A Note to Graduating Seniors: Let Your Light Shine
May 8, 2013
Five things you can do to develop yourself and define your path before getting your first job.
It’s that time again - graduation season. Traditionally, it’s been a time to feel accomplished and optimistic for the future. But thanks to a less-than-roaring economy and competitive job market, it has more recently become a time of uncertainty and apprehension for many seniors just entering the workforce.
The good news is that the type of skills that are valuable in the workplace are shifting, and they favor the young, and adaptable.
So how is it done? How do you differentiate yourself from the crowd and do what you were born to do? Here are five ways to think about building experience, honing skills, and positioning yourself for your dream job in a difficult market.
1) Connect with your sense of purpose. Having a clear sense of purpose is the first and most fundamental step in distinguishing yourself from others in a crowded marketplace. In her recent posting “The Happiest People Pursue the Most Difficult Problems”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School states “everyone regardless of their work situation [should] have a sense of responsibility for at least one aspect of changing the world. It’s as though we all have two jobs: our immediate tasks and the chance to make a difference.” Finding the one thing that you feel like you were born to do will help you stand out from the crowd of other applicants. Not sure what that is yet? For most it is a combination of ‘What I am good at’ + ‘What I love to do’ + ‘What I care most deeply about’. Check out this post from Live in the Grey for more on finding your personal sweet spot.
2) Develop a clear sense of your natural strengths and abilities, and learn how to leverage them. We all have particular things that come naturally to us, or that bring us so much pleasure that it doesn’t feel like work to do them. It doesn’t mean that we are necessarily the best at those things, but it does mean that we have an aptitude that allows us to develop in those areas with less effort and energy than it would take others. Come up with a list of things that you are naturally good at, and come up with 2-3 ways that each are uniquely valuable for what it is you want to do. Begin using these as talking points for why you are the best person to take on a particular role, or solve a particular problem, and practice them in conversation with others.
3) Get Involved: Don’t wait to get hired - Do what it is you want to do. Whether it be through traditional routes like volunteering or interning with an established organization, through attending meet ups or other networking events, or working with others to organize your own project or initiative, the most important aspect of entering a field is gaining some experience and building a network of people that are familiar with you and your work. Figure out where people in your area of interest are hanging out, and get involved! There are tons of free and low cost ways to meet up with others that share your personal and professional interests, both online and off.
4) Develop expertise in an area you care about: Despite how it may seem, the internet is for more than just cat pics. These days, there is a wealth of information on any subject imaginable, and that means that you have daily opportunities to expand your knowledge base in your areas of interest. Show prospective employers that you have taken the time to understand the current landscape in your field, are familiar with the leading thinkers, and that you have what it takes to actively contribute to the conversation. Find mentors in the field, and surround yourself with smart people. You will always learn more from listening to the advice of others.
5) Become a problem solver: The new economy is both about understanding the landscape in your field, and about defining your own value in it. Do you see a need that is not currently being filled? Collaborate with others to take leadership and solve problems related to your field of interest. Nothing stands out on a resume like “Initiated” “Led” “Collaborated with”, etc. If you think something needs to be done, take charge of doing it, and prove your abilities through action.
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