Today’s college graduates are entering a very challenging job market. Many of them will end up in positions or jobs that weren’t exactly on the radar for their dream career. Vickie Milazzo says that smart grads will use this time to develop the portable skills that will help them leap to the top once opportunities start flowing.
The slowly recovering economy has taken a toll on all Americans. But for many recent college graduates, it has made that first step into the “real” world a real doozy. In fact, the Associated Press’s analysis of recent government data shows that 53 percent of recent college grads (those under 25) are either jobless or underemployed. Many have had to accept “survival jobs”—jobs not within their preferred profession or at a level below their training—to simply get by. But all is not lost, says Vickie Milazzo. She says that college grads with a “buck up” attitude can use this time to develop portable skills that will bring them great success as their career develops.
“Now is not the time to focus on finding a job that will pay a lot of money or give you a fancy title,” says Milazzo, author of the New York Times bestseller, Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman – WickedSuccess.com. “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. Instead, these graduates should focus on personal growth and developing the portable skills that can be formed in any job but which will serve them throughout their careers.”
Portable skills are the job skills that can serve you no matter where you work or what position you hold. These skills include relationship-building, communication, entrepreneurial thinking, etc. Almost all of them can be developed inside “survival jobs,” and that’s why they should become a key focus for recent college graduates who haven’t yet landed their dream job.
“The portable skills you develop now will shape the professional you become and will help you develop your voice as a professional at a time when you still have a lot to learn,” says Milazzo. “When you focus on building a portable skill set, you’re using this not-exactly-ideal time in your working life much more wisely. With this skill set, you’ll be able to transition more smoothly and create success more quickly when you do land your dream job.”
Read on to learn what portable skills you should put in your tool box and how to perfect them.
Develop a nose for (your) business. Take this time to really study up on your industry. Read industry 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,” says Milazzo. “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.”
Let your creative flag fly. Don’t be afraid to be creative. “This is not about reinventing the wheel,” notes Milazzo. “You don’t have to stress yourself out trying to think of the next, great 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. Also, understand that it’s highly likely that your idea will be simply 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. Great employees don’t passively wait for the boss to tell them what to do. They figure out solutions on their own. “When we find our own solutions, we grow stronger,” says Milazzo. “Excessive reliance on others for our success weakens us. Soon we shy away from challenges we once might have conquered with relish and ease. 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.”
Go big or go home. We tend to want to check the small, easy things off our list and avoid the tough stuff. Break the feel-good addiction. Remember, where you engage and focus is where you will get results. “Going after larger accomplishments—an addiction to momentum—is a far more lasting high than the transitory feel-good of checking off trivial tasks,” says Milazzo. “Once you’re engaged in accomplishing what I call the ‘Big Things,’ you’ll approach routine matters with laser-sharp focus, quickly deleting, delegating, and experiencing fewer distractions. More importantly, your creativity and productivity catch fire, and the momentum keeps you pumped. You’ll glide through your day full of confidence and satisfaction from achieving significant milestones. You’ll stay focused on bigger goals and that will be a huge boost when you aren’t being completely fulfilled in your day job.”
Trade “not”-working for real networking. Connecting with your friends on Facebook and tweeting your latest thoughts on life out to your Twitter followers is not networking. “Real, productive networking happens face-to-face,” explains Milazzo. “More importantly, it happens with people who are not your peers. In order for your networking to be successful, you must strive to connect with people who have more experience than you. It’s normal to gravitate toward people who are the same as you—but in business, one of the main reasons why people don’t get ahead is that they don’t get out of their social groups. Make every effort to meet people who are a rung or two higher than you on the professional ladder. If you impress someone who is more successful than you are, they’ll have a lot more influence than someone whose position is equivalent with yours.”
Build relationships (not just resumes). Why are relationships important? First and foremost, they’re a great way to harvest energy. “Spending time with those who inspire you, who make you laugh, who give you advice you can trust is essential,” says Milazzo. “In the bigger picture for your career, relationships are important because that’s where your opportunities will come from. In most industries, it really is about who you know. When you take the time to develop positive relationships with customers, vendors, the people you speak to frequently who work at other companies, etc., you’ll find that they’ll present you with opportunities organically and vice versa. The other great thing about relationships is that when they’re strong they’ll be with you no matter where you’re working.”
Partner up. Learn how to sniff out other people who have skills/insights that can be leveraged in unexpected ways. “Many people are treasure troves of untapped potential just waiting for the right person to recognize what they have to offer,” says Milazzo. “And always be willing to do some mentoring yourself. Sure, you’re new to the professional world, but many mature workers won’t have the same level of understanding you have when it comes to social media and technology. When you partner with these folks to show them 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. Many recent college graduates are of the social media generation. They’re texters, tweeters, Facebookers. Often face-to-face communication and even written communication aren’t their strengths. “Work on developing your communication skills,” advises Milazzo. “You will not be respected at any company unless you can clearly communicate with people from all levels. Watch more experienced professionals to pick up on their techniques for quality communication. Re-read emails to make sure you’re using correct grammar and aren’t using shorthand. And listen. When you listen to the others, you can ask them more engaging questions and in turn, create better connections.”
Negotiate like you mean it. Negotiating skills are tough to develop and it’s even tougher when you don’t have the confidence or the leverage to go after what you want. Some young job applicants might also think that they’re doing their potential employers a favor by not pushing for more or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth.
“That’s not true,” notes Milazzo. “When I’m hiring, I actually weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect. In my eyes and in the eyes of many other CEOs, job candidates actually lose credibility when they underprice themselves. Learn to negotiate. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your bargaining power is weak just because you’re less experienced. Yes, this power imbalance might make negotiating more challenging, but you have a lot to offer, too. Remember that ultimately, you’re talking to another human being. Try not to become so overawed by rank or position that you forget that!”
In part two we will cover Asking for help, trusting your gut, don’t burn bridges and 6 other Portable Skills Every Recent College Graduate Should Have
About the Author: Vickie Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-1181-0052-3, $21.95, WickedSuccess.com). From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a $16-million business, Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.