I recently had the pleasure of welcoming a young woman into the office as my new Manager of Business and Client Services. Contrary to popular belief about the millennial generation, her energy, enthusiasm, and dare I say new way of looking at things has definitely put a spring in our step here at Klaus & Associates. So, with graduation ceremonies a hazy memory, and the harsh reality of a job search beginning to set in, I thought it would be helpful for recent grads and anyone else worried about their job prospects to hear Natalie’s insights as to what she wished she had learned in her four years in the ivy covered walls of the UC system. And, like all millennials, she will be posting this on Twitter and Facebook.
What My Education Failed to Teach Me – Written By Natalie States
I grew up in one of those highly competitive academic environments where straight A’s were expected, not celebrated, and test scores were more important than the information I was supposed to retain. Throughout middle school and high school my peers and I were perfectionists, relentlessly competing with one another to get the best grades and receive the highest test scores. By the time I was in college this skewed perspective on grades in lieu of true learning was engrained in me. I thought straight A’s were all it takes to be a success and assumed by the time I was out of school, all my career goals would naturally fall into my lap. However, this belief came crashing down on me very quickly upon graduating from college, as I found myself face to face with challenges that required a depth of knowledge and skill I had never acquired.
I just turned 27 years old, and after 5 years of floundering in dead end jobs I am only now beginning to understand and master the skills that my 16 years of education and a college degree neglected to offer me. As summer nears to an end and I see the UC Berkley students flooding back into town, I can’t help but think back and wonder what I wish I had learned in college and how that knowledge could have better prepared me for the real world.
Success does not come easily, you must work for it
When I first graduated from college, I sent out four or five resumes expecting to receive back invitations from each position to interview. When not one of those five contacted me, I became frustrated, confused and angry. How come this job search wasn’t easy? After all, I had gotten the pre-requisite college degree and I had a 3.8 average to boot. What was the problem?
Well, as I found out the hard way, the problem was two fold: first, my attitude that it was going to be easy, and second, I believed my resume would speak for me. It wasn’t until much later that I learned how essential it is not only to follow up with job opportunities and make it clear to every potential employer why they should be as enthusiastic about hiring me as I was about getting the position. I had to utilize my connections and take every chance possible to get my foot in the door. And most importantly, I couldn’t just wing my interviews. Through a good deal of bad interviews, I became aware that preparation and rehearsal are essential in order for me to portray my most authentic and qualified self to my prospective employers.
How to stand out in an interview
While almost everyone comes prepared to interviews with uninspired answers to hypothetical questions about their strengths as workers, “I am great under stress” or “I work well with others,” many people are lacking real life examples in which their qualifications have been put into action. In order to stand out from the crowd I created entertaining narratives that exemplified my past successes. In this way prospective employers did not just hear that I can do something but they learn how I do it.
The importance of small talk and networking
As a shy kid, I hated making small talk. In fact, and I wince as I admit this, when I was in college I would often have my earphones in, even when I wasn’t listening to music, just to escape conversation with awkward acquaintances as I walked around campus. To this day, the idea of making conversation with strangers makes me a little nervous. But over time I realized how necessary it is for me to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to successfully network with others and create potential career connections. I now keep a goody bag of stories and factoids readily available to share with others. These stories allow me to create memorable impressions with those individuals who might potentially advance my career. Oh, and I’ve taken the earphones out too.
Executive Presence is not just for executives
Growing up in California where most work environments are rather laid back I adopted that casual vibe in the way I dressed, my language and even my energy level. But, as I gained more employment experience and found myself often struggling to attain the respect that I felt my expertise and experience deserved, I soon realized the significance of executive presence. I began to dress more formally at work (even when it meant I was the only one not wearing jeans), I worked on improving my speech patterns eliminating upward inflection and filler words such as like, and assumed a more professional tone when speaking to clients-like saying “Hello” instead of “Hey” when welcoming people into the office. These habits not only boosted my own self-confidence but also the confidence of my employers. Almost immediately I began to get more responsibility, more money and more opportunities.
Be open to feedback
As someone who was always striving to be perfect, I often viewed feedback as an attack on my work and me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Now that I have more confidence in my abilities I have learned to appreciate feedback as a tool for improvement. Feedback from my bosses and peers not only helps me to recognize what I am doing well, it also allows me identify the areas in which I can grow. When done properly feedback is not meant as a way to hurt my ego but rather someone’s way of helping me to reach my full potential.
I know now that it is normal to lack confidence when you first graduate from college because for many it’s the first time that you are experiencing the real world with no safety net. I know how easy it is to think “Why would anyone want to hire me, I haven’t done anything really important.” But you have to remember even if you don’t have the skills yet, you’re smart, capable and whatever you don’t know you can learn. That being said, it would have been nice if my 16 years of schooling and thousands of dollars in tuition had actually taught me these soft skills.