoid making a bad choice or to avoid getting into a job-hopper scenario, make sure you take the time to research companies, their cultures, and so on. This can help you find out if it’s a good option and fit for you.

College is apparently some of the best years of your life but don’t let your fun and socializing stop you from keeping your eye on the prize. You need to make sure that everything you do during those years are going to help you when you are ready to enter in the workforce, so keep these tips in mind.

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How Are You Preparing The Future Workforce?

Recently, I was talking to Megan Burkett about her blog post that dealt with preparing college students and recent grads to make informed decisions when picking a major and career path. As we discussed our experiences with this, we reflected on the things we know now that we wish we knew then. Although life is about the journey and making mistakes to determine what is actually meant for us, I think all of us can agree that when it comes to our futures, we’d like to be a little more prepared. We would like to make sure that the decisions we make today are the ones that will help us get to our ultimate goal, even if there is some missteps and stumbling along the way. So in this respect- what are Gen Y and our future generations asking for? Some real, individual guidance.

Our teachers and advisers try to help us when it comes to deciding our degrees but more often than not, they aren’t able to give us the most informed overview of what this degree can do for us. Sure, they can throw around some general job titles that we might be able to land with a degree like that and maybe some of the required classes will give us an idea of some of the things we will be dealing with once we get into the working world. But the issue is: it’s so general. Many of us are left with little information to help is figure out what the next steps are to prepare for graduation and the working world. Do we take an internship? If so, what type of internship will be useful? What should we expect? Is the experience we get through these internships, college jobs, and classes going to be relevant to what we’re aiming for after graduation? Do we even know what we want to aim for outside of college?

More often than not, we are unprepared for what we’re going to face in the real world. What we thought a job or role would entail is completely different than we had assumed. We learn that we didn’t have right credentials or we need more experience and schooling to land the RIGHT job. We don’t know where to look or how to get noticed. We don’t know anything about company culture, searching for a company that has values that are aligned with ours, or the importance of a company that offers us a future beyond the entry-level job.

Our advisers, professors, mentors, and parents try hard to give us an idea of what we should expect but often times it’s not detailed enough to work for our individual questions and needs. Colleges and companies are taking great strides to perform career fairs and bring awareness to students, but is it enough? I don’t believe so.

I would love it if more mentors and leaders took the time to really listen to early careerists or students and provide better feedback to help them be proactive in an effective way. Teach these individuals about internships, externships, and other programs that will help them build the skills prior to looking for full-time work. Teach them the importance of networking, effective job seeking, and how to research company culture. If you’re a company, help create transparency and take the time to help these job seekers easily understand why they should work for you, what to expect, and determine if it’s a fit for them. Employment branding is important but sometimes these fancy words and campaigns don’t make much sense to people who haven’t had experience or business-know-how to determine the message. Bridge the gap and help them transition.

Gen Y will be dominating the work force before we know it. And with that being said, it’s important that we prepare them in the best way possible to ensure that our workforce will be strong from the get-go. What efforts are you making to help prepare, educate, and offer experience to the generations to come?

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Connect with Megan on Linkedin

Early Careerists: Are You Utilizing Linkedin Effectively?

Recently, a colleague of mine had mentioned that she spoke at the college where she had graduated from. She taught current students and soon-to-be graduates about the professional social media networking website, Linkedin. Some of the students informed her that adults or professors had advised them against using social media when it comes to landing internships and jobs. Other students weren’t really sure how a website like this would help them. Being that she is a talent acquisition specialist, she made sure she properly educated the students on why it is crucial for them to not only use this site regularly, but also to keep it updated and accurate.

As a student or early careerist (or anyone, really), here are some important things about using Linkedin:

  • Keep your resume updated and accurate: Recruiters aggressively use this site as a tool to search for candidates to fill their job and internship opportunities. Make sure you update your profile regularly to have the most recent experience and education present.
  • Make yourself searchable: if you’re in the market for work or looking for opportunities to gain experience, update your resume to be as visible as you feel comfortable. Additionally, research appropriate hot keywords that are relevant to your experience and education. Place these in your experience, summary, and skills section.
  • Respond in a timely manner: if you have a smartphone, make sure you download the app or have your emails forwarded to your phone. Since the recession, it seems like there are a ton of candidates available for limited positions, therefore, it’s important to respond ASAP to ensure you can secure a potential position before another candidate does.
  • Network: join in groups, participate in discussions, connect with individuals, and respond to emails. Linkedin is a great way to connect with people in the industry who can teach you about companies or roles you’d be great for. Additionally, individuals posting thought leadership questions in groups and links to great articles can make it be a great resource and learning tool.

