In just a few short weeks, close to 2,000 Western Illinois University students will join the ranks of our 125,000 proud WIU alumni throughout the world. This is the moment so many students have been waiting for. Their college years are coming to a close, and their careers are about to begin. A few blog posts ago, I talked about careers and social media. It seems appropriate, as we approach Spring 2015 Commencement, that I touch upon some “real world” tips for new graduates.
First, if you have not yet visited WIU’s Career Development Center during your time at Western, now is the time to visit (and if you are a recent, or not-so-recent, graduate, you too can use the services offered at the center). Director Marty Kral and his staff are there to help provide guidance on further improving your résumé and cover letter, how to execute a successful job search, and so much more. I often talk about first impressions. Your résumé and cover letter are often that first impression. These documents, along with your qualifications, may determine if you move to the next stage in the interview process.
Larissa Faw, a contributor for Forbes.com, rounded up a list of unconventional tips and words of wisdom for college graduates (http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2013/05/16/unconventional-career-advice-for-college-graduates-2). As I read through the list, I saw myself not as a University president, or a professor, but as a father giving this same kind of advice to my two college-age sons. Ms. Faw, who writes about millennials and workplace trends, compiled this simple list, which provides outstanding advice. As an English professor, one piece of advice, “grammar counts,” certainly strikes a chord. We live in a digital age. We use our phones to communicate with family, friends, and colleagues. I may receive a text or an email from a student who uses “text lingo.” “U” for “you,” or “4” in place of “for.” As Ms. Law states, “executives look not only for proper grammar and sentence structure, but also for vocabulary and overall thinking processes.” Please, save the text lingo for texts to your friends. Proof every application, resume, and cover letter carefully.
In a U.S.News Money article (http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/05/02/13-real-world-tips-for-college-grads), author Teresa Mears provides 13 tips for new college graduates, including “do not expect to get a job by only filling out online applications.” Mears added that “you are more likely to find a job through your college professors, parents, friends of parents and parents of friends, pastors, former babysitting clients and anyone else you know. This could require talking to people on the phone or in person. Just do it.”
And Mears echoes the sentiment I shared in an earlier blog post, “clean up your social media profile. It’s the first thing prospective employers will look at. If you do not already have a LinkedIn profile, create one to highlight skills you have gained through your education, your volunteer work or any jobs you have had so far.” Network, and use your experiences in and out of the classroom to set yourself apart. CareerBuilder.com adds instead of posting your résumé on a website, take it one step further and design an easy-to-navigate site or online portfolio on which recruiters can view your work, learn more about you and your goals, and obtain contact information.
The first job (or maybe even the second job) you take may not be your “dream job,” but do not be so quick to turn down something because you envision spending years at the company or organization. While you certainly should review your options and offers carefully, keep an open mind and realize that a job is an opportunity, a stepping stone, a foot in the door, a way to enhance your skills and to build references. That first position you take out of college should serve to make you a stronger, better, and more skilled employee…and you may end up loving the job, the organization, and all that the position offers.
Finally, as you head out into the real world (or even if you have been in the real world for some time), always remember to treat co-workers, customers, supervisors, and others with respect and courtesy. When you leave an organization for a position elsewhere, leave on good terms, even if the job setting was not ideal or your co-workers or supervisors were difficult. Do not speak ill of your previous colleagues, mentors, or your former company. Do not burn your bridges. Remember, perspective employers may contact individuals who have taught, supervised, or mentored you – even if you have not listed these people as reference.
I wish all of our new graduates the best of luck as they enter the workforce. Western Illinois University will always be here to help.