Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
This is the time of year that recent college grads are scrambling to find a job. I often get asked what they can do to best prepare for the job market. My recommendation is fairly unique. It is not the typical focus on problem solving skills, communication skills and perhaps computer skills. I’m not saying those are not good things to have, but in my experience as a coach who has helped launched many college grads to their first professional position, I would offer a different approach.
I call it SELF-AWARENESS and TELLING YOUR STORY. Who are you, and what makes you tick? By the time you have graduated from college you should have had enough projects, challenges, team interactions, feedback and accomplishments to begin to see what kind of professional person you are starting to be. What kind of achiever you are, what is your style? What brings out the best in you? What have you done that shows your strengths and capabilities? This is vital information for potential employers, and they are very impressed to meet a young person who knows who they are and what they can contribute.
Here are three case studies:
Susan graduated from college with a business degree. She graduated in the top 5% of class. She describes herself as focused, serious, achievement oriented and undaunted by a challenge. She explains she has wanted to work from the time she was 8 years old and first grasped an understanding of going to work. She had a job since she was 13 year old, first working for her parents who were real estate agents, then, when she was 16 she started working at a local CPA office doing increasingly more complex tasks as she asked questions and learned. She positions herself as hardworking, focused, alert and also a team leader. She was the head of the student marketing association; created and managed a new student business newspaper with a staff of five. She was typically the leader of class projects.
She enjoyed professors who gave challenging projects, especially group projects where she could lead. She brought with her to job interviews examples of the projects that earned the team As. She brought along her worksheets with clear roles and responsibilities showing how she updated the worksheets as the projects continued. She is thorough and believes in advance planning. She had requested and collected reference letters from six of her professors and all of the employers she ever worked for.
This is a young woman who was ‘on top of things’ and she was immediately hired by one of the top technology companies in Silicon Valley, her first choice! Susan is clearly an exceptional young woman and it’s no surprise to hear that 15 years later she is a Vice President of Marketing at one of the largest tech companies. Incidentally, she married a man who is the stay-at-home dad to their three children and loves being the primary breadwinner.
Tom graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He is an introvert who positioned himself as a serious math, science type since he was a child, always fascinated with becoming an engineer. He had to stretch and get a tutor for his English classes but he said he’s the kind of person who applies his strengths, realizing he needs to work harder in areas that don’t come as naturally easy to him. In fact, he said he developed leadership skills because his college counselor suggested he needed learn to work better with others. So he got a team together to build a small kit airplane with a small, soft model first.
He brought that model into his interview at NASA and the interviewer was so impressed that he asked if he could borrow it. He returned it on the day Tom started to work for him! Tom didn’t realize that he had anything ‘special’ to offer until we reflected on his college experiences, including heading up a team to build the plane! I coached him on telling his story in a way that showed his natural interests and skills but also showed that he was mature enough to listen to advice on how to grow in more challenging areas to grow.
Peter graduated college as a history major. He had some series obstacles to overcome. Peter is legally blind, yet with appropriate technology, he can work professionally. His story includes the vision problem as it also contributes to his character, his style and his resourcefulness. He was born with degenerative eye disease and was fortunate his parents got him trained in mobility and technology early on. Sadly, he was also in a plane crash that resulted in a year being bedridden. Yes, Peter’s story focuses on overcoming challenges, but he also has a great sense of humor, loves to tell stories and spent summers working in corporations where he did phone sale effectively. He does best with strong managers who structure his goals for him so he can plan his tactics.
Peter majored in history and has an uncanny love of going to original source materials and creating unique new versions of events. He explained that to his interviewers, yet some were clearly turned off or intimidated by his walking stick or his visible eye problems. We researched to find the larger companies that provide the visual augmentation technology he needed. Peter was confident in who he is, his story and how to tell it, and how he can create value for an employer. He found just the right manager who saw how his creative personality would add value to the sales team and the development of the sales success stories.
So, college grades, know thyself, and know how to communicate your unique story and your unique style and value-add. Many recent college grads do not take the time to do this or just don’t know that it will be valuable. But is it. And it can be just the thing that sets you apart from your competition, and earns you that first professional job.
Onward to your career success,