I strongly agree with my colleague when it comes to this. I am also in a talent acquisition role and I currently rely on this site heavily when it comes to finding candidates to fit job openings that need to be filled immediately. I appreciate individuals that have detailed profiles because it helps me search for them and I appreciate those who respond to me in a timely manner. I also love it when candidates personally try to reach out to me to let me know that their interested in a job I have posted. These are the people who end up getting hired quicker because they made themselves available, present, responsive, and searchable.

Additional Links:

Are You Searchable?

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Early Careerists: Don’t Burn Yourself Out

Post written by: Vera Swain

Did I format my résumé correctly? Should I have included a cover letter? When I follow-up on the application who do I follow up with?! Such are the questions I and thousands of other job-seekers have asked ourselves during our job search, and for some of us, myself included, at times, we’re still not sure of the answers. Such are the trials of the dreaded job search. But these are trials we must all go through at one point, so how do we cope? How do we stay positive when it looks like no one wants us; why do we continue to apply when we believe no one’s reading the multitude of applications we’ve already put forth?

I’ve been applying for jobs since I was 15 years old. I guess you could say I was an über-early careerist. At that age, though, landing a job was a lot simpler. I went down to the local Taco Bell because it was within walking distance, I filled out an application, and I was hired on the spot. Then I went through hell for six months until I was 16 and could apply for a more lucrative position in the bakery of Atlanta Bread Company. Today, the job search could still be done this way. Taco Bell is still open and doing better than ever. But now that I’ve been out of college for a few years and am officially an adult, this isn’t the kind of job search I’m embarking on lately. It seems that once you walk across the stage, diploma in hand, you’re no longer allowed to fill out paper applications for jobs. The job you want involves an online application to which you must attach a résumé and a cover letter and maybe even references. No longer do you complete your application, walk up to the cash register and say, “Is your manager here?” And just like much of your adult life, this new job search is a lot more stressful than it was as a teen.

So, how do we make the process less stressful? How do we see the light when it seems like the end of the tunnel is barricaded by a brick wall, ten feet high? Follow these simple steps and you may be able to survive the job search with your sanity intact:

1. Slow down. I know your instincts might be telling you that you need to apply to as many jobs as possible because with more worms, you’re bound to catch at least one fish. I think, at the height of my job search madness, I once applied for at least 50 jobs in one day. This was when I moved to Las Vegas after graduating college and I was determined to find a job in hospitality. I don’t know about you, but filling out one application is stressful enough; imagine 50! Slow down. Take a break. Do two to three applications a day. You can’t devote the proper attention and time needed for an application if you’re doing this many at a time. Write cover letters. Customize your resume. Breathe.

2. Network, network, network. I’ve found that networking has helped me alleviate some of the strain of the job search because it makes me feel like I’ve got a team on my side. Through networking, I’ve been able to gain access to recruiters and hiring managers I never would’ve found if I didn’t know who I know. Talk to your friends; if they’ve got a job you admire or work for a company you’d like to work for, see if they can connect you to a recruiter at their workplace. Use LinkedIn. I’ve been introduced to several recruiters and hiring managers by a friend who is a very avid LinkedIn user. When your friends and previous coworkers can help you in your job search, it takes a large weight off your shoulders.

3. Read. Do your research on performing an effective job search. There are countless books on the market on how to go about finding a job. These books can help you find new methods when it seems like you’re not doing anything right. In addition to these books, read articles on the Internet. I’ve learned so much about constructing a cover letter, strengthening my resume, and contacting recruiters through articles I’ve read on the Web and books I’ve borrowed from the library.

4. Have a drink and RELAX. Sometimes the easiest way to de-stress is the most obvious. Take a break when your eyes start to blur. Ride your bike. Watch a movie. Go out with friends. Clearing your head will better prepare you to tackle your next round of applications and will give you a new lease on the process.

I know the job search can be stressful. I’m actively searching. But it doesn’t have to be maddening. Use your resources, relax, and breathe. You’ll find the job you’re looking for because you’re experienced and suited to it, not because you drove yourself crazy looking. And when you do, let me know; I’ll treat you to the drink I mentioned above.

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About the writer:

 Vera Swain is a young professional who is active in the job market. Currently, she is seeking a position in Marketing in the Los Angeles area as she is in the midst of relocating from one coast to the other. When not writing and job searching, Vera can be found with her nose in a book on her feet on the dance floor. Always seeking adventure, she is an avid traveler who loves to see and experience new things, especially food. To hear more from Vera, follow her on Twitter at @swverausc214 or check out her LinkedIn profile here.

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