Lessons Learned About My College Self, 25 Years Later

I graduated 25 years ago. There…. I said it. I may feel like a much younger person in my mind but the age on my license cannot lie. Last weekend I traveled back to St. Louis for my 25th college reunion. This was my first time back to campus since the day I graduated in May 1992 … and it was surreal. Part of me was trying to recall the memories of certain places, smells and feelings of being 19 years old on campus. Another part was very clear on remembering the footsteps taken up the worn stairs to the library or the pit in my stomach when entering my Calculus classroom. The best part was many of my close friends, dispersed around the country, all came back to experience this together. Time did not affect our ability to instantly reconnect and we truly enjoy being together. On one of the many long walks we took together exploring the campus, a friend asked, “Do you feel that this was the right school for you or would you have done it differently? Any regrets?”

I had not really thought about the path I had set upon when starting college and if it was the path I intended on taking. I have learned many things since graduating that have given me insight. Here is what I would tell my “college self” about lessons learned:

  • Strive for Your Best Self – Not the Best Self of Others – I felt very much in the right place when I started college. I enjoyed being in the Midwest where the people were genuinely friendly and welcoming and I was in an academic environment that was challenging. However, I felt that I was on the lower end of the level of students that were at school. There were some very high achieving students who knew what they wanted from the moment they entered college: Pre-Med, Pre-Law, Architecture etc., with incredibly high aspirations that were intimidating. Although I was studying business, I did not have a clear direction for what I wanted to do or how to go about doing it. I learned that college is a bubble and you tend to compare yourself in that bubble…but that is not reality. When I started a new job after graduation, colleagues were not interested in my GPA or who I was competing against. It was more about my own experiences and opportunities taken rather than how I fared against the pack. The lesson is to not compare yourself to everyone else. You have talents that will bring you success in the right environment…it may not necessarily be gained in the college classroom.
  • The Path You Pick May Be Very Different to the Path You Take – The best part of the weekend was finding out what someone did for the last 25 years in a 10-minute conversation. One friend was a Spanish and Economics double major and landed a choice job on Wall Street and realized she hated it. When she then decided to pursue a medical degree, she re-entered school to take the required courses, applied to medical school and is now a Critical Care Physician at a Pennsylvania hospital, and loves it. Another friend who was in the business school aspired to be a gemologist. Soon after graduating she met someone who was in broadcasting and turned her on to the idea of being a news anchor. She pursued her Masters in Communications and became a reporter and then news anchor for major TV stations in Atlanta and Baltimore. The point is that you do not have to have your life perfectly figured out in college. You still need to work hard and expose yourself to a lot of people, classes and interests. The lesson is that your path may take different turns until you figure out what is right for you…and it may not happen in college. Look on LinkedIn and see what people studied and then see what their occupation is…it is usually very different.
  • Build Your Networks Using All the Resources Around You – A common theme throughout conversations with friends was the lack of direction and the perceived lack of support from professors and the university to guide us. We all had notion of “they should have done more to help us”. It was a selfish point of view in that we expected things to be done for us without investing the time ourselves. We laughed that we did not even know where the Career Services office existed on campus. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with the head of Career Services on campus to learn about how they guide students today and what has changed in the time since I left. The University has made significant strides to provide layers of support to students with multiple advisers and professors to guide them from day one. They even relocated the Career Services office to the Student Center and has made it an integral part of everyday life which has been quite beneficial to students. The biggest regret I have is that I did not network well or make use of the resources on campus. Keep in mind that there were no cell phones, internet and the first MAC computers were just released. However, I could have done a better job to meet with professors, join a few more clubs or just keep in touch better with classmates to maintain a strong network. The same holds true for students now. Leverage all of the resources around you, regardless of whether you think the school is doing enough for you. The onus is on you, not the school.

If I had to do it all over, I would not have changed the path I took. I got a great education, made fantastic friends, met my husband in college, and secured a job on my own before graduation. The thing I remember the most is that I really learned how to think—about solving problems, making decisions and analyzing how to move forward. I am trying to figure out what degree to get next so I can find a reason to go back.

If you know a student who is trying figure out their path and leverage the networks around them to get an internship or job out of college, we can help. Please visit Next Great Step to learn how we help bridge the gap from college to the real world.

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Jobs for Recent Grads: How Parents Can Help (or Hinder)

Parents are increasingly concerned about their student’s employment during and after college. As a result, they have become more involved in their grown children’s search for jobs and summer internships. The involvement is understandable…competition for these positions grow with yet another 1.8 million students graduating this May. Parents are anxious to get a return on their investment in four (or more) years of tuition, as well as getting their child financially independent as soon as possible to manage any outstanding debt from student loans and move out.

