Good grades aren’t enough for the future: Part II

By a wide margin, the number one employer for recent college graduates is Enterprise Rent-a-Car, according to data from College Grad’s table on top employers. In 2016, Enterprise expects to hire roughly 8,900 entry-level employees. In second place is EY with 5,500 projected new hires for the year. According to Payscale, Enterprise’s management trainees earn between $30,098 and $44,966 per year.

The rest of this article is for anyone who doesn’t want to work at Enterprise Rent-a-Car for around $35,000 dollars a year as a management trainee. There is nothing wrong with taking a job at Enterprise—they give you the tools to be your own boss, after all—but some students are after more money in different fields.

The National Assocation of Colleges and Employers conducted a survey on the importance of seven characteristics that, in the opinion of employers surveyed, mark a graduate’s career readiness. More than 90 percent of respondents believe the following skills are vital to career readiness: professionalism/work ethic at 97.5 percent, critical thinking/problem solving at 96.3 percent, oral/written communications at 91.6 percent, and teamwork/collaboration at 90 percent.

These skills have common characteristics: They are impossible to cultivate without practice, and they rarely come from textbooks.

In the previous article, the importance of experiential learning for students was discussed. Opportunities for experiential learning include internships and volunteering. By taking advantage of these opportunities early in a college career, students can begin to develop some of the important skills listed above before entering the workforce in earnest.

Interning or volunteering also garners students a valuable connection with companies useful after graduation. In a study by Hart Research Associates conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, 94 percent of employers surveyed said they were somewhat more likely to hire students who held internships or apprenticeships with their companies, and 60 percent were “much more likely to consider” those students. Study abroad programs ranked the lowest among surveyed factors that contributed to hiring decisions.

In the same survey, students and employers agreed that the most important factor for success after college is an internship or apprenticeship with the company or organization. It is one of the only factors that employers and students agreed upon closely.

The survey also concluded that “[employers] are more likely than students to think improvements are needed to ensure college graduates gain the skills and knowledge needed for success.” The responsibility of developing these skills falls on the student.

An important lesson to keep in mind from the previous article is Greg Flores’ principle of intentionality. Establish goals, develop a plan, stick to the plan, and do not do anything that strays from the path of the plan.

So, what can students do for themselves?

An important part of beating out competitors after graduation is a developed and diverse professional network. One of the advantages of an internship is the connections forged at work. However, those connections become worthless if they are not maintained. Networking is not limited to these work opportunities alone.

Keeping in contact with other motivated students around a specific area of interest throughout college pays off over and over again. One student doesn’t have enough time to read every article, research every opportunity, and follow every company at the same time. If a professional network is diverse enough, the architect of that network benefits as they receive highlights of all the important happenings in their field.

Adding established professionals to a developing network means potentially hearing about opportunities that have not even hit the open market yet. An easy first step for establishing a network is to join LinkedIn and start making valuable connections.

For tailored experience, download the LinkedIn Students app and give the posted articles a look once a day. The articles are focused on providing useful information to students and burgeoning professionals. Using a professional social network also gives students the chance to practice professional communications.

Students can also practice interviewing before a real job is on the line to prepare for post college opportunities. The first real job interviews for a new graduate should not be the first job interviews they participate in. The only way to prepare is to practice. To practice alone, try writing interview questions on note cards, shuffling them up, and pulling questions at random to answer against a timer.

The best way to self-evaluate is to video record during the responses. Body language is more than half of communication. Learning to control physical and verbal responses to communicate effectively and professionally yields large payoffs. Practicing in teams is an excellent way to prepare for unanticipated questions. Taking turns trying to stump one another during an interview practice will push students to develop strategies that will protect them from embarrassment at real interviews.

The most important thing to keep in mind for all of this, is to start now. Start yesterday if you can. No one sets maximum limits on experience, but a lot of people expect to see the minimums. As was covered in the first part of this three-part series, getting your degree alone doesn’t cover those minimums.

Start looking for an internship or apprenticeship now. Set goals. Develop a plan. Find companies you want to work for. Figure out how much money you want to make. There is an opportunity out there for you, but only if you put in the work. So, get to work.