The 9 Greatest Myths Plaguing Students & New Professionals
Published in CareersConnect, February 2011
By April Silverthorn Southward
Recently, a good friend asked for my help when he decided it was time to begin looking for a new job. We sat down to go over the areas he should focus on before beginning a job search: writing his résumé, creating a LinkedIn profile, and reviewing and building his web presence. I explained the importance of each task and that I was more than happy to help him along the way.
A couple of days later, we met up again, this time to work on his résumé. When I arrived, I was astonished by the lack of effort he put into creating his résumé base. When I asked him about this, he noted that his current job and college degree was all he had to base it on. I'll give it to him, he does work for a great company and have a noteworthy position, but the reality is that this will never be enough, especially in today's job market.
As I ran through all of the things I thought he should include on his résumé, it occurred to me that students and new professionals must take on a new mind-set if they want to succeed. It was in that moment I realized even though many of us are told what to do in order to succeed, we are not told why these moves are critical to our career success, and in turn we don't tend to follow the advice. It was from that meeting that I discovered the nine most common myths that plague the success of students and new professionals listed below.
1. Your GPA is Not Important...
So many students have the "D is for Diploma" mindset. They think that as long as they achieve what is required to graduate they will have succeeded. While the "D" will get you a diploma, it's not going to help you reap the full benefits of a college education. Think about it, if you attend college and received a diploma, but sold yourself short, who really got cheated? The school still received its full tuition, yet you didn't receive your full education in return. Don't ever sell yourself short by doing the least amount possible because by the time you realize the mistake you've made, you're too far past the situation to make a correction.
To take this a step further. Your GPA is very important as you make the transition into a career. As a new professional with little else to go off of, what you achieved while in college is critical to prove your value to prospective employers. Therefore, your education has to showcase your ability to learn and succeed. The addition of a great GPA to your résumé will help to show those prospective employers you are worth their attention.
So what do you do if your GPA is not great? Try to look at your GPA differently. Maybe your overall GPA wasn't that great but you had a 3.92 GPA for your major; list the GPA of your major concentration instead of your overall GPA. If there is no way to salvage your GPA, try to look for other ways to prove your ability. Maybe you won a scholarship or award, or maybe you were busy playing for your college's football team and made it to a bowl game; list those accomplishments in place of your GPA.
2. Your First Jobs Don't Count...
All too often, students and new professionals get caught in the concept of "I'm not going to make my career here so the effort that I put forward now isn't going to impact my career later." This is another huge myth! Putting forth your best effort from the start is critical for several reasons. For one, you are building your reputation from your first day of work. So, whether you're working at a big-box retail chain, a prestigious corporation, or flipping burgers at the golden arches, you need to remember that the moves you make today will follow you as you begin your career. Most importantly, these employers eventually serve as references; they also provide you the ability to gain recognition and build your professional network, so it's important that you work to build a great reputation from the beginning.
3. Volunteering is a Waste of Time...
I don't feel like I can stress this enough-donate your time. As I mentioned before, as a student or new professional you have little experience to showcase on your résumé. However, by volunteering you can maximize the experience you have to list on your résumé. Not to mention that the time you spend volunteering will likely teach you many things which can also come in handy on the job and as you interview for your next position.
With so many organizations in need of volunteers, you should be able to easily locate an organization that interests you. Most organizations are willing to work around your schedule or to offer a compromise in scheduling to work you in. All you have to do is ask. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, check out idealist.org, volunteermatch.org, dosomething.org, or smartvolunteer.org.
4. Your Friends Don't Define You...
I hate to say it, but choose your friends wisely! Too many times we forget that those who we surround ourselves with typically have a strong influence on our success, or lack thereof. Your friends do influence many of the decisions that you make. In order to equip yourself for a successful future, you should take a look at those around you and determine if they are a good influence on you. If they are not, it may be best to reach out and find those whose values are better suited to your own.
How does this relate to your career transition? As a potential employer, I am going to be checking in on you, and the last thing I want to find is questionable photos, comments, or quotes that a "friend" posted on your Facebook account. Thanks to Facebook, those around you will be taken into consideration as well, so be selective of who you choose to have in your inner circle.
5. I Shouldn't Worry about What I Post to the Internet...
Our generation has literally grown up with the Internet, so it's naturally become a comfortable place for us to express ourselves. While this has its positives, it also has many negatives because the things we post to the Internet are often hard to get rid of. Since other generations don't have the same feelings toward the Internet, we must be especially critical of what we post. While being mindful of your future posts can be enough of a challenge, it can also be really difficult to undo some of the damage you've already done.