When your student asks you to help out, do you step in and show them the way, OR step aside and let them figure it out? Here is some advice on how to navigate this balance of where your role as a parent fits into their job search… and when it may be too much.

Helping vs. Doing

Read their resume, cover letters, thank you notes and LinkedIn profile – but don’t create them. These should be reviewed primarily for spelling, grammar and formatting – you can offer advice on content but you should not write it. It’s hard to resist writing but encourage your student to edit based on your ideas and let them write it. Interviewees have an easier time when they are articulating their own work, rather than the words of their parents.

Preparation vs. Execution

So much behind the scenes work goes into the job search. Talk to your student about their skills so they can prepare for an interview. Make sure their story is concise and focused so they know what to say to a hiring manager. Help conduct mock interviews so they can practice with a safe audience. Then, let them go on their own.

Mentor vs. Partner

Simply said, you are not a team. You are not both looking for a millennial job. If a parent has interview/hiring experience, industry related experience, or specific company knowledge, then by all means, there should be conversations where your child can learn about the process. Giving guidance on who to connect with and some do’s and don’ts regarding office etiquette are great. However, think about how you would mentor a friend’s child and advice you would offer to someone you are not related to if you were trying to help them along.

Introduce vs. Connect

It is great to make introductions but your child must be the one to set up the meeting, communicate directly and follow up promptly. The student needs to be prepared and cannot assume they will get the job based on the relationship. Encourage your student to network and talk with more people face to face, over video or over the phone.  Passively applying to jobs online has a very low success rate.

Encourage vs. Hover

This one is hard…Give them space. As much as it is stressful about the future of your student’s employment, you need to let them work through the process. It takes time, patience and perseverance. The more you can support them and be a sounding board, they will start to realize how smart you are. Giving them an opportunity to move forward, and realize successes and/or failures, is the what they need for their future independence.

A few thoughts on when a parent might have gone too far. If you are writing letters for your student, making phone calls to employers on their behalf and actively searching job opportunities for them on a daily basis, it’s time to take it down a notch. We all want the best for our kids, we just need to give them a chance.

Some times having an experienced career coach can help balance this delicate relationship….and take the pressure off both student and parent with this daunting task of seeking employment. If you want to learn more how we guide students to success in getting a job or internship, visit Next Great Step.

5 Secrets to Landing an Internship or Job Out of College

This is the time of year when Juniors and Seniors are focused on getting a summer internship or job after graduation. Campus recruiters may have come in the Fall to hand pick a few candidates but many students are still looking for work. Common questions asked of me are, “What does it take to get hired?” orWhat do other students have that I don’t?” Some students think their GPA is not high enough. Others are worried that they are not good enough or not graduating from a “top” school. After guiding students through this process here are five secrets that help a student to stand out and land the job:

  1. Be Focused. Students who know what type of opportunity they want and why they want it have more success. The head of campus recruiting for a top financial firm recently shared with me, “We don’t want a candidate who says I want to be in finance. We want them to be specific and express which department they want to work for…such as securities, investment banking or wealth management.” She stated that students don’t necessarily need to have extensive experience in a certain area but must explain why they want it and what they have done to show how they are competent in certain skills sets.
  2. Stand in the Employer’s Shoes. Although you are the one looking for work, it’s not just about you. Students that anticipate what the employer is worried about or focused on will better relate to them and have greater success. Students should be able to answer the question “What does a CEO/Department Head/Manager worry about?” The simple answer is money. However, there are many metrics that companies worry about…profit, number of units produced, time to market, customer service, etc. Students that demonstrate their understanding of what is important to an employer and then show ways how to make them more successful have greater impact.
  3. Connect with Everyone. Students have an incredible network all around them from fellow students, professors, parents and alumni. The students who network and form relationships with these contacts can leverage them to help find opportunities – much more easily than applying online. Also, a family member may make an introduction, but that does not guarantee the student gets the job. Too often students think that if Mom or Dad introduces them to a contact, “I’m in!”, not always. Students who establish a relationship on their own merit and make it clear to a person why you could add value to them puts them ahead. Those that connect with Alumni have the most success—they love talking to students. Use the LinkedIn Alumni tool.
  4. Be Prepared. Google can tell you so much about a person and company that you are interviewing with. Students who show they researched the latest press release and company initiatives will make a good impression. Look up the person on LinkedIn and take note of their experiences. This will help you establish a better rapport with the contact. You want to express that you have done your homework and know the basics of what the company does.
  5. Persist and Persevere. This one is hard. A single email, letter or phone call will often not be enough when trying to contact someone. Employers are dealing with many candidates, in addition to day to day business, and often do not respond on the first try. Many students get discouraged and think that if someone doesn’t reply after a single attempt that they have no chance…not so. The students who continually follow up to show interest and persist to get a meeting or conversation with a contact separates them from the others. See my “Why Are Our Graduates So Fragile?” blog for more on this.

