Within the next several weeks, students will close the book on their college careers and begin writing the next chapter of their lives. Some will turn to internships, co-op positions and graduate schools, while others will enter the workforce. For some, the professional workplace will be an easy adaptation. Unfortunately, others will learn tough lessons along the way.
When tapped for advice by job-seeking students on securing employment after graduation, my response starts to sound like a broken record: be a professional.
The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania commissions annually a national survey on the state of professionalism among recent graduates from U.S. colleges. Last year was the second year of the study, and the results continue to be an unpleasant surprise. Many new college grads don’t understand how to conduct themselves in the professional workplace.
The results of this year’s survey show dangerous trends for new employees and reinforce some of the same things that career counselors have been saying for years.
It is my hope that this year’s college graduates can use some of what we have found to locate and keep meaningful employment in this challenging job market. Here are my top five tips for job seekers:
1. Forget Facebook and Take a Texting Timeout
Respondents told us last year that Internet technology (IT) abuses are beginning to get out of hand. New employees just can’t help themselves from using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter when they should be working.
Employers also reported that text messaging at inappropriate times has seen a spike. Seeing Suzy Q’s status updates is not worth a pink slip. Get off of Facebook and Twitter during work hours.
2. Accept Responsibility for Your Actions
We asked respondents to rank the important qualities that recent college graduates should possess. HR pros and business leaders said clearly that new employees should accept personal responsibility for decisions and actions. Why should an employer hire an individual who won’t? Other qualities deemed important included competency in verbal and written communication, projecting a positive image, and thinking and acting independently.
3. Don’t Worry About Promotion Right Away
The most eye-opening results came when we asked which qualities were found in first-year, college-educated employees. Respondents ranked categories from one to five, with one being “rare” and five being “common.” The only quality that earned more than a four was employees’ concern for opportunities for advancement. While this is a valid worry for seasoned workers, it should not take first place among new hires.
4. Understand the 3 A’s of Professionalism: Articulation of Thoughts, Attitude and Appearance.
According to the survey results, employers are assessing a candidate’s professionalism 96.3 percent of the time before making any hiring decisions.
The top three ways employers judge professionalism are by examining one’s ability to communicate; judging ones attitude or demeanor; and by evaluating one’s appearance.
Job seekers need to showcase these skills to the best of their ability during a job interview. For men, that means putting on a coat and a tie. For young women, it means understanding how to dress for the professional workplace. Plunging necklines and skimpy outfits degrade the credibility of the individual as well as the company.
Employees should understand that there are no fashion awards at stake in the professional workplace. While personal style is applauded, it needs to be within the acceptable dress code. Ask yourself, would your grandmother approve of what you're wearing?
5. You Are Not Entitled
We asked if newly employed, college-educated workers’ sense of entitlement had increased, decreased or stayed the same during the past five years. Entitlement, defined as expecting rewards without putting in the effort to merit them, is perceived to be on the rise. More than half of all respondents said they had seen an increase in workers’ sense of entitlement. Roughly a third of respondents said it remained the same. Only six percent said it had decreased. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but many college students around the nation seem not to be getting that message.
The job market is tough right now on job-seekers. With unemployment hovering around 10 percent, companies have the luxury of taking only the strongest, most professional candidates. To land a job in this economy you’ll need to suit up, show up on time, and do yourself a favor by turning off your cell phone. Good luck!
Dr. George W. Waldner is president of York College of Pennsylvania.