Advice for New Grads — From Folks Who Train Corporate Recruiters

Over the years, Cambria has helped companies hire new grads into a variety of positions and industries. We have focused our clients on the criteria that are most important for selection (given their role and industry) and an interview technique that reveals important information about the applicant’s personality, skills and potential. However, we haven’t done anything on the other side of the fence: helping to prepare new college seniors to enter the workforce.

This is an attempt at atonement. Based on our years of observing many of the most successful new recruits, here is a set of recommendations as you look to find your first job right out of college.

Begin by moving in a positive direction. Most of you won’t have companies nipping at your heels upon graduation. A recent study showed less than half of graduates ending up in full time, permanent positions. What you can do is pick up competencies that are related to your career destination and put yourself in a position to get that first interview. Maybe it’s a night class or more likely a temporary or volunteer job that exposes you to people in your field. There is nothing wrong with taking a job to pay the rent but avoid employment that gets in the way of networking. New graduate jobs come more frequently from friends of friends who know someone who knows someone than they do from college fairs.

Develop a story to tell. The behavioral interview is the most common interview technique of corporate recruiters. It begins with “tell me about a time” when you…” We have watched many students struggle to come up with spontaneous examples that demonstrate the skills the recruiter is going after. The most successful students have thought through examples in advance, including the compelling senior project, internship, summer job or volunteer experience. The very best of them include a narrative that connects each stage of their journey from primary to high school to college and into the next phase of their lives.

Pursue career adjacencies. Colleges are doing a better job at clarifying the wide variety of positions that are available in traditional and even emerging industries. However, they also set somewhat unrealistic expectations about a company’s readiness to put new graduates into those positions right out of school. It’s not a question of taking a junior accounting job in hopes of becoming a senior accountant. It’s more like taking a job in a seemingly unrelated field that will teach you a skill (like project management) that you can parlay into that ultimate career destination. Define your career broadly and move in a general versus specific direction!

Find out who is getting the jobs and why. Every employer is different in what they find attractive in recent college graduates. If you are not getting a lot of initial leads, you can either bemoan your situation or talk to people who have gotten that first job and identify what they have that you need to acquire. It’s not likely to be a private school education or grade point average; it’s more typically an experience or skill set that is of immediate use to the employer. Maybe they are an Excel ace who can instantly be helpful in data analysis; or perhaps they have customer facing skills that make them less of a risk when working with difficult clients. This type of networking is about positioning yourself to align with the “buy factors” of your field.

Perfect yourself and your presentation. While you are waiting for that breakthrough job opportunity, identify what you can be doing to prepare for the moment. Like an actor or musician that primps, rehearses and hits the stage with presence and charisma, you need to work at becoming “the best you can be.” Employers talk to us about “professionalism” and “fit.” What those coded words mean is that they want to imagine the candidate seamlessly adjusting to their culture and work environment. They expect a poised and self-confident presentation, with a smile and easy manner of relating to the recruiters. They also expect that the candidate knows something about them and their business. This isn’t about introverts versus extroverts; it’s all about preparation, reading your audience and presenting yourself in the most compelling way possible.

Take the long view of your career. The deep fear in every new graduate (and perhaps their parents) is that they won’t get the job of their dreams. To which we say, “Get over it.” The job of your dreams will change multiple times in the next twenty years. It may not even be remotely related to what you studied in school. Don’t swing for a “home run” in your first job; try to get on base with a job that will incrementally build your skill set and give you experiences that you need to get the next job. If you look at your career as a long journey that comes with highs and lows, baby steps and breakthrough moments, the stress associated with those first few interviews will lessen and you will be ready to show the world what you have to offer.

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