So, does GPA matter? According to a study done by Miami University (printed in USA Today), “Your GPA can land you an interview but won’t likely get you the job. 91% of employers value interview performance more than GPA in their ultimate hiring decision.” And in terms of networking and relationships, the study states “Regardless of advances in technology and the recruiting process, in general, personal relationships appear to continue to be tremendously important in the process.  If you want to learn more about how we help students learn the secrets to get the job or internship, visit Next Great Step.

The Magic Number

Wouldn’t it be great to have a little magic in our life and get all of the things we aspire to in the new year? Health, family, career… the list goes on. If you are a college student, do you wish you could just snap your fingers and have a fantastic internship or first job appear before you? I know many do.

While I can’t wave my magic wand and give you a great job, I can share advice about a magic number that can change the way you pursue your search, focus on opportunities, and speak to employers.

The magic number is 3.

In my work coaching students and seeing the expectations of the employers, the need to be clear and concise is one of the top priorities. Often you only have 30 minutes or less to articulate the skills you have and how you can add value to the employer. Three is the magic number because when you communicate with others, presenting your ideas or information in threes tends to be more interesting, more memorable, and more effective. This technique is highly successful, as it structures your conversation in a way that your interviewer can absorb, evaluate, and retain the information you deliver without being overdone. 

For 2017, here are three pieces of advice to students about how to use the Magic of 3:

  1. Know Your Skills – Decide on 3 skills that you are the most competent and skilled at. Make sure that you can explain and give an example of your experience with each skill you come up with from your past jobs/internships/volunteer positions. Write them down and practice reciting them, so you are ready for an interview or meeting.
  2. Create Your Network – Identify 3 people who have a job that you would like to have or learn more about. You can find these people through LinkedIn, University Alumni or family friends. Reach out and speak to them to learn more about their roles so you can better define the kind of job you want.
  3. Learn Something New – Pick 3 new things to learn or try that will help you in a career. It could be creating a LinkedIn profile or creating a blog about your interests. Join a club, volunteer to meet new people, or learn a new skill.

The goal is to keep it simple. It can be overwhelming with the thought of what you need to do to look for a job and compete with peers for opportunities. Start with 3 things to do and go from there.

In closing, I will share 3 things I will focus on in the coming year:

  1. Video blog/Facebook Live – I will introduce a new medium to my communication with students and parents.
  2. Podcast – I am planning some content to share on my own or partner podcasts.
  3. Group sessions – the great news is that Next Great Step is in demand and many students want to work with us. We may offer opportunities for more students to take advantage of our techniques…stay tuned.

If you grew up in the 70’s you will recall the famous Schoolhouse Rock song “3 Is A Magic Number”. The idea is not new but take a listen if you want to hear some inspiration. Click Here.

Wishing you a magical new year. Learn more at www.nextgreatstep.com.

What’s Your Story? The Importance of Explaining Your Experience the Right Way

Interviewing for your first job or internship can be quite stressful. There are so many variables that can play a part in meeting with a prospective employer, but the one consistent objective is to establish WHO you are and HOW you can help them meet their goals. Employers cannot read your mind (wouldn’t that be great?) or just your resume, and then hire you without a meeting. On an interview, a common request by employers is “walk me through your resume” or “tell me about this role.” This is not an invitation to recite your resume line by line, but an opportunity to share something about the role that shows your understanding of the responsibilities and where you will fit in at their company. Employers really want a STORY… to hear about your experiences, how you added value, and how you can help them. Not too much and not too little… just right!

Its natural to be nervous on an interview, but with the right preparation, you can practice your ‘STORY’, and avoid the pitfalls of rambling about an experience, or alternately, not saying much at all.

Here are 4 tips on how to tell your story:

  1. Give a Brief Overview of the Role. Explain your role and what your responsibilities were in that job function, club or volunteer opportunity. What company did you worked for, what was the task you were assigned, and where did you fit in? Very often a candidate jumps into the middle of explaining an experience without explaining the context of where they were working. For example, “I had to enter product data and verify maintenance data records for upcoming contract expirations”. Set up the situation of what you were doing at the start. For example,

    I was a Research Intern and worked for a Fortune 50 data communications company in NYC focused on providing technology solutions to large companies. My role was to verify and input maintenance data into a client database.”

