college experience

You have a degree, but do you have the skills to land a job?

Required topics for the college experience  

Last week, we posted on the topic of how gaining specific skills during the college experience can impact a corporate career. There are a lot of pros and cons to the college experience.  The cost of an education these days is astronomical and I often wonder how parents and young people manage.  In my position, I see a lot of young people struggle to land a job after college that will leverage their hard earned and expensive degree.

Last weeks post provided business reasons why I believe that effective public speaking is so important to the corporate career. Not only does the ability to speak in front of others help you with your job interview (think panel interviews and stressful presentations) but it will also put your career on a completely different trajectory. Effective public speaking will separate you from the group that doesn’t like to speak publicly OR doesn’t want to speak publicly. If you have a reputation as being an effective public speaker, opportunity will come. 

This week, I am going to write about 4 more topics that I think are critical to a career in the new economy. 

English

A few years ago, I posted a blog for candidates who are veterans to help these candidates over come military stereotypes while trying to enter the job market.  My father-in-law was a Colonel in the US Army so I asked him to proof read the post before I shared it publicly. My intent was to receive counsel on the content. My goal was to make sure that I wasn’t offending anyone in the military or misrepresenting this demographic.  Well, I hit the content, but the redlined document I received back reminded me of my grade school days. Corrections in red marker were everywhere. It didn’t help that I had forgotten that my father in law taught English at WestPoint and served with General Colin Powell. I realized then and there where the terms “mark up” and “redline” in Microsoft Word originated. I am sure that he was wondering who was the illiterate monkey his daughter married as he was grading the paper. I remember saying out loud and in disbelief:

“WTF is a Dangling Participle!” 

There is a reason that English is more important than ever and it isn’t to learn about the dangling participle.  20 years ago, we didn’t have email, text, voice to text or the various forms of instant messenger / chat. I would estimate that 80% of my communication is via email and most of my “thought leadership” is provided in some form via written communication. Many of us “chat” with co- workers that sit right next to us.    

Make no mistake, I am not recommending an English major if you want a job in corporate America.  30 years ago, an English major could land just about any entry-level job.  In the year 2014, colleges should ask students to sign an English Major Waiver. This document would acknowledge the fact that the student understands the repercussions of approaching corporate America with an English major in hand. This is similar to the way I look for our employees to sign a waiver acknowledging that we serve alcohol in the workplace . Both waivers have their place and their reasoning, but it is probably going to get ugly and you are probably “going to see some shit go down”, so proceed at your own risk and think about your tolerance for the consequences.

With so much communication done over email, it isn’t just updates and general correspondence anymore.  Ideas are only as good as the message delivered. You can have a great idea, but if you aren’t able to articulate yourself, you might as well be mute. Effective writers can type their message once and be done with it. Others need multiple drafts and yet others, should have their fingers removed.  Polished writing has it place in corporate America and poor grammar will give you unwanted visibility. 

Accounting

Both for-profit and non-profit companies need to hit a bottom line and answer to a Board of Directors.  If we don’t know where we are financially, what’s the point of the business.  After the crash of 1999 and 2008 we should ALL know how to read a financial statement.  We should all have some sense of which direction the companies that write our paychecks are going.  This is a stretch, but if we understood basic accounting principles we might not have so much credit card debt and mortgages we couldn’t afford. 

There is nothing more impressive than an employee that is deep in their discipline AND understands the business. Individual contributors understand their discipline. Sr. managers and execs have mastered their discipline and understand the business. They are able to see the big picture and will only be given a budget if they know how to manage one.

Microsoft Excel  

All candidates understand Microsoft Office, PowerPoint, and Word.  When I ask about Excel, the usual response is “Yes, I know Excel”.  When I follow up with “What can you do in Excel?” the usual response is “Lists, sorting and basic functions, yes I know Excel”.  

If I could go back in time and buy a bunch of Google stock I would.  Since I can’t, I will think about the next best thing. If I could go back to school and do it all over, I would focus on Excel or some database skill-set.  The cost of electronic storage has changed the game around how much we care about data.  Recent innovations in the field of Big Data have raised the bar on how companies and managers view analytics. I don’t expect a recent graduate to understand Tableau or MySQL, but pivot tables, joins, sorts and advanced equations will put a recent graduate on the map.

This is my Achilles heel and I continue to take classes to improve this skill set. Had I paid more attention in class, I might have saved myself a lot of heartache.  

Next week, I reveal what I believe to be the MOST important class to take in college to land a job. 

See you at the after party,

HRNasty

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Public Speaking

Are you ready to take your career to the next level?

Public Speaking is so important

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting on the topic of college and how the college experience can affect professional careers. A few posts that are ready to go include:

  • How the college reputation can effect the job hunt
  • My thoughts on delaying entry to the job market after graduation.
  • The cost of education and potential alternatives to a 4 year formal education

As high school students prepare to graduate, I am running into more and more parents that are visiting colleges with their 3rd and 4th year high school hellions (self proclaimed child prodigies) and I find this entire topic fascinating.