How do you go about cleaning up your social media image? My suggestion is to start with your Facebook and other accounts where you are the most active. Work on refining what you have posted and what others have posted about you. Once you have done this, it's all about monitoring what is posted and what is available for the viewing pleasure of the general public. Another trick I have learned is to search your name and typical usernames on Google to find accounts that you may have forgotten. Many times people are shocked at how much information they have posted to the Internet and how easily it can be found. Whether it's the comments you've made on a blog post or the feedback you left as a review, employers are going to make judgments about who you are based on what they find online, and trust me when I say, they are looking.
Additionally, you need to join the LinkedIn network now! College is such a great time to begin building your professional network. Not only are you exposed to a mass of new people each semester, but you are also exposed to countless professors and speakers. By starting your network now, you will be ahead of the game later. To learn more about creating a LinkedIn account, check out my article, "Link-up With LinkedIn."
6. The Things I'm Learning Aren't Valuable...
I have to admit that for a while after college I felt robbed! I took out student loans to pay the high cost of a college education and felt as if I received little more than a piece of paper in return. Looking back now, I realize that I did, in fact, learn a lot; the issue was that I didn't learn what I had expected I would. For some reason, I thought that I would come out extremely intelligent, knowing what it took those on the "career" track a lifetime to learn. While I definitely got ahead, I didn't come out all-knowing!
Honestly, it took a couple of months for me to begin to appreciate and understand the array of knowledge I had acquired. A college degree is something you kind of grow into, in that you will continually discover things you learned in college and how applicable they are to the real world and your career. I think it takes a bit of time to begin to understand the worth of a degree since it takes a while to understand the value of what you actually learned. All things considered, keep up the good work and with time you will probably have a change of heart.
7. There is No Reason to Keep Records...
Keeping records is critical for two reasons. First and foremost, you want to keep records of anything and everything that you would want to put on a résumé. Having the records to justify the statements you make on your résumé is critical, especially as a student with little credibility. While many things you are saving may seem irrelevant (e.g., an award an employer gave you in college), they are great assets to have a couple of years later when building your professional résumé.
Secondly, if you are going to be employed by the government or a government contractor, the odds are very high that that you will have to obtain a security clearance. Whenever you obtain a clearance, you have to submit information from the past 7-10 years. This information includes previous addresses; contact information for roommates, close friends, family, and previous employers; as well as the documentation for any legal issues you've had. If you fail to maintain your records, not only do you jeopardize your ability to obtain a security clearance, but you also create a mass of unnecessary stress as you scramble to obtain the information.
8. I Don't Need to Challenge Myself...
This could not be further from the truth. It's important that you get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. I know that you're thinking, "Why would I do something that I hate or find stressful?" Simple, because the more you challenge yourself in your areas of weakness, the easier it is to move on and become comfortable with the things you once feared.
Many people have a fear of public speaking; if you have this fear, take a speech class, lead a presentation at your work, or find some other way to get in front of people and speak. Maybe public speaking is not the issue, maybe writing is a challenge for you; take a creative writing class, start a blog, or ask your employer for a way to challenge your writing skills. The bottom line is that by challenging yourself you can actually improve your skills and the overall package that you have to offer employers. You may also be shocked that the more you "practice" doing something you dislike, the easier the task is to complete.
Speaking of challenging yourself, turn the TV off and read a book once in a while. I'm always shocked by people's reactions when I say that I haven't watched TV in several months. You'd think that I'd said I hadn't eaten for several months, people honestly wonder how you are surviving. It's alarming that we have such a dependence on TV that most people cannot imagine going more than a couple of days without tuning in. Even if you "hate to read," I bet if you actually gave it a chance you may begin to think differently.
I encourage you to read for just 15 minutes each day. Find books on subjects that interest you and read them. You'll be surprised how quickly the 15 minutes passes and how often you will read for longer than 15 minutes. I think you will also be amazed at you how much you secretly enjoy reading and how much knowledge you retain.
9. Success Happens Overnight...
Lastly, I have to tell you that success doesn't happen overnight. No matter where you are, things can begin to seem mundane. Rather than focusing harder on the next big thing, you have to stop and consider the bigger picture. What you want is to advance to the next level. However, you have to allow yourself to slow down and enjoy where you are now. As a new professional I find that this is one of my biggest challenges. Ironically, I also find that I miss the simplicity of college, even though I spent most of my time trying to get out of college and into a career. The moral of the story is to stop and take the time to enjoy what you like about where you are while you put in the effort and wait for success to come and knock on your door.