  1. What is The Problem or Task You Had to Focus On? Explain what problem you were trying to solve or what specific goals you were tasked with accomplishing. For example,

    “I was tasked with identifying client maintenance contracts that were going to expire in the next 6 months. I collaborated with three Account Managers to help them identify the clients that may be the most likely to renew the maintenance contract and had the greatest revenue impact if the contract expired.”

  1. And How Did You Do It? Every opportunity requires you to utilize skills. The key is what skills did you learn and how did you demonstrate your competence. For example,

    “I used Excel and an ACT Database to sort, summarize and input data. I collaborated with team members and shared information. I also demonstrated leadership by proactively communicating with Account Managers about pending expiration of large contracts.”

  1. So, What? What Happened as a Result of This Effort? The answer to this question should show your ability to understand how your work impacts the business and solves a problem for the company. You need to understand where you fit in the big picture.

    “As a result of this experience, I was able to help the Account Managers identify ten key accounts worth $300,000 in maintenance revenue that was in jeopardy. My analysis and team work enabled the managers to work effectively with their clients in a timely fashion and to ensure that they would renew the maintenance agreements. I was praised for my effort and was asked to present to upper management.”

Ultimately, a company wants to understand if you can help them be more successful. Telling a compelling story keeps the interviewer engaged and it makes it easy for them to understand how you could add value at their company. If you want to learn more about how to tell your story, visit Next Great Step.

The Must READ for College Students and Recent Grads…..

Our college students are smarter than ever. They have access to more technology and information than the generation before them. So why are they struggling to be informed about what career to pursue or how to go about finding an internship or job?

Getting the answers to “Will I like this field?” or “Is this a good fit for me?” is not as simple as a Google search. The real answers come from reading relevant news, research and talking to people in that industry. Specifically, reading the news daily can help students on their path to self-discovery.

While advising students and graduates, no matter what the industry of interest whether it is fashion, chemistry or business, I always ask the same question, “Do you read the news or any publication related to your industry?”  Too often the answer is NO. Today, we are so inundated with social media, and the endless internet distractions and streaming services, that we fail to spend time staying informed by simply reading the paper. Reading the paper, online or hard copy, is the new MUST READ for college students.

Some think that this is for “adults” or takes too much time. Welcome to the real world. It’s easy.

Here are some tips on how to make your reading time valuable:

  1. What should I read? Pick a national paper. My favorite is The New York Times but you can pick any major national paper…Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times. Read a paper based on the job market that you want to pursue. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal offer a special student promotion of digital access for $1 a week. Most universities have free subscriptions while at school.  Google News, CNN, Forbes, Newsweek, and many others all have free online access to news.
  1. What if I want to learn about a specific area? Pick a trade journal or even a specific section of a paper. If you are interested in public relations or advertising, read PR Week or Advertising Age. If you like accounting, read Journal of Accountancy or Accounting Today. If you like environmental consulting, read the Journal of Environmental Engineering.

The NY Times has a Science section on Tuesday, Food on Wednesday and Fashion on Thursday. The list goes on. The point is that there is a trade journal or section for almost every area of expertise and many are online. This not only gives you a sense of the important issues facing the industry but names of companies to pursue.

  1. What if I don’t have time to read the whole paper? Most people do not have time to read the whole thing. Try to read it at least 3 days a week. The Sunday paper is great because it tends to recap and discuss more pressing issues.

Here is my cheat to the NY Times paper or online version:

  • Read the titles on the front page of the paper or Top Stories. If it’s of interest read the first paragraph. If you want more, then keep reading. If not, move on.
  • On page 2 of the NY Times paper version is Inside the Times. This has 10-12 mini paragraphs that summarize all the top stories in the entire paper for International, National, New York, Business, Sports and Arts – all the major news in the paper for that day. Scan that for anything of interest. You get the same briefs online.
  • Business Section – If you are looking to do anything in business – consulting, finance, marketing, logistics, technology, energy, entrepreneurship, engineering, or marketing, you must read this section. Same technique as above applies. Scan the front page of the business section and see if there are any topics of interest. Read the first paragraph of at least 2 articles.
  • My favorite article to read is in the Sunday Business Section called Corner Office. Different CEOs tell about their career path and how they hire candidates.
  • Opinion section – If you have extra time on a Sunday, this can be very insightful to read opinions about the issues facing us here and abroad.
  1. Can’t I just watch the news online or TV or just listen to the radio? Sure you can. However, the 30 second segment on the nightly news or radio is not deep enough to understand the real issues. It’s important to know what is happening and how it can impact us. However, to get the information you want to help you with your career, searching for industry specific information is best…and a time saver.
  2. Which sites are good to follow on social media? You can also subscribe to any major paper in your Twitter or Facebook feed and get the news for free. Best choices are Fortune, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Ted Talks, and Google News. Be sure to also follow other sites specific to your industry.

