S*** My Students Say…

April 2, 2012

“I’m cool with anything, minus a lot of things…”

I think I’m going to rename this blog after a short-lived William Shatner sitcom, “S*** My Students Say.” I spend the week doing my job, but in the back of my mind I’m always looking for topics or news of interest to pass along in this space. Facebook passwords from job applicants, Orlando’s employment scene, health care reform and company health benefits, entry-level job opportunities, networking; all of these have crossed my mind as meaningful topics, but only half of them made it to post. Why? I work with MBA students at the University of Central Florida helping them find job and project opportunities. So I talk to people for a living. And people say some really thought-provoking s***!

This week I was talking to a young lady about her impending job search. My first question when I’m helping a student form a career plan is always, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a fairly simple, straightforward question; one that parents have been asking their kids since before kindergarten. But it’s probably the hardest question for students to answer. This week we were talking and when the discussion got to careers her answer was that she was pretty much open to anything, with certain restrictions. In other words, she THINKS she’s willing to look at any job. But in reality, her, “I didn’t go to college for X years to do that job” filter is kicking in. She’s not alone. It’s actually easier to talk about the jobs students DON’T want to do. I’ve seen “the look” a lot the last few months.

I don’t fault new grads for thinking they should expect a good job after graduation. Their professors tell them all about their exciting and exotic consulting assignments (getting PAID to just give your opinion, oh yea!! I’m full of opinions). Their parents, so proud of their academic accomplishments, have told them how smart they are. Society and the media tell them that having a degree, especially a graduate degree, is their ticket to stability in this highly unstable time. Movies and TV are replete with young hipsters sipping latte on worn leather sofas in a trendy little café. Looks like a great life to me!

So what I’m going to do this week is throw out a few “inconvenient” truths for my students to ponder…

Inconvenient Truth #1: Friends, Sex and the City, CSI…ARE ALL CRAP!
The lifestyle presented in these television shows is out of the reach for most new grads. It’s TV. It’s fake. That’s why you watch it. No one has budgets to hit at work or bills to pay at home. Their jobs are swarthy and exotic. They wear snazzy clothes, get their nails done and eat at cute little bistros. Want a bit of truth? According to a recent survey 85% of recent college graduates will move back home with their parents. Unemployment of recent grads is decreasing slowly, but student debt and stagnant (or commission-based) wages in entry-level jobs make that “made-for-TV” lifestyle impossible for most grads. Pop culture is NOT a realistic indicator of twenty-something living. I’d also like to add that most adults over 40 are full of crap as well. It’s been almost 20 years since we looked for an entry level job with no job experience. Unless we’re in the business of hiring people, our opinions are simply a guess at best.

Inconvenient Truth #2: No one will hire you to manage something you haven’t already done
Poll graduate business students and their top job choices will include consultant, financial analyst, investment banker, and baron of private equity. I recently polled a sample of HR professionals and their overwhelming entry-level job recommendation was administrative support and “overhead.” Positions generally categorized as overhead include IT support, HR administration, and customer service rep. Sales was a strong second. Large companies that have “pipeline” management programs (including most large retailers) will have the new hire work and show success in a variety of support positions including sales before moving on to more responsible positions.

Inconvenient Truth #3: People who make lots of money, don’t draw a salary
If you have an aggressive salary in mind (and almost every student who has come to see me does) then you can’t think in terms of a salary. New business grads who earn “good” money right out of school tend to work in jobs that have performance-based pay structures. That means they have to work really hard and they have to perform really well. They don’t sit in a cube (or trendy, brick-walled office like Truth#1) and put in a normal work week. They don’t talk about shoes, clothes, basketball, or weekend vacas with co-workers. They don’t put numbers in a spreadsheet and analyze data for someone else to review. They hustle. If you don’t want to sell something, then going back to Truth #2, you will probably enter the workforce in an administrative or overhead support position. Nothing wrong with that, the positions exist for a reason. Learn your job, hone your craft, and position yourself for promotions. But don’t expect to get rich immediately.

Inconvenient Truth #4: Words that end in “n’t” will severely limit your opportunities
I watch BBC’s “Top Gear.” Love the show. In one episode Richard Hammond was in Asia and needed to pick out something to eat. “Don’t like…” was what he kept saying over and over again. Consequently, he went quite hungry during the show. When employers hear grads say, “I won’t…” or “I can’t…” or I don’t…” they quickly lose interest in the grad and go looking for one who will. As they say on Top Gear, a new grad “top tip” would be to ask the Recruiter about their first job. Talk to the hiring manager about how they started in business. You’ll probably hear more stories about jobs that were quite humble and not very exotic.

