College Graduates and the Workforce

Just last week, the president and CEO of Isom Global Strategies (IGS), Towan Isom, attended the graduation ceremony of one of our newest associates, Alexandria. Seeing photos Towan shared with the team reminded me how significant this time of year is for young graduates nationwide. It also prompted me to reflect on my own experience as a graduate – sitting in my cap and gown, hanging onto those last words of encouragement before venturing into the next chapter of adulthood: the workforce.

Referred to by many post-grads as the “real world,” entry into this mysterious place is one of the first rites of passage into adulthood. Will I make it? This question plagued me often upon my own graduation in 2010. Spending those long nights in the library, meeting the demands of college curricula and campus activities, and learning to live independently – these are all key ingredients for success in the real world, right? Not quite, according to some.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post published an article asking an eye-opening question: Why are so many college students failing to gain job skills before graduation? One reason pointed to a study administered to 32,000 students at 169 colleges and universities. Results revealed that 40% of graduates fail to graduate with complex reasoning skills needed in the workplace. The second study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities showed that many employers scored graduates low in job-market preparedness (e.g. working well in teams, decision making, oral communication, etc.). 

See: IGS’ Share the Love event equips millennials with real world advice.

On the flip side, graduates gave themselves much higher scores in all 17 areas. Why the disconnect? Are colleges and universities really not preparing today’s students for success? That’s highly doubtful.

A growing number of millennials entering the workforce have a tricky reputation to dispute. While we are viewed as technologically savvy, adventurous, and passionate, we have a few negative perceptions to battle as well. As a millennial, I’d like to think that I’m an outlier when it comes to the negative, owed to an upbringing that emphasized “if you want it, work for it,” and some really great mentors along the way. 

Everyone’s path is, and should be, different, but here are some personal lessons that I’ve learned since graduation. Bottom line: Don’t be scared of hard work and some humility – those will take you far.

Take that unpaid internship. While many of my peers were spending summers at the beach taking “fun” jobs waitressing or lifeguarding, I stayed behind in suburbia Maryland. I questioned my decision countless times as I adopted the 9-5 “real life” schedule and weekday commute at only 19 years old (working nights so I could have some spending money). Am I crazy? I’m going to regret missing out with friends. But with each passing summer after freshman year, I was able to land an even better internship, due much in part to the fact that I had acquired prior work experience. While companies asked a couple questions here and there on classes I took at college, many of them wanted to know what I did at my previous internships – projects I worked on, people I worked with, leadership opportunities afforded to me. By the time I was a senior, I had several internships under my belt. The Monday after college graduation, I landed my first full-time, paying position – living at the beach wouldn’t have landed me that job, based on what IGS was looking for in new employees.

Accept low pay. Depending on our specialties or fields of study, most entry-level jobs are not high-paying. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen from peers is telling the hiring manager unrealistic salary requirements – rooted more often than not from a sense of entitlement (millennials apparently carry this “sixth sense”). The first year out of college, all I wanted to do was to continue living on my own – I couldn’t afford rent and bills, plain and simple, but I was eager to get professional experience because I knew it would get me that second, better-paying job. The tradeoff was worth it. I worked for a very small company, wore many hats, and acquired a ton of new skills. Less than a year later, I landed a higher position at a place called Isom Global Strategies, and began looking for my first real place to live. 

Don’t discount small businesses. It’s easy to be lured by big-name companies, but don’t discount the small ones either – they will afford you the most opportunities to grow. A majority of my peers started in large corporations, but often felt pigeonholed in their specific roles, performing the same tasks day in and day out. Working for a small business accelerates your growth, as many operate in fast-paced environments and truly prosper from a teamwork mentality. Working for a small business will force you to get your hands dirty – it’s not always easy, but it will challenge you professionally. IGS has granted me several opportunities to explore different areas of communications, work on a myriad of accounts, and lead my own projects. Most large businesses cannot provide this flexibility.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t hold yourself back from making a decision or leading a project because of a fear of failure – it’s critical to professional growth. Most importantly, your employers will admire your fearlessness and ability to think on your feet. According to that second study (above), employers want millennials to be better decision makers. Having confidence in the workplace creates a breeding ground for the introduction of new ideas, and you never know what next big opportunity you could land for your company, and ultimately, yourself.

What are some life lessons that have helped you along the way? We would love to hear them! IGS is committed to cultivating its millennial workforce, and proudly welcomes two new college graduates to the team: Ms. Alexandria Crenshaw (Bowie State University, ‘15) and Ms. Jordan Bogner (James Madison University, ‘15). 

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