While the job market for recent college graduates has improved, a good number of employers don’t think they’re sufficiently prepared. A recent survey by PayScale found only about 50 percent of managers felt recent grads were ready for full-time work.
Among the skills that managers saw graduates lacking most were critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and leadership. But at the same time, many have been hired with strengths in other areas, and improving weaknesses can happen as a young person grows in a job.
Whether they are in the early stages of a first job after college or still searching for it, recent graduates “should focus on growth as a framework for future success,” says Matt Stewart, co-founder of College Works Painting (www.collegeworks.com), which provides business experience for college students and was recently ranked the No. 1 internship for career development by Vault. A framework for success for a young person includes things they should look to embrace in a first job – pleasant and unpleasant – and things their employer is looking for, he says.
“While your first job may not be your dream job, you have a great opportunity to build a strong foundation for continued upward movement in a career,” Stewart says. “It’s very important to pay attention to everything and everyone around you. It can pay off – and if not there, then somewhere else.”
Stewart gives some tips for that first job that he says can also be applied to a career path:
Start small, think big. “Many young people look for a job at a prestigious big-name company but overlook small companies that would let them have much more freedom and take on a variety of different roles, which certainly aids their growth,” Stewart says. “The training they’ll gain from doing lots of different tasks is huge, and also a great way to figure out what they enjoy and are good at.”
Find a mentor. This is almost an imperative. “You need a guiding light to get through the fog of the first job,” Stewart says. “Find a respected leader and reach out for advice. In particular, pay attention to what they did to get where they are, not just to what they say.”
Do more than the job description. Once you are in a career, a proven way to move up or redefine your position is to take on more than the minimum expectations of the job. “Early in your career volunteer for new projects, committees, training others, etc.,” Stewart says. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Higher-ups often appreciate the extra effort. It may lead to promotion or more compensation.”
Find comfort in discomfort. Feelings like fear and doubt often accompany any task not yet completed, Stewart says. But perhaps the greatest growth is achieved when you challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone. “You get through the temporary pain in the short term and develop newly learned skills for the long term,” Stewart says. “Your brain is hard-wired to acquire pleasure today and avoid pain, but the best thing you can do while young is to rewire your brain – find comfort in discomfort. This will keep you in a state of constant growth and train you to handle stress while young and your pain tolerance is at its highest.”
“In your first job, be prepared to embrace and learn from things that may seem suboptimal on the surface, and even from some of your mistakes,” Stewart says. “Those momentary setbacks are actually learning opportunities that will not only make you better at your job but for the long run.”