Whether you’re sitting in the interview or you’ve already landed the job, there are certain things you can articulate to an employer -- potential or current -- that will make a positive impression. College students are widely discredited as lacking experience and skills, so it’s up to you to talk the talk and walk the walk.
1. “I was involved.”
Aside from taking your assigned courses, napping, and the customary weekend parties, there’s nothing more important than what you did to get involved while at college. Did you join a club, a volunteer union, or a student leadership organization? Employers tend to favor those who took the time to become a part of something that gave them experience leading or working with others, responsibility, and time management skills.
Being involved in on-campus organizations and activities takes initiative, commitment, and accountability – all things employers look for in young professionals, and something that not all of them have. It’s an easy way to set yourself apart from the crowd.
2. “My experience adds up.”
Ever read through a job description and find yourself nodding your head thinking, “heck yeah, I could do this!” only to realize that the job requires 2-5 years of experience? Luckily for you, and all young professionals out there, there are ways around this.
The two jobs I had out of college both required years of experience that I didn’t think I had. Until I realized, I kind-of, sort-of, actually did. Your obligations throughout your college years add up to real-life experience. The clubs you led, the organizations you took part in, and the internships you worked so hard for count in the grand scheme of things. It’s all about how you present that story to employers. Relate your past to the work at hand and it’ll give you the ability to hop over the years-of-experience obstacle.
3. “I pay my own bills.”
Well, don’t say exactly that! But employers like to hear that you have a sense of responsibility when it comes to cash. So if you’re not rollin’ in dough just yet, that’s OK. Either way, what you want to illustrate to the employer is that you can handle your own finances and are a stable person outside of the work environment. One of the risks of hiring young employees is their propensity to have problems with their personal spending. However you say it, give your employer the impression that you aren’t going to gamble the money away the night it gets into your bank account.
4. “I challenge myself.”
Did you struggle for a long time in or out of college? Did you try a few different things before deciding what you wanted to do with your life? Did you take classes outside of your major to expose yourself ot new subjects? Good. It means you worked hard for that overpriced piece of paper with your name and degree written on it. It means that you explore things you’re interested in and don’t just wait for accomplishments to be handed to you. The true star college graduates are the ones who are willing to push the boundaries of what they know and will grow into a role at work and then grow out of it to do greater things.
5. “I have other interests/hobbies aside from work.”
Employers like to know that you have a life - that when you go home from work at the end of the day, or leave for the weekend, there’s something else you enjoy on the other side of the tunnel.
They love to hear that you’re well rounded. Maybe you’ve started cooking/baking, or hiking, or even joined a pick-up sports team. Or maybe you’re developing a completely different skillset, like blogging or learning to code. All of these things make you a healthier person, motivated, socially connected, and those signals tell an employer that you’ll be a positive contributor and personality on the team.
6. “I read books for fun.”
In a world lost in technology, social media, and instant access on any device, reading has become a lost pastime. However, it’s still one of the most important things to do for your mental and intellectual growth. Reading, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, sparks ideas, creativity, and imagination. It exposes you to topics outside of the four or five things happening in current world news and pop culture.
Some of the most impressive people in management, leadership, and business are those that put out reading lists and talk constantly about what book they have on their nightstand. There’s still something uniquely inspiring and empowering about books, despite our trends away from long form content to short blog posts and Tweets.
7. “I know where I want to be in one year, five years, ten years.”
Nothing is set in stone and your plan can be flexible, but the fact you’re thinking about your future makes your flake potential decrease significantly.. Your profession should never be at a standstill and neither should your mind. Employers want to know that you see yourself growing as a person. It means your skillset will evolve, you’ll add increasing amounts of value to the organization, and you aren’t likely to leave in the blink of an eye.
8. “I’m a team player but I also work well individually.”
This one’s a given, but it’s still important that you explain it aloud. What makes you a team player? What do you take away from working in teams? And on the flip side, do you work well alone? Can you handle a task without help? Are you comfortable in either setting? These are all questions you should ask yourself and prepare answers for, because undoubtedly, your employer will want to know that you can manage either situation.
9. “I faced a challenge and I enjoyed overcoming it.”
We’re faced with challenges everyday in both our personal and professional lives. It’s not the challenges that matter; it’s how you overcome them. Positivity is key and being able to bounce back is ideal. Think about challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them, and think about how you’re a better person as a result.
Don’t try to come up with some convoluted, made up story about an intense challenge you overcame with heroic wit. It can be as simple as finding enough money to put on a college event or having managed a personal crisis. How you deal with these challenges is a representation of your thought process and problem solving, so don’t stretch to find an impressive story -- just talk about how you were impressive in any situation.
10. “I’m willing to learn.”
As a young professional, it’s evident that you don’t know everything (even if you feel that you do). Your employer knows this. They remember being in your shoes many moons ago, too. A large percentage of employers are always willing to teach, help you grow, and pass on their knowledge, but only if you’re willing to learn and show that you’re motivated.
Talk about the steps you’ve taken on your own to acquire a new skill, about why you chose your major, and what you’ve found your learning style to be. Give the employer a framework of yourself as a sponge of information.
11. “I love what I do.”
There’s nothing more power to an employer than someone who is passionate about succeeding in their work and who can tell you what they do with a sparkle in their eye. You want to be that person. It’s not something you can fake or force, so only use this angle if it’s there. Find what makes you tick and realize that, even if you have to start at the bottom, you’ll love every second of becoming the professional rock-star you want to be.
It can be tricky as a college graduate trying to become a young professional. It’s competitive and it takes time. Find a sense of what you want to learn and what you want to do for the next several years of your life. Craft your story around this ideal journey and get potential employers aligned on the vision. Luck is for the lazy, so when you walk into your workplace and you’re the youngest one there, it’s because you deserve it – own your youth and your willingness to tackle the new and earn your spot.