With a bunch of friends and family recently joining the ranks of new college grads, I suddenly found myself in the role of the older and arguably wiser adviser this week; apparently being out of college for seven years gives you credibility. All of them are in the job market and wanted my opinion. They all asked the same general question: What are companies looking for in a candidate?
In thinking about their question, here’s my POV.
As a teenager, I remember hearing the old adage, “Your reputation precedes you.” The phrase stayed with me as I started planning a career in public relations. I told myself that success would be defined by my work.
If I’m completely honest, I’m the one who actually turned down my first full-time job opportunity straight out of college. Why? It’s simple: I wasn’t ready.
Although it was a tempting opportunity, it didn’t align with my skill set and I was uncomfortable putting my reputation on the line. I understood that real world experience was needed if I wanted to be effective in this position and other future opportunities. So, I continued working in college athletics, treating every task assigned to me while an intern in the sports information department as a challenge to build my reputation as a PR professional.
I’m still building my reputation. Every professional with ambition will concede that his or her personal brand is always under construction. If you’re a recent graduate or a young professional searching for the next opportunity, consider these tools to build your reputation and career.
Check your path before your paycheck. When plotting your career, be strategic about your next move. Weigh the long-term risks against potential short-term rewards with each job you consider. Compare every job opportunity with your career trajectory, and ask yourself if this position will move you forward along the path to your ultimate goal or cause a setback. Recent college graduates can consider accepting an internship to practice their skills with peers and industry veterans. This side step could be more important for your resume and portfolio than a paycheck stub.
Invest in learning that pays a dividend. If you want to move forward in your career, learning is the best return on investment. Finding a publication that allows you to stay on top of industry news is a good starting point. Since I work with many business clients, I read The Wall Street Journal every morning, and I’ve found the content beneficial for my professional development and conversations with clients and reporters. Professional development is a key area worth exploring in your interviews with future employers. Ask if they provide opportunities for you to attend a workshop, webinar or conference.
Measure your job by industry standards. There are two types of hours at every job: office and industry. Typical office hours may be listed as 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., but working in public relations requires us to be “on call” 24/7 in an industry impacted by a nonstop news cycle. Are you okay with your hours? Carefully consider your chosen occupation and the responsibility you have to your employer and clients.
Select and maintain a mentor. An article is better with an editor. He or she will catch errors and hold each story to a certain standard and style. The same holds true for a mentor. If you aspire to hold a leadership position, seek out a mentor at your company. Having someone you respect to review your work and give constructive feedback will prove invaluable for your career. A mentor will sharpen your skills by providing guidance, inspiration accountability.
Companies are looking for employees with long-term value, hiring candidates they can groom for a role with incremental responsibility. If you want that person to be you, invest in your reputation.
p.s. remember to review your social media channels for inappropriate content and images as employers take everything into consideration.