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Alicia Blain

Job Search for College Grads


As I’ve mentioned in many of my recent posts, this past year I had the pleasure of interviewing young professionals who had been working from 1 to 5 years out of college.  Over 80% of them had been unhappy in their first job and had either left it or were looking to leave. But all 100% of them agreed on one thing:  they were not prepared for what to expect once they had the  job.

This is not unusual but it’s a fact that doesn’t get talked about much.  The reality is that college doesn’t prepare you for the world of work.  Going from college to corporate is one of the hardest transitions we all make.  Don’t think it’s a new reality either.  When I graduated from college many, many, many years ago, I almost quit after my first two weeks.  Actually, I wanted to quit after the first week but decided to wait until a got my first paycheck.  I figured it was the least the company could do for having me go through the shock of working in a corporate environment.

As it turns out, I never quit.  The economic situation at the time very much resembled the one today’s college grads are facing.  I had many friends who had not found work and when I told them I was quitting, they told me I was crazy & that I needed to stick it out even if I was miserable.  I listened and I did stick it out. Of course back then, the career or job options available to a 20-something were much more limited than they are today.   There weren’t any internships or contracting work that a young person could take to make a living.  But the truth is it took me a LONG time to get used to the work environment because it wasn’t easy to figure out.

Today’s newest and youngest entrants to the workplace told me the same thing.  In fact, they told me the 5 key areas that shocked them the most about working.  So I made a decision.  I decided to write a series of ebooks to give college grads the upper hand in transitioning from college to corporate.   The first ebook  which comes out this month is called New @ Work: An Insider’s Survival Guide to the Crazy Workplace.  It gives college grads 5  insider secrets about the world of work.  It busts the myths many of us had about the workplace before we worked there.  It’s the 5 that were highlighted by the young people I interviewed this past year.

Let me give you 2 examples of what I mean.

1.  As a college grad, you probably expect that your boss will not only be a good boss to you but that he will be a good leader for the team you work for.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The likelihood is that he or she won’t be.  The inside scoop that seasoned workers learned the hard way is that there is an overwhelmingly large number of bad bosses in the workplace.  I call them batty bosses and I’ve described some of their characteristics in some of my previous blogs.  In the ebook, I go into each of them and explain why they exist.  I also provide some probing questions you can ask during your job interviews to uncover if you will be working for one.  If you get lucky enough to land a good boss, count your blessings and don’t do anything to jeopardize that relationship.

2.  As a college grad, you probably expect that your workplace will encourage and foster collaboration among employees both in and outside your team.  Maybe. Maybe not.  The insider truth is that collaboration doesn’t always flourish in many of the more established companies and it certainly doesn’t do so at the level that young people today are used to collaborating.  There are a lot of reasons for that which I explain in the book and I give some pointed questions you can ask during your job interview to get a glimpse of how collaborative or not your future employer is.

The point is that as a college grad you should not go blindly into your first job.  The hundreds of thousands of us that have done so either quit our jobs or took a long time to figure it out.  You don’t need to do that. It’s important that you know exactly what to expect.  Instead of being miserable or wasting time trying to make sense of it all, you can be ready for it and concentrate on making a great impression and showcasing your talents and desire to make a difference.

One thing you can do now to get ready:  talk to your friends who have been working for a year or more.  Ask them what surprised them most about work.  Ask them for 1 to 3 tips to prepare you so you can know what to expect.

In the meantime, look out for my ebook announcement and the special offer for the class of 2011.

Most college grads think the way to stand out during a job interview is to be as prepared as possible for the questions employers will ask them during their interviews.  That is partially true.  Job interviews are the first impression you are making to the employer.  Being able to anticipate their questions and answer them well is a strong start to making a good impression.

But do you know there’s another effective way to stand out during your interview?  Here’s an insider secret: The interview process gives you a rare and often unutilized opportunity to put the employer under the microscope by asking them some probing questions.

The questions provide 2 immediate benefits.

1. It Showcases YOU:  Here’s another insider secret: Employers don’t usually expect to get probing questions from young employees. That’s expected from the more experienced candidates who have been working for years and know the “real deal”. The questions will distinguish you from other interviewees in 3 key ways:

         a.  Savviness. You instantly show you are savvy about what goes on inside the corporate walls. It demonstrates you went       above and beyond the normal research and due diligence.

         b. Surprise. Employers already know the typical questions young and inexperienced candidates ask. Time after time, they respond with the same routine, memorized answer. Pointed questions surprise them and make them take notice. It breaks them out of the expected and it’s a way for you to stand out among a sea of other applicants.

         c.  Spunkiness. Employers were once in your shoes and know how uncomfortable it is for a young person to ask tough questions. Most will admire your courage because so few do. It shows spunk and that shows the employer that you are bright and on the ball. It makes them feel confident you’ll get up to speed quickly when hired.

2. Forewarned is Forearmed. Many young employees make the common mistake of focusing all their attention on making a good impression during the interview process. This is an extremely important thing to do, but it isn’t the only thing you should be doing. You need to understand the work environment you will be walking into when you accept the job. Unlike the majority of young employees who start work and are clueless about what they’re getting into, you will know. You won’t waste time being surprised. Instead you can focus  on what you have to do to get on the fast track to advance your career.

