It’s July. The weather in Belgium is relentlessly grey, so I know it’s July because this is the time I always see a spike in requests for entry-level coaching. These come mainly from parents who are concerned that their offspring seem lost, indecisive and/or confused about their future careers. This is because they are. Their alpha under grad friends are already suited and booted and headed off for their dream jobs, leaving them behind. Very often the option they face is returning to the parental home, which many are doing in unprecedented droves. They feel concerned and fearful about the future. Some are depressed.
Disconnect between universities and employers
I saw a ridiculous statistic the other day. As grade inflation rises amongst the student population, as a way of weeding out the higher level candidates, 80% of UK employers are looking for 2.1 or a First Class degrees (equivalent to a U.S. G.P.A. of 3.3 and above.) This is only achieved by 60% of the student body. There is therefore a 20% shortfall in the theoretical talent pipeline. Given that many entry-level jobs require the brain capacity of a two watt bulb, there is a serious mismanagement of expectations and a deepening of miscommunication between our education systems and employers. This is even before we get into the question of the quality of career advice in universities and even some business schools.
We are essentially creating a demographic which has been set up for a cycle of low self-esteem. The strong trend of grade inflation hasn’t convinced me that students are more intelligent than they were 30 years ago, but those that achieve those grades are probably working harder or smarter than the ones who are not getting top results. However they maybe lacking in other skills. So it’s important for second tier graduates to exhibit key qualities in other areas. Academic grades are not everything.
Are they really the losers they feel themselves to be? No not at all.
Some of our most successful world figures feature in the drop-out hall of fame: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey to name but a few. But entry-level candidates do need to focus on the key skills and qualities that hiring managers and recruiters specifically look for to bridge the qualification gap.
5 top qualities needed at entry-level
Demonstrated strong work ethic and energy
Whether this is achieved in summer or weekend employment, university roles, internships or voluntary work, it doesn’t matter. What you need to exhibit is a high degree of energy and commitment. A strong work ethic also demonstrates time management skills and prioritizing abilities. Employers are not looking for a degree in partying or sofa surfing.
Showcase a passion
I have rarely met anyone who doesn’t have a hobby or a passion for something. Whether it’s photography, music, a sport, travel, cars, theatre or other activity, dig into that passion and identify what it is about it that you enjoy, or made you excel. Consider those transferable skills and the value they can add to a future employer. Highlight them in your CV.
Just because you have finished university there are many ways to add to your skill set. There are more ways than ever before to learn at no cost to you at all. Your best friend is now Google. There are many free aptitude and personality tests online (e.g. Meyers Briggs) and although many are difficult to interpret without professional input, they do give a basis for some self insight. Check out the possibilities on Fast Tomato a part of the Morrisby organisation for college and school leavers. Learn a language, sales or presentation skills. Many companies offer free ” teaser” webinars and although at some point you have to part with cash, basic knowledge can be gleaned for nothing, except time. Also stay engaged and keep abreast of current affairs. It’s important you know what’s going on in the world.
A professional presence
Inter-personal skills are really important in the workplace. This is not just the way you interact, your vocabulary choice or your body language, but also appearance. Your student “yo, yo dude” days are over. So make sure your image is workplace appropriate. Good appearance is a must, so cover the tattoos and remove piercings if you are targeting the corporate market. Maybe upgrade your clothes. Invest in at least one interview type suit. Create an online profile with a professional biz pic on LinkedIn. A selfie will not do. Start networking even if it feels alien, signing up for job alerts to be first past the post. One again the internet is full of content to support these efforts either at no, or low-cost, including this blog. If in doubt just practise interview questions with your friends.
Even if you are returning to the parental home make a formal arrangement with your parents to be a contributing and productive member of the household. Parents should insist on this and very often kindness only leads to creating a culture of dependency and dis- empowerment. If the entry job of your dreams seems remote, there are plenty of interim jobs to keep you financially solvent. Contribute to the household by assuming responsibility for certain chores. This also serves to show cases your work ethic and every job provides some level of learning curve, even if it’s only patience, resilience and fortitude.
High grades can kick-start a fledgling career. But there is no reason why those who are not as academically successful can’t catch up or even overtake. Many do just that. The secret is not to be deterred on the starting line.
What other qualities would you say hiring managers look for in entry-level candidates?