“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.” Martina Navratilova, winner of 59 grand slam titles, including 18 singles, 31 doubles, and 10 mixed doubles
The LOA! team (all two of us) are avid tennis fans, so it’s time that we opened one of our blogs with a quote from a tennis player. And Ms. Navratilova’s quote is, we think, spot-on (an ace, even). But as we all know, people are constantly labeled and stuffed into convenient (for the labeler) “boxes.” Each year, young professionals finishing up college or graduate school are labeled “recent graduates,” and with that label comes a number of connotations, some good and some not so good. Fair or not, those doing the hiring this summer (and every year after graduation) have preconceived ideas about “recent graduates.” Let’s address a few of those ideas here, and talk about how recent graduates can counter, re-frame, and even use to their advantage the “recent graduate” label and all that comes with it.
“Recent graduate” is a term I remember with mixed emotions. The positive: I had graduated! That’s a considerable achievement, though in the moment it might not feel like it. I can assure you that graduation is well worth celebrating. The negative: well, school was over, likely forever, so that was a bummer. But mostly I recall fighting against the “recent graduate” stigma, namely in job interviews where it seemed like I was expected to have experience before getting a job . . . but of course, the only way to gain that experience is to have a job! It’s a pretty tough cycle, and one that never struck me as fair (not that fairness matters!). My formal education ended in 2009 – so my “recent graduate” days are long past – but of course, my practical education is ongoing and, hopefully, never-ending.
Hiring manager assumptions – labels – about recent graduates are likely to include:
Inexperienced. Well, no kidding. But you know what can come with experience. Complacency, bad habits, perhaps even a jaded, stressed-out relationship with work. Recent graduates are teachable and come ready to make a difference.
Idealistic. Absolutely! How is this a negative? Research shows that the current generation of college graduates is more concerned with doing work that matters than any previous generation. If you’re graduating this year, hopefully that sentiment describes you, and you’re going to be both looking for that and bringing it up in every job interview you get.
Hard work-averse. Utter nonsense, but we mention it because there are certain “old school” types who are convinced younger generations want the accolades without having to do the work. Probably from all those years of supposedly accumulating participation trophies, right? Did you earn participation trophies? I don’t recall that I did (Nick).
Skill-less. Equally absurd! First, current and recent graduates are incredibly skilled, both in terms of hard and soft skills, and often in areas that older generations can’t fathom or even hope to compete with. Technology immediately comes to mind, but there are many other areas where “recent graduates” will be able to run circles around their more experienced professional counterparts, right from the jump. These include social media management and strategy, communication, digital problem-solving, and the ability to work effectively in teams. Second, of course, there are both soft skill and technical skill education gaps in every recent graduate’s skillset — that’s hardly a criticism. Much can only be learned with on-the-job experience. And for the rest, of course, that’s what Look Out Above! is for.
We think this year’s graduating class is extremely talented and, in part because of its triumph over a completely upside-down last year-plus, ready to meet the professional world with skills, ambition, and talent. If you’re in the position to hire some of them, we hope that you do so. We think that your organization will be better off for doing so.