For many college graduates, the slowly recovering economy has made that first step into the real world a real doozy. The bottom line is that many grads are lucky to find any job, let alone a job that pays what they hoped they’d be making right out of college. The Associated Press reports that 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 last year were either jobless or underemployed. But to those college grads with a “buck up” attitude, you can use this time to focus on personal growth and develop the portable skills that can be formed in any job and will serve you throughout your career. These include building relationships, communication, entrepreneurial thinking, and more.
The portable skills you develop now will shape your voice as a professional at a time when you still have a lot to learn. With this skill set, you’ll be able to transition more smoothly when you do land your dream job.
Develop a nose for (your) business. Take this time to really study your industry; read trade magazines, and attend events if you can. Being able to talk intelligently about the state of your industry will be a huge selling point for you. The more you know, the more dots you can connect. Knowing where your industry is going will help you decide what other areas of knowledge are important for you to focus on.
Don’t be afraid to be creative. This is not about reinventing the wheel. You don’t have to stress yourself out trying to think of the next outside-the-box idea for your company or industry. Often, it’s about taking ideas from other industries or companies and adapting them to fit your own. Understand that your idea will likely be just that, an idea. You probably won’t have the resources or the authority to put it immediately into action. However, showing your leaders that you have the ability to think creatively about their business and the level of understanding to know what’s important and what’s not will be a great way to earn more responsibility.
Be your own problem solver. Instead of waiting for the boss to tell you what to do, figure it out on your own. When we find our own solutions, we grow stronger. One key aspect of becoming a good problem solver is taking swift action. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Learn to trust your initial feelings and thoughts about an issue.
Trade “not” working for real networking. Connecting with friends on Facebook and tweeting your latest thoughts is not networking. Productive networking happens face to face with people who are not your peers. In business, one of the main reasons why people don’t get ahead is because they don’t get out of their social groups. Strive to connect with people who have more experience than you.
Build relationships (not just resumes). When you take the time to develop positive relationships with customers, vendors, and the people you speak to frequently who work at other companies, you’ll find that they’ll present you with opportunities organically and vice versa. When relationships are strong, they’ll be with you no matter where you’re working.
Partner up. People are treasure troves of untapped potential just waiting for the right person to recognize what they have to offer. Seek out those with skills and insights from which you can learn. And always be willing to do some mentoring yourself. You’re new to the professional world, but many mature workers don’t have the same level of understanding you have when it comes to social media and technology. When you partner with these folks and help them with what you know, they’ll partner with you right back. You’ll both learn a lot from each other and great relationships will form.
Go offline to work on communication. Social media has affected people’s abilities in face-to-face and written communication. You will not be respected at any company unless you can clearly communicate with people. Watch more experienced professionals to pick up on their techniques. Re-read emails; use correct grammar. And listen. When you listen you can ask relevant questions, learn more, and create better connections.
Negotiate like you mean it. Negotiating skills are tough when you don’t have the confidence or the leverage to go after what you want. Thinking you’re more appealing by not asking for the wage you are worth, isn’t true. Don’t assume that your bargaining power is weak just because you’re less experienced. You’re talking to another human being; try not to become awed by rank.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Know what you don’t know and when to seek answers. Appreciate that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and understand that aggressive learning is a competitive advantage to achieving any desired goal.
Trust your gut. Learn to identify what your gut feelings truly are, as opposed to being influenced by your boss, mom, and friends. Then learn to interpret, trust, and act on those feelings—keeping in mind that it’s okay to be rerouted by circumstance.
Be constructive with constructive criticism. Remember, you’ve still got a lot to learn. Don’t get defensive when someone gives you advice for which you didn’t ask. Instead of reacting negatively to criticism, openly look for opportunities to put the advice into practice.
Develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Create opportunities by taking the initiative on certain tasks. Rather than looking only at your advancement, look for ways in which your knowledge can benefit the company. As a business owner, I appreciate employees who apply enterprise and ingenuity to their jobs.
Go for the goal. Always have something important to work toward, whether it’s related to your job or not; it will keep you focused on improving and moving forward, especially if your current job isn’t particularly stimulating.
Build your personal credibility. Be the person your colleagues and bosses trust to get the job done. When you become someone people rely on, they won’t hesitate to move you up in the company or to recommend you to people in their networks.
Engage 100 percent. No matter what your current job is, you’re there to work—not to goof off on Facebook, text with your friends, or anything else. Work as hard or harder than your boss. There is just no substitute for the willingness to work hard.
Starting your career is like getting into physical shape. You’re going to be sore and you’re going to want to quit. But when you use this time to develop the skills that will benefit you for the entirety of your career, it will become a very fulfilling time.