Knowing about the companies you are meeting with and what is happening in the industry can be the difference between getting the job or not. Even when I meet students who are very focused and know what they want to pursue, they don’t really understand what the job is about or what the latest issues are facing that company. I asked a recent student who was interested in finance if he knew about the Wells Fargo scandal and he had no idea what I was talking about. (If you don’t know either, please go look it up.)

Reading the news aids in critical thinking skills, offers balanced viewpoints as well as exercises your cognitive abilities – all skills you will bring to a new job. It is an essential part of the job search – so get reading now!!!

If you want to learn more about how Next Great Step guides college students or recent grads to get smarter in pursuing their job search visit www.nextgreatstep.com.

Good vs. Great – Which One Are You?

It’s September. Labor Day has come and gone and recent grads are still searching for employment. For those who have used their summer wisely for active networking and recruiting, I continue to hear a very common concern. “I have had lots of interviews, meet all the qualifications, make it to the final round of interviews but I don’t get the job. I just don’t understand why?” Or it could be the graduate’s parents telling me the same thing. It’s especially uncomfortable when the parent is well connected with influential colleagues. The parent makes introductions to hiring managers and the student blows their chances for an opportunity.

What is happening? Are our recent grads ready for the work force? Are employers too demanding?

Recent grads looking for a job may work very hard at doing lots of “good” things for the job search, but not always working smart to do the “great” things.  Applying to lots of jobs online, sending out your resume to random recruiters and having coffee with a few contacts are good…but not great. Being clear and focused about your career direction, articulating the value you bring to an employer, and proactively networking with people in functions that you want to pursue put you on the path toward “great.”

Executives tell us they are frustrated because they need to hire people NOW but the talent in front of them is too self-absorbed and do not seem to understand the company problems or offer solutions. Recent grads and job seekers tell us they need a job NOW but don’t understand employer expectations. The onus falls with the job seeker to make the effort to meet expectations and execute well.

Here are 6 misconceptions from recent grads and lessons on how to be “great”:

  1. “My degree and grades from a good school should be enough to get the job.” A great candidate is always competing. Many employers are not interested in your GPA. They want to know you can think and solve problems. Show them how you have considered their needs.
  2. “I don’t need to prepare. I know enough about the company. I’ll just wing it.” Preparation is key. Never assume that you know enough or wing it without doing your homework. You don’t have to know every detail but things like CEO name, stock price and latest press release are good things to search ahead of time.
  3. “It seems like the employer likes me, I am sure I’ll get a call back.” Just like the Sally Field Oscar acceptance speech from 1984, “They like me. They really like me.” It’s just not enough. It helps to be liked but the ability to relay real skills with examples, and ideas how you can link those skills to help a business solve problems is the goal.
  4. “My parents know the hiring manager, so this should be easy.” Parents may have gotten you on to a team or club but this is serious – it involves money. This comes up a lot with my clients. No matter how good the relationship, no one will put their reputation on the line unless they believe you have the skills and can do the job.
  5. “If I apply to a lot of jobs online, I’ll get something. It’s a numbers game.” Although there is a bit of truth to the numbers game, that is not how people get hired. The success rate of a recent grad applying online and someone contacting them is very low. It is more important to network with people in jobs at companies that you aspire to and forge relationships with people in that industry.
  6. “I don’t have time to send a thank you right now. I’ll get to it when I have time.” ALWAYS send a thank you note within 24-48 hours of a meeting. It is important to recap what was discussed—what their priorities are and what your skills are that can add value to their business. Sometimes the person who is more persistent and better at follow up is the one that gets the job.

Be the candidate who creates opportunities by knowing what you have to offer and applying it to a company’s needs. Use common sense judgement and business etiquette to ensure you have done the utmost to secure the respect of your interviewers. And finally, don’t waste time or make mistakes doing lots of “good” things – do the “great” things. You will be amazed what comes your way.

If you want to learn more how we help college students and recent grads become “great” at finding the internship or first job visit Next Great Step.