Monday, October 19, 2009

Anne Brown and Beth Zefo Help College Grads Find Success in First Career

Anne BrownThis week on the Orlando JobSpot I got to speak with 2 great career advice professionals, Anne Brown and Beth Zefo that cater to the recent college graduate. With UCF now the 3rd largest university in the nation, their advice is more important that ever as the graduates are competing in a tight labor market where opportunities are not as abundant as they once were in Orlando, FL. Check out our talk and Go Knights!Beth Zefo

JobSpot: I was reading something this week about unemployment for Gen-Y being at a high not seen since WWII. With the number of grads still growing, from Universities, trade schools, etc. what should they be expecting when they graduate?

Anne and Beth: Today’s graduates can expect to face an extremely competitive - and shrinking - job market. Entry-level corporate positions are disappearing, and due to economic and political uncertainty about healthcare and other policy decisions, small businesses aren’t hiring either. Therefore, it is critical that students realize three things:

1) they can no longer wait until the last weeks before graduation to start job hunting,
2) not to rely on their campus career centers to hand them a job, and
3) that networking is the critical component to landing a job.

According to the old job search rules, students could expect to find a job in 3-6 months from the time they started looking. Nowadays it could take more like a year or longer. Students need to start researching companies and organizations while they are still in school and reaching out to them long before they graduate. A great way to do that is to work part-time on a contract basis or as an intern several months before graduation. Then, stay on that company’s radar by keeping in touch with colleagues and managers.

There is an enormous disconnect between what students believe the purpose of a career center is, and how it actually functions. Students expect to waltz into their career counselor’s office and be handed a list of companies that want to hire them. Students think the career center is there to find them a job because they were told during the admissions process that the placement rate for XYZ college is 99% or something ridiculous. In reality, career centers help students figure out what careers they are most suited for. To get the most out of the campus career center, students need to build a relationship with the staff and take advantage of career assessment tools. When companies come to recruit, who do you think will learn about the opportunity first?

This is proof that networking doesn’t start after college. It should start the minute a students develops an interest in a particular field or industry. Students need to talk to everybody who will listen about their career goals because you never know who might have the perfect opportunity or know someone who does.

JobSpot: We are big promoters of social media and personal branding over here. What are your thoughts on the role self promotion is playing in getting young people prepared for a job?

Anne and Beth: Self-promotion, in whatever particular format – digital, or otherwise - has always played a large role in helping resourceful people win jobs (and promotions). If a job candidate doesn’t come across as competent, professional and mature through social media channels, their chances of ever landing an interview diminishes. Being able to articulate your strengths, and describe the benefits a company would achieve by hiring you, is a skill. And it’s a skill that, unfortunately, is lacking among the majority of recent graduates.

On the flip side, the immediacy of feedback via social media is helping students to more quickly learn from their mistakes and develop the communications skills they need to succeed. In addition, being able to showcase your talent through online portfolio’s and case studies (in some cases) helps to identify the top young talent more quickly and easily.

I will say, however, that I am very uneasy about the increasing convergence of professional and personal lives. The line between the two is getting really blurry and I think social media is speeding up this process. I still believe professional and personal lives they should be separate for the health and overall well being of families in this country, so social media makes me a little nervous for this reason. There are also legal issues arising, regarding how social media is used for recruiting purposes, so I’m interested to see how that all shakes out in the future.

JobSpot: Do you think there is room to have a career you love in this economy, as opposed to a job for right now that addresses current needs?

Anne and Beth: Yes, and in fact I think it’s critical that students find a career they love now, because transitioning careers is extremely difficult in a recession. It will be better to have a more cohesive resume in the near future, say through 2013. According to all reports, even if we start to pull out of a recession, it’s an impossibility that we’d recover all 7.2 million jobs that were lost since Dec. 2007 when the recession began. On top of that, according to a WSJ article by Sudeep Reddy, we’d need an additional 100,000 jobs just to keep pace with population growth.

Basically, it’s better to find work in your field, even if it isn’t the position you envisioned coming out of college. Get your foot in the company’s door, and concentrate on working your way up (long-term goals) as opposed to taking an unrelated job that offers more money (short-term goals). People always succeed faster doing what they enjoy than trying to fake it. We could talk about this topic for hours.

JobSpot: How important is the traditional resume in today’s online and social media landscape?

Anne and Beth: Social media gives students - who might otherwise fall through the hiring cracks – an opportunity to show recruiters why they should be considered for a specific company or position. Social media may help to land an interview, but the recruiting process doesn’t end there. Once a student lands a job interview through non-traditional means, they still have to back themselves up with a traditional resume. It’s still important to look good on paper. The necessity of a traditional resume hasn’t diminished.

College Students Finding JobsJobSpot: Your book, Grad to Great was released about 2 years ago. What do you think are some things that have changed in the past 2 years that grads should be aware of?

Anne and Beth: Well, exactly what we talked about just now. In our book, we advocated trying out several fields after graduation because in the past, your first few jobs were more about establishing a good reputation for work ethic, punctuality, corporate maturity and the like. In today’s environment, recent grads are competing with more experienced Gen Xers and Baby Boomers and need to have a more cohesive career history right out of the gate.

JobSpot: What can college students expect from the book, and where can they find it?

Anne and Beth: Our book teaches college students and recent graduates how to get people to listen to them. Whether that’s a recruiter, colleague or supervisor, our book explains how to take charge of your professional life. We cover resumes and cover letters and interviews, but it’s much more than that. It’s about giving students the tools they need to find the right career and articulate their goals so people actually care about them when they’re networking. We also devote an entire chapter to creative networking. The book is currently available on Amazon, and can be ordered at any Barnes and Noble, Border’s or local bookstore.

Anne Brown is a former journalist who became involved in writing about career development and success strategies after gaining experience in a wide variety of fields and industries herself. Beth Zefo is a former HR manager with General Motors. Their advice for recent graduates has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and several other media outlets. Their web site is and features a regularly updated blog. You can also follow Grad to Great on Twitter, @gradtogreat.

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