Convenient Truth: You’ll probably lose this job in the next few years
Remember your high school sweetheart? Is he or she sitting next to you? Today the chances are much higher that if you do have a seat mate, you’re sitting next to someone you met later in life. Why? Options. Personal growth. Expanded communication channels. Individual fulfillment. Blah, blah, blah…. Same thing with careers. How many people do you know who’ve had the same job since graduation? How many have had more than one job, either at their employer’s request or their own? Your first job is not what you’ll do forever. Rather, it builds skills, traits, and accomplishments that will not only populate your resume but make you a better, more effective job candidate. If you narrowly define that “perfect” first job you may not ever find any first job in the same way your weird old spinster aunt or creepy bachelor uncle never found a mate.

Why is this last one a “convenient” truth? Because this truth is the one that should make new grads happy. Your first job will set you up for success in the future. You’ll build professional skills, gain experiences, and begin to shape a personal brand that can lead to that sexy / exotic / super cool job that you wanted out of the gate. The job might be with the company that hired you or it might be with a different company. It could be in the city you started in, or a different city (even one with trendy cafes, worn leather sofas, and a decent latte!) The possibilities are there, if you are open to anything!

“I hate fishing! Why would I bait a hook and wait for a fish to get hungry and come get the food. If I want a fish, I go down there and get the fish.”

I was having lunch with a new client and we were talking about his love of spear fishing. He grew up in Key West diving without tanks, not even a snorkel. Just a mask, fins and Hawaiian sling. It’s not a sport thing. It’s a food thing. He’s not looking for a trophy to hang on the wall. He fishes because he loves fish; fresh fish. So, if the desired end result is a meal, wouldn’t you take the quickest most efficient path there? Makes sense to me.

When my students talk about their job search, they talk about answering online job postings. They use the campus job board. They go to job fairs and do all the things that we generally associate with an entry level job search. Sounds like fishing to me. They bait their hook with a resume and wait for a job to swim by. If an employer bites, they work that strike like Bill Dance landing a trophy bass.

Here’s the problem with that approach and why I love my client’s position as a metaphor. My client likes to spearfish because HE chooses the fish to pursue. He’s not waiting for whatever wants to hit his bait. It’s essentially a shift in the power relationship; he’s taking an active role and making things happen. In the same way, incorporating networking and direct contact into your job search gives you more control of the job you try to land.

Sounds pretty straightforward, eh. So, what’s the downside? Plenty! First of all, lots of shots miss. Spearfishing is a skill and even the most skilled at it go home hungry on occasion. You need to practice…a lot! That means getting off the boat. That means getting in the mix. In job search terms, that means turning off the computer, putting on pants and getting out among people! Networking is an active strategy and to learn how to use it you have to practice. Then once you figure out how networking works, you have to do it a lot to get good. Then to stay good, you have to keep doing it.

Next you have to know where to fish. You can put a lot of effort fishing a reef with none of the fish you want to eat. Again, networking takes skill and knowing where to find the fish you want takes practice and experience. For example, knowing dolphin gather under beds of floating grass is something you learn after spending a lot of time out on the water. So if you want to network with bankers, do you know where to fish? How about HR folks? Purchasing managers?

Finally, you may snag a fish that you can’t actually land! My client told a story about tagging a huge grouper that was hanging around a wreck. But he couldn’t pull it in. He tied it off, went up for air, and kept coming back. But in the end he couldn’t land it. You might make what you think is an AWESOME connection only to hear, “We aren’t hiring” or “Gee, I really don’t know anyone that can help you.” You invested time, effort and skill. Made the shot. Got connected! But, you couldn’t make the sale. Or you picked a target that just wasn’t right for you. Happens a lot. Sometimes you can change your technique or approach. Sometimes you can back off and then hit it again later. Sometimes you have to do like my client and go get help to land it. Then again, sometimes you just can’t land it.

Networking and direct contact is the key to unlocking the ubiquitous “hidden job market.” Sounds exotic, but really all you’re doing is ditching the passive rod and reel for a more active Hawaiian sling.

Lonny