Take those tips from my previous blogs and start coming up with a list of questions to ask your employer during the interview.  You might find those questions to be the key ingredient to standing out and going to the front of the line during the selection process.

I know that in today’s challenging economy, college grads are concerned about finding a job.  You are spending a lot of time preparing for your interviews & making sure you are ready to answer the tough questions employers will throw at you so that you can stand out.

Well, guess what?  That’s only half the battle. What steps are you taking during the interview process to determine if your prospective employer is a good fit for you?  Here’s a reality that most college grads are unaware of when they are seeking their first job: over 80% of college grads wind up hating their first job.  That’s a LOT of people that are unhappy.

How do I know that?  I spent the last year, interviewing college grads that were working between 1 and 5 years. Most of them – 80% – said they had either left their first job or were unhappy there and were aggressively looking for another job. When I asked them why they were unhappy they all said the same thing:  we didn’t do our homework on the company hiring us.  Like most of you, these young professionals currently in the workforce did not take the time to really ask the employer some penetrating questions to determine what it would be like to work there.

All of the young people I interviewed said they were just laser focused on getting into a company & starting their career.  They did not focus a lot of attention on asking their employers some penetrating questions.  Whatever questions they asked was to show the employer how much they knew about the company. After they started, they realized what most experienced employees already know.  Finding “a job” is often not the right approach to take even though you may be extremely tempted to do that. 

Most of the young people I interviewed said that taking “a job” had not been a good decision for them.  Many wished they had taken the time to question their prospective employer (and boss)  instead of just trying to be as prepared as possible for the employer’s questions.  Most interviewees felt sure that if they had taken the time to ask better questions they would have either chosen not to take the job or, if they needed to, they would have known ahead of time what they were getting themselves into. 

That’s good advice.  The difference between an inexperienced interviewee and an experienced one is that the experienced one knows that getting “a job” is not the answer.  It’s finding one that’s a good fit for you.  That’s why people that have been working for some time make a list of probing questions to ask during an interview.  They know the importance of putting their prospective boss and employer under the microscope.   

A job search is an exhausting process and not something you necessarily look forward to.  Experienced job seekers don’t want to be in a situation where they look for “a job” and are unhappy and have to look for another one soon after. Being prepared for the interview by asking a series of good questions to determine if there’s a fit is what experienced job seekers do to prevent that situation from happening.

Take your cues from the pros.  Being prepared to answer an employer’s probing question is an important part of getting a job.  Asking the employer your own probing questions is an important part of finding the right fit and wanting to stay on the job.

Here are 3 tips to finding the right fit.  

Tip #1: Take some of the questions I’ve highlighted in my previous blogs as a starting point to preparing your list. 

Tip #2:  Ask your friends & family members who have been working for a few years, what questions they wished they had asked when they interviewed for their first jobs.  Everyone will be more than happy to give you their set of questions. 

Tip #3: Take the questions that have been repeated by most people and add those to your list.  That’s going to give you a huge advantage over other job seekers.  While they are busy finding “a job”, you’re busy finding the “right job” for you .

When we graduate college and start looking for our first job, we rarely think about our relationship with our boss.  After my interviews with young people this past year, many of them indicated that they actually always assumed they’d have bosses who’d mentor them and guide them through their career.

Nothing can be furthest from the truth.  Here’s an insider secret:  As a college grad in your first job, you have a higher chance of working for someone who isn’t a very good mentor nor is interested in becoming one.  Many of today’s managers are overworked, stressed and dealing with their own career issues. They don’t have any time left over to dedicate to their staff. Some managers are simply not mentoring types at all and try to avoid that part of their role.

The good news is that your boss doesn’t have to be the one you turn to for mentoring.  Once you start working you will quickly find out who are the managers in the organization that not only like mentoring but that find the time to do so.  Those are the ones you want to align yourself with and pick one of them as your mentor.

Believe it or not, the interview process provides you with a unique opportunity to ask questions of your prospective boss to see if he or she would be a good mentor and a good fit for your personality.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs,  there are a lot of batty bosses out there. All of us have different tolerance levels for the different types that exist.  Wouldn’t it be better to know ahead of time whether you may be working for one or not? Most college grads don’t grab this opportunity because they are focused on making a good impression on the employer.  Although that is very important, it is equally important to ask probing questions as well.

Here are 5 good questions you can ask your prospective boss to determine what type of boss he is. 

1. Give me an example of a famous leader you admire and what are the traits you admire about him or her?

2. Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it?

3.  How would your employees describe you?

4. What are your top 3 pet peeves?

5.  What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

From the responses, you’ll get an indication whether your future boss is a good and caring boss. If (s)he is, you hit the jackpot! Count your blessings . Do everything you can to get the job and stay with him for as long as you can. If they don’t, well, welcome to reality. You have to ask yourself these questions:

  • What batty boss type is he? Is it one of the types I can tolerate?
  • If it’s not a tolerable type for me, is the job opportunity worth the aggravation of learning to deal with that type of boss?
  • If so, what steps can I take now to prepare myself to handle this type of boss so I don’t derail my career?

The best way to excel in your first job is to be as prepared as possible so that you are not shocked at the world of work and lose precious time trying to figure it out.  While others are doing that, you will be focusing your effort on creating value and showcasing your skills as a high performer.