Last week I spoke to a group of 50 undergraduate women at the University of Illinois on the topic of women’s empowerment in their job search and careers. Following are some takeaways from that talk, along with new ideas that have since surfaced on what it takes for a young career professional to succeed.
Create a strong Resumé and Cover Letter
- Make sure that your resumé highlights accomplishments and doesn’t merely regurgitate job duties.
- Let your cover letters convey your enthusiasm and individuality.
Network Beyond Your Comfort Zone
- Engage everyone you can find in the professional world, and ask them to open doors for you, to make introductions. Tap into your parents’ network, your parents’ friends’ network, and your friends’ parents’ networks.
- Applying for jobs online is too often a black hole, and many times your resume will never get reviewed. Start to build your professional network any way you can.
- Don’t rely exclusively on your parents for guidance. Your parents have their own concept of who you are; for better or worse, they’re biased when it comes to your career. They bring their own experiences (ie: getting laid off, always having owned their own business) into the conversation, and because they’re your parents, you may follow their advice even if it’s not what your heart is calling for you to do.
- Once on the job, observe those around you and figure out whose leadership style you respect and admire. From there, ask those individuals to meet for coffee or lunch. Come prepared with probing questions about how they got where they are in their career and the lessons they learned along the way. With those whom you have an easy rapport, ask if you can meet on a regular basis. As the relationship grows, your mentor might be more available for questions and might even be able to step in and offer pointers when you need it most.
- Some of you will feel invincible and totally empowered after you graduate. If you’re one of those people, you may feel that you could do things better than those above you in your first job (and you may be right). Even so, employ tact and humility as much as possible. Be patient with your career. You have the whole of it ahead of you and lots to learn about corporate politics, project management, client relations and the nuances of succeeding on the job.
- Solicit feedback on how and where you can improve and then go do it. Figure out what you don’t know and lay your foundation, fill up your tool-kit and map the path of where you’re headed.
Don’t Pre-Determine Your Career Path
- Whether you get recruited by a Fortune 500 company or whether you work for a small business, set a timer to re-evaluate your path at the three-year mark. If you feel you don’t fit in, or if you believe a different corporate culture would suit you better, take charge of your career and change direction.
- Recruiters allow you about five years at a company such as Raytheon or Boeing or Kraft before you become labeled “big company.” After that, your chances of switching paths to a start-up company dwindle dramatically. The same issue can hold true the other way around.
What pointers can you share with new graduates? Or, if you’re a recent grad, share what you wish you’d known when you started your first job.