Can the Gen Y Job Seeker Hack It in the Real World? 17 Things
New Grads Need to Know About Getting—and Doing—a Great Job
Employers aren’t exactly clamoring to hire today’s new grads. If you are
one—even one with an impressive degree—the deck is stacked against you.
Ben Carpenter offers 17 ways to prove you know what matters in the real
world—both in the job search and in the early days after “you’re hired.”
Congratulations, graduates! You’ve worked hard for the past four (or six or eight) years and are rightfully proud of yourself. But as you head out into the brutal workplace armed with proof of your smarts and persistence, don’t expect too much from those shiny new credentials. While a good education is never wasted, your diploma isn’t stamped “admit one job seeker to the opportunity of a lifetime.” In fact, says Ben Carpenter, it might as well read, “I’m a member of Gen Y and I may not have what it takes.”
That’s right. Too many hiring managers—66 percent according to one survey—think today’s new graduates just aren’t prepared to enter the workforce.
“Many of them cite details like typos on résumés as reasons why they don’t want to hire a new college graduate,” says Carpenter, author of the new book The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00). “But it’s not the typo that really matters—it’s what it says about you. Your communication skills. Your work ethic. Your attitude toward details. Your drive to do what it takes to get the job.
“Of course, the typo is only one tiny example,” he clarifies. “There are lots of ways to inadvertently live up to the bad rap new grads get. My point is that too many people already assume you can’t hack it in the real world. It’s up to you to prove them wrong.”
To do so, you have to know what the real world values in the first place. And that’s the point of The Bigs. Using a combination of detailed, colorful anecdotes and tactical advice, Carpenter lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job. Having done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company, Carpenter is the perfect coach.
Here, he shares 17 things college grads need to know right now in order to stack the odds for professional success:
Things you need to know while you’re looking for a job
Don’t think about what you want to do. Think about what you can do. You’re probably trying to find a job that will fuel your passion and make you happy. If so, Carpenter’s first piece of advice might feel like a cold wake-up call: Spend less time figuring out what you want to do and more time thinking about what you can do. In other words, seek out a career doing something that you’re good at.
“Choosing a career you can do well, rather than one that seems fun and exciting, might sound unappealing—but it isn’t,” he states. “The satisfaction you get from doing your job well will far outweigh how entertaining it is. Plus, think about how unhappy you’d be if your heart’s desire failed to pay the bills. From personal experience, as well as from observing family, friends, and coworkers, I can state that most professionals are happiest doing what they are good at, while pursuing other passions—that their careers give them the means to finance—on the side,” he adds.
Always ask yourself, What’s my edge? In other words, what makes you unique and different? Why should other people pay attention to you? What do you have to offer? What gives you an edge over the competition?
“This is a great question to ask yourself in a multitude of professional scenarios, not just when you’re interviewing,” says Carpenter. “If you’re starting a business, it can help you to define your product or service’s niche. If you’re going after a promotion, it can help differentiate you from your coworkers. In all situations, it will help you define how you can become your personal best.”
Be creative and bold. Long gone are the days of being handed a job just because you have a diploma. There are millions of job seekers with the same qualifications as you, so if you want to receive one of a limited number of opportunities, you’ll need to stand out. For instance:
• Instead of sending out a résumé that will probably get lost in HR Purgatory, stand outside Company XYZ’s offices with a cardboard sign that reads, “Please let me tell you why I’m the person you want to fill the junior systems analyst position you posted on Monster.com.”
• If you’re interested in a graphic design position, create a mockup redesign of the company’s website. Then send it to the prospective employer with the headline,
“Get ready to be blown away by your new look!”
“Or take a page from a friend of mine’s book: After identifying her dream job, she walked right into the ‘big boss’s’ office, handed him her résumé, and told him she’d call him later that afternoon,” recounts Carpenter. “The tougher the situation, the less you have to lose—so the more radical your actions should be. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get the job.”
Understand whose problem you’re trying to solve. Carpenter emphasizes that the key to being offered a job is showing the interviewer that his or her company needs you.
