This year, there's an entirely new generation graduating from university: Generation Z. And they're facing a competitive job market and a still-uncertain economy. So here's some expert advice for the latest grads entering the workforce.
Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Lifehacker/GMG, photos via Shutterstock
Beef up Your Communication Skills
As curmudgeonly as it sounds, the Digital Age is indeed killing our face-to-face, IRL communication. Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA psychology professor who has conducted research on this trend, told their newsroom:
Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.
Christy Hopkins agrees. She's the HR Staff Writer at FitSmallBusiness.com and says new grads should work on beefing up their verbal communication skills to bust the trend (and the stereotype).
Before entering the job market, recent university graduates should practice their "30-second sales pitch," Hopkins suggested.
Practice your "elevator pitch" on what you want to do and why, answer common new graduate questions about your top achievements in school, how you got into your field, and so on. Make your friends and parents practice with you about how to have a smooth conversation.
This is good advice for anyone, really, but it can be especially critical when you're young, inexperienced, and perhaps too used to communicating over email or text. Hopkins added:
Many new grads tell me, "I've applied to so many jobs, I don't know what company or role you are calling about." That seems incredibly lazy, and ultimately unimpressive.
Let's be honest, though: New grads are under intense pressure to find work in a crowded market, so they're likely casting a wide net and hoping to catch something. In other words, they're applying to any and all jobs available, and it can be hard to keep track of résumé after résumé.
You can have the tightest resume and the most impressive work history, but if you come across as awkward or unpleasant in a job interview, you'll hurt your chances. For this reason, it might help to think of it as a performance.
Come up with a system to track your job application history so you know exactly what you're interviewing for, should you get a callback. A simple Excel spreadsheet will do: Just make a column for the employer, what role you're applying for, and a link to their job description, if available. It makes the job hunt a little more involved, but it's better than looking like you don't have it together.
Clean up Your Social Media Accounts
Another must? Think twice about the questionable updates and photos you've posted to Twitter (or at least make them private). Potential employers are definitely creeping on your accounts to see if you fit their standards.
And it isn't just employers, but landlords and lenders, too! Social media is like a lazy background check, and it's a surprisingly common way to vet job candidates.
More companies are popping up that offer social data to help lenders, landlords and other providers gauge your creditworthiness. In other words, they use your online presence to make decisions about your application.
"Do a huge privacy sweep over your social media accounts and consider removing anything from your 'wall' or public areas, like Twitter, that could pull you out of the running," Hopkins says.
Better yet, step up your social media game altogether. Share interesting articles in your industry. Update your bio to something a bit more professional. And, of course, build an awesome LinkedIn profile.
Fix Your Résumé
You want your résumé to stand out from the crowd, and that means focusing on skills that hiring managers actually value. That much is obvious, but some employers might make the unfortunate assumption that, just because you're a Generation Z-er, you've grown up with modern conveniences and you have no idea what it means to work hard.
This is a stupid stereotype, so make sure your résumé busts it.
"It's a really good idea that on a résumé or in an interview that [Gen Z-ers] demonstrate their understanding of the value of real, hard work," said Valerie Streif, a Senior Advisor with thementat.com, an employment firm. "Things like talking about a laborious summer job that they had or emphasising all the tasks they completed at an unpaid internship can really help to show this quality."
On the other hand, it's important to realise your résumé isn't all about you. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but here's how career coach David Shindler explained it:
A common mistake is to over-focus on yourself and what you want. Employers are more concerned with what they want and how you are going to help them. Do your research and come up with something relevant the employer might not know about their industry or market.
You also want to show, not just tell, Shindler says. Don't just say you're good at tackling a challenge — get specific about what kind of challenges you've overcome. It's easy to do this once you've scored the interview, of course, but there are ways to highlight it on your résumé, too.
"Use other people's words to describe you at your best rather than your own. Show off your portfolios, designs, languages, personal websites and blogs. Leave a takeaway to be memorable." Shindler said. Don't leave your personality at home. Show real interest in the job, the employer, and their world."
Focus on the Right Skills
When you're just starting out, you don't have a lot of work experience. To make up for this, focus on building up a strong set of soft skills, like taking initiative, listening, having an opinion, and a willingness to think outside the box.
"Increasingly, employers are looking for new hires that communicate well, show resilience, and are self-motivated," Shindler said. "They want the right kind of characters to fit into their team. Unless they are looking for a specialist, they will train you on specific technical or functional skills once you are on board."
You can build those skills just about anywhere, too: Internships, volunteering, part-time work or personal hobbies. There are a number of reasons to hire someone beyond their experience.
Don't Be Afraid to Negotiate
It's hard to negotiate your first-ever salary — but not negotiating it can be an expensive mistake.
Negotiating your first-ever salary pays off over the course of your career. But asking for more money when you're just starting out can be intimidating. Here's how to negotiate your pay when you don't have much formal work experience.
A couple of years ago, a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior made its rounds and found that people who negotiated their starting salaries earned, on average, $US5000 ($6732) more. The study concluded that this added up to $US600,000 ($807,842) over the course of one's career. Of course, there are a number of caveats here (you can make up for this when you switch to a higher-paying job, for example), but it's hard to argue with the takeaway: It seriously pays to negotiate.
"A shocking percentage of Generation Z's do not negotiate their first salary," said Streif. "While the underlying cause of this is unknown, it could be due to individuals not seeing themselves at the job long-term or due to subconscious anxiety about money from growing up during the Great Recession."
Either way, Streif says, Generation Z-ers should do their research before accepting a salary. Sites like Glassdoor and Payscale make it really easy to do this. You can see what others are being paid not only in your industry but also at your prospective company. Research is your friend when it comes to negotiating.
Of course, it can feel weird to say, "Hey, can you give me $5000 more a year even though I literally have no experience?" So don't say that. Instead, focus on the skills and traits you do have that employers want to see.
Plus, look at it this way: You'll probably have to learn how to negotiate at some point in your career. The sooner you can get comfortable with it, the better. That's another great reason to negotiate your starting salary, as terrifying as it may be. Just ask, and consider it experience. And if you get what you want? Even better.