Those that are lucky have a position already lined up. But for many, the competitive job environment foreshadows a tough uphill struggle to land their first job. Although the overall outlook of many new grads is one of optimism and hopeful expectations, current realities suggest that it would be wise to mix idealism with practicality.
Although employers will always be drawn to applicants with strong academic records and a toolkit of technical skills, companies are showing a heightened preference for industry experience even for entry-level jobs. This has been particularly true in recent years as the applicant pool has swollen to include those who were laid-off in the downturn and the underemployed looking for more work.
In addition, increased appetite for more non-traditional candidates suggests that employers are starting to recognize and value the backgrounds and qualities that are the linchpin of these applicants.
Companies like Deloitte, PwC, Goldman Sacks, Bloomberg, PayPal, and many others, are starting to bring on board hundreds of women (and men) who are returning from a career break. Google, as just one example, has hired candidates with entrepreneurial backgrounds (and without college degrees), who can compete effectively in their application process.
What this suggests is that today’s employer is seeking an expanded set of qualifications and skills, from what was traditionally considered desirable.
It is no longer sufficient to have a high GPA, and the name of a good school on your resume. To get your foot in the door, you will also need to show that you possess:
1. Real-world experience
Work-study and summer jobs, internships and industry volunteer experience provide an opportunity to “try-on” a job. They are a great way to get hands-on experience in a particular role, learn technical skills and gain understanding of what it’s like to work within an organizational culture. Employers are increasingly looking for this type of real-world experience because it helps them identify previously vetted applicants, and bring on board candidates that have shown the desire and the ability to work within a particular role.
Resilience is the ability to quickly get back on your feet after failure or set-backs. Frequently, years leading up to and through college present a protective shell designed to help students thrive and explore freely, but provide few opportunities for taking risk, and thereby truly experiencing set-backs. Failing, and most importantly, persevering through set-backs, is key to continued growth and development. Today, companies are on a mission to hire individuals who can show that they can quickly overcome hurdles and learn from mistakes while continuing to improve their performance.
3. Ability to think independently and creatively
Although organizations will cite “being a team-player” as one of the key criteria for their new hires, at the same time they seek individuals who can show that they can be autonomous and think outside-the-box. Can you make your own decisions, and come up with unique strategies and solutions that improve internal processes? Can you be given a wide bandwidth within which you can do your job? Do you have potential for leadership within the company? These are some of the questions an employer will be considering during the interview process.
4. Listening and communication skills
Employers know that individuals who communicate clearly can build and maintain relationships more easily, than those that have not developed those skills. As a result, these individuals are easier to work with and manage, and are able to perform well in group settings. Listening and being able to accurately interpret what others say, as well as synthesize information, are the linchpin of good communication. Employees also need to be able to express themselves clearly, both verbally and in writing. This is particularly true in our technological age, where face-to-face communication is frequently replaced with virtual. Can you show that you are a strong communicator? Employers will love to talk to you.