“Most young people I interview think their goal is to convince me how smart, accomplished, or nice they are,” he shares. “And yes, those are all laudable qualities. But the fact is, I’m not looking for Miss or Mister Congeniality. I’m looking for the best person to help my company succeed! In other words, interviews aren’t about solving your problem (finding a job); they’re about solving theemployer’s problem. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to support that goal. Before sharing something about yourself, consider why the person sitting across from you should care.”
Things you need to know after you get a job
Think of your boss and your company before yourself. When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting your boss’s wants and needs ahead of your own.
For instance, it’s a good idea to: show up before your boss and leave after she does…schedule personal appointments after business hours…work six months before you take vacation days…respond to phone calls and emails ASAP, even at night, on the weekends, during vacations.
“I get that many of these things don’t sound like your idea of fun,” Carpenter says. “You might even think some of them are ‘unfair.’ But remember—it’s your job to make your boss’s life easier, not the other way around. Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. And when you show that you’re willing to sacrifice your own interests for the good of the team, you’ll have gotten a huge head start on being named Rookie of the Year.”
Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand. Once you have your foot in the door, you’ll likely want to impress your colleagues and higher-ups at every turn. And in an attempt to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, you may be tempted to feign understanding and nod your head, even though you really have no clue what’s going on. Don’t.
“Early in my career, a client bullied me into saying ‘yes’ to a request I didn’t understand—and it cost my employer $25,000,” recalls Carpenter. “While covering up your own ignorance might not come with such a steep price tag, it’s still something you should avoid at all costs. Your integrity, credibility, and reputation—and possibly your job!—are all at stake. It’s always better to swallow your pride and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain.’ Oh—and that’s just as applicable in your personal dealings as it is in your career.”
When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and move forward.
“Maybe you’ve been handed an undesirable task at work, been blamed for your boss’s mistake, or been interrupted by an overzealous colleague during a client meeting for the thousandth time,” Carpenter says. “Sure, you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days. But that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, resolve to channel your thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand you’ve been dealt in a way that will benefit you the most.”
Learn to appreciate diverse work styles. In life and in work, we all tend to gravitate toward others who think like us and who see the world through a similar lens. If you don’t push yourself past the familiar, though, you’ll be severely limiting yourself.
“Yes, it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright frustrating to work with people who take a different approach from you,” acknowledges Carpenter. “For example, maybe you’re a Type A personality who is totally frustrated by your coworker’s seat-of-her-pants approach to projects. Remember, though, by shutting her out you’ll also deprive yourself of her creative solutions and outside-the-box insights.
“No matter what the situation is, always try to seek out and utilize your team’s talents. You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve heard all viewpoints.”
Own your mistakes. No matter how much you know or how hard you try, you are going to make mistakes as you pursue your career. The question is, how will you handle them? Carpenter cautions you not to follow in the footsteps of a former coworker he refers to as “Never,” whonever took responsibility for any mistakes and never apologized for anything.
“Never was actually very good at what she did, but her insistence on passing the blame and refusing to admit her errors cost her all of the respect, support, and goodwill she could have earned,” he comments. “Here’s the lesson: Refusing to own your mistakes doesn’t make you seem more competent; it reveals cowardice, callousness, and untrustworthiness.
“I promise, if you’re a hardworking, valued employee, when you do own up to your mistakes, your confession will be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness, by your coworkers,” Carpenter insists. “Plus, you’ll be in a position to learn and improve.”
Be a good steward of the “little” things. For example, always proofread your emails for errors before pressing “send.” Don’t leave voicemails unanswered at the end of the day. Keep your desk and computer files organized. Call your clients to share progress, even when a report isn’t required.
“Most people don’t think much of letting the so-called ‘little things’ slide,” notes Carpenter. “They think it’s okay to cut ‘unimportant’ corners. So when you pay attention to small, often-overlooked details, you’ll distinguish yourself from the pack. Trust me, putting in just a little more work than most people are willing to do is a great way to propel yourself toward success.”
If you want to be a leader, act like one. If your goal is to be at the forefront of your field’s innovation and growth, you may feel discouraged when your first job is composed of tasks a trained monkey could do. But don’t succumb to the I’ll never get there from here or the What I do in this position doesn