  • From an HR perspective, I know all to well how the education section at the bottom of a resume can impact a career. The college that is chosen will be making a permanent place on the resume for the rest of the student’s life.
  • My parents didn’t visit any potential schools with me so I missed out on this parent / child experience.
  • There are a number of things I wish I did study, pay attention to, or avoid in college that I wish someone gave me the heads up on.

I don’t have any children and so I write these posts fully acknowledging that I do not worry about funding a young persons college education (let alone 2 or 3). I don’t worry about the spawn of HRNasty getting into the “right school”, college debt, or little HRNasty junior returning to the nest after graduation, unemployed. Lets face it, anyone that has read this blog for any length of time knows one thing: I would probably have some unreasonable standards as a parent. Smart Goals would be applied to the academic career. Networking, public speaking and team sports would be the only acceptable afterschool activities and by God, they would know how to handle an interview!

The reason these skills make such a difference is because landing your first job out of school will exponentially make a difference in the rest of our careers. Like a 401K, the earlier you start, the better the long term compounded gains you will realize when you cash out. This is also true with your career.

  • The company you land your first job with will influence the next few jobs you apply for.
  • Your first starting salary right out of school will set the tone for compensation moving forward. Just landing a job isn’t the goal. We want to land a job and negotiate a solid salary.
  • How you present your ideas and communicate will influence how management treats you, what bucket they put you in and their expectations. This directly correlates to what opportunity you will be given.

Now that I am in the working world, there are a few classes where I wish I paid more attention. Like most students, I had no idea why I was required to take many of the classes needed to graduate. We all know the typical algebra question:

If train A is travelling SW at 70 miles an hour and train B is travelling NW at 44 miles an hour, how far apart will they be in 854 minutes?

I have been working for a number of years now, and fortunately, I have not yet been asked to solve the infamous “2 trains” problem. That being said, there are a number of classes where I wish I had paid more attention.

If I had children, I would insist they pay special attention to a few topics beyond their chosen field of study. These topics are based on a career where I have seen recent graduates receive offer letters, rejection letters, promotions, and pink slips and I am confident more knowledge in the following topics would have made a big difference.

This week and next week I will share my thoughts on classes I would insist the spawn of HRNasty pay attention to (If I had to put a couple of crumb snatchers through college). Although trying to figure out how far apart 2 trains will be after 854 minutes may not be that applicable, I believe that strengths and weaknesses in the following courses will make or break a career. This week I share thoughts on why I think public speaking is so important and a skill I wished I developed during all 4 years of my college career. Next week, I will share 3 more. I firmly believe these 4 skills will make or break a career in the new economy and technology age.

Public Speaking

Public Speaking is one of the top listed fears for most of us, ranking up there with the  fear of spiders and heights. Because this is a fear, without realizing it, we avoid public speaking, public speaking classes, and public speaking opportunities. In reality, we should be doing the exact opposite. We should be signing up for classes, joining Toast Masters and volunteering for public speaking as often as we can. EVERYONE will be involved in public speaking at some point in his or her career. If you are not involved in public speaking than you can assume that your career has a lot of room for growth and that your manager is making a conscious decision to honor your fears. Even if you are working in a role that is traditionally not customer facing, being a spokesperson inside the company will help your career. Effective public speakers are desirable to ALL hiring managers. Whether it is public speaking for potential customers or internal presentations within the company, strong public speakers are a strength I know all hiring managers which they had more of within their teams.

I meet a lot of candidates that are nervous in an interview. I can see they are nervous and they know they are nervous. I get this. Candidate can be so nervous, they literally let me know, “I am really nervous” (heads up: don’t say this in an interview). Public Speaking skills will lesson this fear and WILL make a difference in how you present yourself. This transfers to how you will do in a job interview, salary negotiation, presenting your ideas to management and your career for the rest of your life.

As candidates, we assume that a resume is the first step to landing a job. When I have helped candidates with their resume, landing the interview didn’t mean doo doo if they didn’t know how to communicate, handle the interview questions or the negotiation process. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. I feel very fortunate that I never had a fear with public speaking. I was started on a musical instrument at the age of 3 ½ years old and went to school on a music scholarship so getting up in front of the public wasn’t ever a fear for me. I just didn’t know any better. When I landed in corporate America, I became qualified to facilitate the company’s proprietary public speaking classes. This was a class where participants learned how to EFFECTIVELY speak in public. This class helped me more with my career than any other class and I can easily say that participants also said it was the class that made the biggest difference for them. I completely believe it helped me get to where I am today. I strongly recommend debate, presentation skills, public speaking, speech or ToastMasters.

Next week, 3 more critical skills to concentrate on during your college career.

See you at the after party,

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. E.G. “He has a nasty fork ball”.

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