Dear Class of 2012:
As you head into the post-academic world, you have an opportunity to design your own career destiny and I encourage you to tap the power you have within you. You earned your degree with a tremendous amount of effort, time, and, more than likely, a big financial investment that may also translate into significant student loan debt. As you begin your career journey, I share this wisdom to help you find your way in the world-of-work.
Your First Job Won't Be Your Last: Studies show that adults change careers (not just jobs) five to seven times throughout their working lives. So, test drive jobs and see if they are career worthy and don't settle for roles that don't play to your strengths. Your first job out of the gate is a single step on a lifelong career path and you have the right to change your mind as often as you like.
Networking 90/10 Rule: You know how important it is to build your professional community and connect with people to tap the hidden job market. Plan to spend 90 percent of your time being seen and heard so others can consider you for opportunities. Social media is a great way to network but only spend 10 percent of your time behind your computer so you maximize in-person connections that will distinguish you beyond the competition.
The Zig Zaggers: Since career changing is expected, understand the power and the liability of Zig Zagging when changing jobs often. You will be perceived as a flight risk if you don't stay in a job long enough to earn your worth but you can also be a wealth of new ideas for an organization that needs your skills and experiences. Consider your movement wisely and understand the career world is small -- never burn a bridge and maintain professional connections especially when you move away from a job.
Empower your Network: In addition to the graduation well wishers, your friends and family are probably asking how they can help. Accept their gracious offers and tell them what you do well so they know how to connect you with their circles of influence. If you have specific organizations you want to work for, ask your network to check their Rolodexes and LinkedIn connections to see if they can make a personal referral. Share your strengths story so your network has an easy to remember conversation to share with others that illustrates what makes you unique and employable.
Be a Skills Agent: It's OK if you still don't know exactly what you want to do career wise. This is the time for informational interviews and test driving. But, you must have a clear picture of your professional strengths and competencies so recruiters and employers can help you fit into a role in their organization. Don't focus on job titles but rather focus on concrete skills examples that illustrate what you do well.
Minimize Email: You understand the power of networking and now you are on a mission to email as many people as you can to get the ball rolling in your job search. STOP! Busy professionals get hundreds of emails a day. Distinguish yourself by picking up the phone. Leave an articulate voicemail if necessary and use a script until it becomes second nature. The goal is to eventually meet in-person but a phone call is the best way to set yourself apart from the myriad of others in the job hunt.
Are You LinkedIn?: With 150 million members (that number grows daily) LinkedIn is the number one professional networking resource out there. Recruiters and headhunters troll this site regularly searching for new talent. Fill out your profile in total, use a professional photo, and seek out recommendations to endorse you for specific skills and accomplishments. Join Groups, participate in discussions, and use this tool often and to your best advantage. A dormant LinkedIn account will do you no good.
Be Your Own Best PR Agent: You should be packing your resume, personal business cards, and your professional portfolio with you everywhere you go. Seriously, you need to become your best self advocate and be ready to discuss how you bring value to an organization at all times. You are responsible to market yourself and in this ultra competitive market, there is no such thing as top of the class entitlement. I don't care where you minted your degree or how high your GPA is -- you must be able to showcase what you do well in an articulate conversation and demonstrate your emotional intelligence and your strengths.
Take a Risk: So perhaps your dream job does not materialize right off the bat but another opportunity does surface. Take a risk, try something new, and expand your comfort zone. You may just find something you love and an accidental career you would have never considered otherwise. The greatest risk is not taking one at all. You are also more employable when already employed.
Eye Contact is Imperative: This is the generation of technology but in all likelihood, you will be working with people from a variety of generations and these folks really value good old fashioned eye contact. It builds trust and rapport and if you are interested in a career where you will interact with humans in any capacity, eye contact is imperative. Observe the power of eye contact in a conversation and likewise how uncomfortable it is when someone won't look you in the eye. Think about it -- eye contact will never go out of fashion so use it well.
Be a Solution Provider: It's easy to go into the job search focusing on what you want. While that is important you must also be a solution provider. In our current economy you may land contract or temporary work that leads to full-time permanent work so be industrious and lead with I Believe I Can Help You...and provide a solution to an issue or concern.
Own Your Self-Confidence! Walk tall and learn to speak with humble confidence about what you do well. If you approach a networking conversation or an interview with confidence it will enhance your marketability tenfold. You need not be perfect just out of the gate (or ever!) but believe in your abilities and others will as well.
Be Resilient: One of the most sought after competencies by employers is the ability to deal with adversity and change. It's tough out there in the real world and it doesn't get any easier once you land a job. Showcase your resilience and be ready to discuss how you have overcome challenges, including how you are dealing with a tough job market. Proving you are resilient may land you an opportunity.
The Class of 2012 is the succession plan for the future. You have the opportunity to identify your passion, carve out a niche for yourself, and thrive in a career knowing that you can always change direction. The challenge is yours as well as the responsibility. Create relationships with influencers and connectors and be ready to talk about what makes you unique. Someday soon you'll be tapped to help future graduating classes find their way in the career world and this will be your chance to pay-it-forward.
Celebrate the successes you have earned -- I am cheering you on all the way. Now the tougher journey has begun but I have confidence that you will succeed if you assume the responsibility and take the power you have and use it wisely.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name (www.carolinedowdhiggins.com) She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET http://sky.radio.com/shows/coach-me/
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