Author: John Ryan

As a longtime professional in the executive search industry, I’ve always been bothered by the expression TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday). It seems sad that people would wish away chunks of their lives because they dislike their jobs. A big part of what makes my job satisfying is to see people assume roles that truly suit them. We should all expect that. 

One reason that I enjoy my work is that it’s international. It gives me the chance to meet people from around the world, to use my foreign language skills, and to learn what life and work is like outside the US. My work also gives me an opportunity to contemplate the inner workings of people operations. It’s thrilling to see how the right leader at the right moment can elevate a business, enhance its culture, and reinvigorate its workforce. I love working on the team that analyzes that culture, finds that leader, and sees that change happen.

As a favor to business contacts and friends, I’m often asked to talk with bright new college graduates, eager to see where the degrees they’ve worked so hard for might take them. I have to admit, I really enjoy these conversations, their career is like a blank canvass at this point.

I’m excited for the new graduates who earned their credentials in December. I feel a bit sorry for them too. They didn’t envision their send-off to be quite like this: standing in their caps and gowns in their living rooms as they participate in virtual graduation ceremonies. They’re a class of fighters, and we can all be proud of their success and their grit. This is my advice for them in their upcoming job searches.

Recognize your value

I know it can feel a bit stressful to find yourself on the job hunt while contemplating the student debt that you’ve just amassed. But don’t let buyer’s remorse dampen your enthusiasm. Credentialling yourself was a good move. The Urban Institute confirms: “[W]hen students do earn degrees, their prospects for finding jobs improve and the salaries they can expect to earn increase. People with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in the labor force, to be employed, and to be employed full time than those without college degrees.”

Job searching can be a challenging process, especially during a recession, but earning a college degree will enhance your prospects, even if it can feel hard to get your foot in the door.  

Feed the network  

It can be confusing to figure out how your academic work correlates to particular job titles. Build your network, and reach out to those you know in various industries. I’ve read that as many as 85 percent of roles get filled because of networking. Reach out. Set up informational interviews. Find mentors.

Keep in mind that everyone does this. Don’t feel weird, awkward, or sheepish or pushy. You’re not really asking for favors. You are reaching out to people who have reached out to other people. Others will reach out to you and you will pay it forward. So it goes.

Know what moves you

When you start out in a difficult job market, you may have to make choices based on what’s available. Embrace the opportunities that come along. Be flexible and open to what they teach you about yourself and your future ambitions. Living through difficult times teaches us to be nimble, resilient, creative, and hard-working, which are valuable soft skills and indicators of a growth mindset.   

Work reporter Jennifer Liu explains: “So as emerging technology threatens to eliminate jobs that can easily be completed through automation and machines, employees and job seekers are increasingly focused on developing a growth mindset. This is where the importance of having a growth mindset comes into place: People who are motivated to reach higher levels of achievement (instead of sticking to a set of fixed skills) by learning new skills that can’t be replicated by future technology are much more likely to succeed in the face of setbacks.”

As you learn about the market and yourself, pay attention to what interests you. Flexibility is important, but I’ve noticed that people have a tendency to divorce the practical and the personal when it comes to career planning. I have a real concern that this feeds into making too many compromises (“Well the job is boring but the hours are good…”). The result, a few years later, is that you’ve become a member of the TGIF community. It’s good to be practical, but as you grow in your career, you’re likely to find yourself with more room to shape your trajectory. Don’t settle.

Target companies that suit you

Research is key to finding employer that appeal to you. Before you interview with any company, develop a sense of what you want in an employer. Know how to evaluate a company financial strength, is it positioned for growth, or struggling to survive. Study the company’s website. Read current news and Glassdoor reviews.

There’s a good chance that the people who interview you are true believers in their company’s work. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet with these insiders by asking them informed, thoughtful questions. Make the most out of the opportunity every interview earns you. It stands to teach you more about what kinds of roles and businesses are out there and what might be a fit for you.  

How does corporate culture fit in?

Accessing culture means answering some basic questions about a business: What is the company’s mission? What are its values? What opportunities for advancement can be cultivated there? What is the work-life balance like for staff? What leadership philosophy drives the management team?  

Wade Giles, an executive my firm recently placed in a new role, explains: “Since college, my two most favorite jobs have been my lowest paying jobs while my two least favorite jobs have been my highest paying jobs.  The difference between these jobs?  Corporate culture.  For me, corporate culture is everything.  It keeps work from being work and in my opinion, is the single most determinant factor in employee retention.  You spend 40+ hours/week at work and another 10+ hours/week thinking about work....it makes it a lot easier when you enjoy what you're doing.”  

Remember

Your first job search can feel dauting, especially in an uncertain economy. But finding your professional fit is also exciting. Embrace it, and keep experimenting until you’ve found a role and a professional culture that truly suits you, not just on Fridays, but on everyday of the week. 

 

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