What Every Grad Should Know About Their First Job

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Chapel Hill, N.C. — Dec. 11
For most college seniors returning home after final exams, this holiday season will be more about resumes and networking than laundry and mom’s cooking. This year’s graduating class will enter one of the tightest job markets in history, according to recent surveys of top companies. Compounding shrinking employment indicators is the fact that most college graduates lack the basic skills to compete for the jobs they want.

“The question I hear most often from concerned parents is why their son or daughter cannot find a good job,” said Jim Ratliff, vice chairman of talent management firm Career Partners International and chairman of Cleveland-based Ratliff & Taylor.

“The reason is not about the degree or work experience, but the lack of fundamental job-search skills. They are simply not prepared to compete effectively against more seasoned interviewees vying for those same positions.”

Career Partners International hosts job-search seminars for young adults preparing to enter the job market. “We kick off our seminars by saying that college degrees open doors, but they absolutely do not guarantee a good job. To get that first career job, you must have good job search skills,” said Ratliff.

Tap Into Job-Search Resources
As a first step, college students need to tap into the resources offered by on-campus career centers. “Many of these campus career centers offer a wealth of job-search support through a professional staff, but many students claim they are either too busy or wait until after graduation before they seek assistance,” said Ratliff. “Given the job market, perhaps colleges and universities should consider making job-search seminars mandatory so their students are prepared.”

Additionally, students can work with an outside job-search coach. “Job-search preparation requires a serious investment of personal time to learn the process, and there are no shortcuts,” said Ratliff. “With a coach, the student goes through a self-assessment and strategy session to identify potential employers in their market, as well as help with resume development, cover letters, references, networking and interviewing — all culminating in finding that excellent opportunity.”

Conduct an Effective Interview

Effective interviewing is the single-most important skill every student needs to master, according to Ratliff. “Strong interviews are the difference between winning and losing a job opportunity.”

Ratliff recommends the following five basic steps:

  • Work with a counselor, coach or other professional to host a mock interview practice session with concise answers to a variety of frequently asked questions.
  • Translate your school/work/life experiences to contributions you’ll make to the organization. Learn to speak convincingly about your marketable skills, achievements and honors.
  • Script and verbalize a concise, two-minute answer to: “Tell me about yourself.”
  • Do your homework. Understand the job description, responsibilities, salary range and the company’s key products or services.
  • Present a prepared, professional image. Dress appropriately.

Take Advantage of New Job-Search Technology

Today’s college graduates do have one big advantage over other job seekers: They are “digital natives,” comfortable with emerging social media tools that are excellent sources for professional networking. Ratliff recommended that students use sites such as LinkedIn, as well as wikis and blogs, to build a social network that can lead to potential job opportunities.

“We also recommend that students consider outsourced online career services such Career Partners 24×7 and other job search Web-based technologies,” said Ratliff. “The Web offers virtually unlimited possibilities for students to do their research and make connections that would otherwise be impossible or incredibly time-consuming.”

In the 20 years that Ratliff has been working with professionals and students, he has seen both the pitfalls of inexperience and the rewards of a well-planned job search.

“In a turbulent economy, good jobs are even tougher to come by, so it is paramount that college grads invest the time, energy and resources into a strong job search,” said Ratliff. “There is no bigger investment you can make in your future than finding a good job and a meaningful career.”

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