Years ago, I ran into one of my college professors, who asked me, “If you were to come to my class and speak, what would you tell my students?”
I answered, “I would tell them what they need to know!” At the time, I was frustrated with the quality of interns, inquiry calls, resumes, and expectations of that year’s incoming crop of new workers… Come to think of it – I still am.
Don’t get me wrong. I think colleges do a perfectly acceptable job of training the youth of our nation to a point where they can enter the workforce. Being in a technology-driven field, it’s a given that a lot of further training will happen on the job – but that’s the natural order, isn’t it? It’s why Rory Gillmore couldn’t get a reporting job at the NY Times right off the Bachelor Degree Boat… It’s why I began my career at a paltry sub-20K salary in 1994… It’s just how it is.
Success takes time.
This is exactly why, I believe, that colleges should take some time – and teach their students a few other things… things they need to know to GET the job. What I’m about to say is not based on anything other than the lack of job-getting skills I’ve endured while answering phone inquiries, reading resumes, and living with interns.
So for those of you who are interested in succeeding at launching your careers, pay attention…
1) Phone Skills. Get them. Learn them. Understand them. When calling a company to inquire about job possibilities, be polite. Be humble. Don’t be stupid. Learn how to ask for exactly the job you want. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a potential candidate, “Ok, what is it exactly that you want to do?” – only to hear “I want to do whatever you want to teach me…” Get it through your head – I’m a busy girl, doing a busy job. I don’t WANT
to teach you anything. I want to hire a worker who will assist me in meeting my company’s goals… I want to hear things like, “My real interest is (x), and to make that happen, I’m willing to work in whatever capacity is necessary to help your company succeed." The trick is - you have to mean it... but please. Jobs are good learing opportunities, but they aren't college... so don't mistake the job market as another for-credit class. For goodness sake, make the right impression on the phone! Be specific - and make me understand that you're available to enhance my company.
2) I heard something funny on NPR the other day. It was a story about how the new crop of employees need a lot of “attaboys,” kudos, and appreciation. It’s part of this generation becoming accustomed to every single player in the soccer league getting trophies (I only want one if I win, personally. It's part of what kids learn when their parents argue with the teacher who gave a child a merit-based "C" instead of a pedigreed "A." You get the idea. Somehow, our culture has changed from a society-centered universe to a self-centered universe, and it's non-productive.
I too, am a girl who needs some positive reinforcement, yet have come to understand that my position at my company is not about me, my ego, or my personal needs. My position is one that fulfills my company’s goals – financial, creative, and productive. Where the accolades are great, they don’t happen every day.
My advice? Realize we should work to live, not live to work. In other words, my life (relationships, activities, etc…) starts off the clock. I get my personal fill-up there - not at my desk. I'm not saying my work isn't fulfilling, but I am saying I won't let it define me.
3) Hygiene. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – because this is an issue that for most of us, works itself out in junior high school... I’ve had more than one intern in the past two years with a body odor problem. It’s very simple. If you stink, you will miss opportunities. I’ve actually had clients say, “Don’t bring (so and so) around – we don’t want him here… Again, a professional goal is to make your company look good. So if you’re dressing badly and smelling worse, you’re part of the problem.
My thought is that if you haven’t properly bathed within 8-12 hours of your shift (including deodorant and clean clothes), body odor will take over. It seems like such a simple thing to fix.
If you smell, I can only tell you that from MY side of the green cloud, it’s so uncomfortable to be faced with communicating to an intern that he/she smells. Don’t put me in that position! Just take a shower - with soap.
4) And speaking of Wardrobe: As far as attire, err on the side of business over casual. Of course this is job-specific – but if you have doubts about the appropriateness of a short skirt, low cut blouse, pair of shorts, graphic/logo t-shirt, or flip flops, don’t wear them.
5) Resumes. I have to say, where I’m glad you were the University Mascot, unless you’re applying for a job where you need to don a costume, I don’t necessarily need to see "University Mascot" on your resume. In fact, there's a lot of information I've seen on resumes that I don't care about.
If you’re just out of college, you get one
side of one
8.5” x 11” piece of paper that explains to me your work history – and how your presence at a company impacted that company’s goals. If you want to impress with your resume, think of it as an introduction that has to have enough zing for the reader to offer you an interview. Your charm, good looks, and experience/zest for life will have to take over from there. You don’t need to write me a tome – I’m not going to read it – so just get to the good stuff – the stuff that again, will help me understand that your presence at my company will help meet corporate goals. There are tons of free resources both in college job centers and on the internet, but my best advice is to humble thyself! Find someone you know- friend of the family – or whomever – who does hiring at their job. Show them your resume, and listen to what they tell you.
Understand this: Spell check is not a good substitute for through editing. Spelling mistakes are not an option. (If you'll note, spell check will not alert me that I've typed "through" instead of "thorough," which is what I intended to write.)
Oh! I almost forgot to tell you - Don't lie on your resume. I've known qualified people who "embellished" their way into top positions - only to be fired when the company did random fact checks. It's just not worth it to write something you can't back up. Don't make the same mistake!!!
Good luck, kids – now go change the world – and make your company proud!