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The secret to getting your first job as a college graduate

Posted by Devin Cole  July 2, 2012 12:56 PM

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Years ago there was a direct path to a successful career: You work hard in high school to get into a good college to get a good internship and that internship would turn into a full-time job.

The old economy was about lifetime employment and the new economy is about mobility. You move around based on the demand of the market, your interests, and your connections. The economy, globalization and automation have broken the linear career path – and it’s never coming back.

Now, there’s no one true path to a successful career. You might set out to do one thing and then you get laid off, or a new opportunity comes your way that pushes you in a completely different direction. A recent study by my company and Experience, Inc., both Boston-based, found that half of companies haven’t hired a single intern in the past six months, yet 91 percent expect students to have at least one internship, but most haven’t hired those interns into full-time positions.

What this should tell you is that you can’t rely on anything or anyone anymore besides yourself. You have to be accountable for your career instead of waiting patiently for an opportunity to come your way. The days of taking things for granted are long over.

The rules of job searching have changed and you have to adapt if you want to build a career. If you think that submitting a resume to a job board is going to magically turn into a job, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you think that getting straight A’s is going to get you a position at Google, then you’re going to be very disappointed.

The one thing that hasn’t changed, at least since I graduated Bentley University in 2006, is that your first opportunity is the hardest to get because everyone wants a track record to eliminate risk. That’s why internships are so critical.

Here are the secrets, based on my research, which will help you win in this job market (even if you aren’t a recent grad):

  1. Think like an entrepreneur instead of an employee. Our research found that almost one third of employers are looking for entrepreneurship experience when recruiting for entry-level positions. If you can’t get an internship, start your own business. Whether it succeeds or fails, you will learn something and present yourself to employers as a risk taker, salesperson and self-starter. I’ve recently been asking executives who would they rather hire, an entrepreneur or a student with five internships. They immediately took the entrepreneur. Businesses can only thrive based on new ideas and innovation – so they are desperate for entrepreneurial minded students. GE, for instance, will look for their next executives during college recruitment. Some students have been able to start successful companies and it becomes their job upon graduation.
  2. Put more emphasis on developing soft skills. For the most part, it’s easy for companies to find individuals who have hard skills, such as basic computer proficiency. You can’t compete based on what you know as much as you used to. Our study found that employers are looking for communication skills (98 percent), a positive attitude (97 percent), and teamwork skills (92 percent). How do you develop these skills? You have to be as social as possible by joining student organizations, volunteering, and attending networking events. You will naturally become a better communicator by being around people constantly. Interviews are a measure of your soft skills, not hard skills. Also, it’s important to spend more time searching for jobs that you’re genuinely passionate about because it will ensure that you have a positive attitude during your interviews. If you’re trying to fake your attitude because you need a paycheck, you will be passed over.
  3. Use all of your resources. Let people know that you’re searching for a job or they won’t be able to help you. Meet with your career services contact at your school to see if they will introduce you to relevant alumni contacts. Get introductions through family, friends and acquaintances. If your father is a VP at a company, try working there if you can – even if it doesn’t make you feel accomplished. Our research shows that only 16 percent of employers recruit on social networks all of the time or most of the time, while 48 percent use job boards and 44 percent use employee referrals. Other studies show that most employers are using social networks for recruiting. What matters is that you use everything at your disposal in order to get a job. Do everything! Just because one of your friends got a job after a Twitter posting doesn’t mean you’ll be just as lucky. Being everywhere will increase your odds of getting a job.

Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0 and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his updates at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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