Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca the Younger

While spending some time with extended family, I felt overly applauded for landing my first job, starting my career, and living on my own. I started to wonder, is it really that big of a deal? I did some research only to find that, according to last year’s government figures, young people age 18 to 34 accounted for half of the 10.9 million unemployed Americans.

But why?

An interesting article caught my eye, claiming that college grads aren’t finding a job due to “lack of work ethic” and because they are simply under-prepared for the job market.

In fact, more than 60% of employers said applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills.” It’s also been noted that college grads are somewhat slow when it comes to understanding proper office etiquette. Personally, I would add that, while very valuable, college courses don’t teach students what they really need to know when they enter the real world: How to survive it.

Let’s face it: getting by on simply attending the courses you signed up for just doesn’t cut it to enter today’s job market. People now have, more than ever, tremendous access to higher education, undoubtedly raising competition in the race to find top-notch jobs. So, what can you do to set yourself apart?


1. Get an internship

The importance of internships cannot be stressed enough. If you’re going into a job interview and you have the same resume as another recent grad, except they did an internship and you didn’t, they’ll get the job over you almost every time. Yet more than half of the college students/grads I know never do one.

Not only is interning key to networking and a potential lead to an eventual job, but it’s also self-improving. You quickly learn office etiquette, communication/interpersonal skills, and, hey, you can use most internships for college credits.

2. Shadow someone

I always find it surprising that college students and graduates don’t realize that they can shadow professionals in their field. I guarantee that you know someone (or someone who knows someone) that works in the industry you’re interested in. Ask to tag along for a day or two, or even for a couple of hours. If you can’t find that special someone, you at least know a local business that you can contact and ask to shadow – you’ll be surprised at how often they say yes. You’ll learn way more than you realize by hanging out behind the scenes.

3. Take a communications course

The majority of universities offer these kinds of courses – and although you’re probably not required to take them, you should do so anyway. They teach you everything from presentation skills to office mechanics and manners all the way to networking tips and tricks. These courses are important for learning the ins and outs of how to land and survive in your first job.

4. Join a young professional networking group

You often don’t have to be a professional quite yet to join these organizations. Some even encourage student participation. You’ll meet a ton of great people in the area who were once in your shoes and can help you get ahead. They can connect you with relevant professionals and important people within your community. Find some groups near you.

School can only teach you so much. It’s the things you do for yourself that will take you farthest. A degree is essential and good grades are important, but the best thing you can do for your life-after-college-self is prepare. If you’ve already graduated and are still on the hunt for a job – it’s never too late to do some or all of these things listed above!

I don't believe that old cliché that good things come to those who wait. I think good things come to those who want something so bad they can't sit still.” – Ashton Kutcher

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