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September 17, 2011
Finishing School: A Few Basic Tips for Graduates
You may have caught me mentioning that my daughter graduated college this past spring. To refresh your memory: B.S. in Marketing — No Job.

My daughter’s small, expensive private college has a good reputation. In better days they were able to boast a 95% job placement rate, in part due to having several loyal alumni who were very successful and inclined to hire graduates from their alma mater. These days it’s more like 50-50, with a large amount of kids going directly to grad school because the job market is so very abysmal, and of the 50% jobs, 80-90% are not career track. Just jobs.

It doesn’t bother me that my kid doesn’t have a job yet. It’s been a weird summer for us, culminating in knee surgery along with a two- to three-week recovery, which made her feel funny asking someone for a job she couldn’t start until October.

One reason I am only mildly perturbed about the situation is that I know my daughter has many marketable skills other than that marketing degree. We are both surprised at how many of her friends never really had jobs while in school, and are now applying for positions with essentially zero experience. My kid has been working since she was 15, primarily because I refused to pay for her A.C. Moore and Target addictions. She was a lifeguard, first for kids at a swim club, then for seniors at a retirement community. She also has experience in retail, with a smattering of merchandising and display thrown in as a bonus. Her last job was lead generation for a home improvement company. In a nutshell, she has customer service, sales, inventory management, and some creative experience aside from her degree. Not too shabby for a 22-year-old, in my opinion.

So you might say that in addition to graduating, my daughter has a lot of experience in the Finishing School of Real Life. Let me share some of what we have both discovered:

Unhappy people have a tendency to make you unhappy.
Sooner or later we all learn that “the customer ISN’T always right,” but the customer DOES have to be happy. Whether it’s making a product substitution, going out of your way to get the customer what they really need, or just simply appealing to their ego with a compliment, customers need to be cared for. When you go to work, leave your own ego — and any stray nasty attitudes you may have — at home.

Always over-deliver.
Whether you work for a big company, the corner drugstore, or have your own business, your job is to create value. Many years ago when I first started my little boutique ad agency I was approached by a larger agency and asked to come up with a proposal for a one-time job for one of their big, national clients. I got the job, according to them, because I was the only one of the five companies they approached who included an actual layout of what I believed the job should look like in my proposal. Everyone else handed them a piece of paper with a description and price.

I received the brochure copy, which was written by engineers and total gibberish, so I translated it into English. No charge. (They were NOT going to ruin a great portfolio piece with lousy copy! I didn’t get a shot at national clients all that often.) My clients were thrilled and I got many more projects from them over the next few years.

Never stop learning.
Here’s where I get to make some parents green with envy: My kid thinks I’m smart! She asks me all sorts of questions that, when I am able to give the answers, she accepts without reservation. Of course, I am smart enough not to make things up if I don’t know the answers, so we both end up researching — and learning.

She is thinking about taking a course or two to fill in what she missed at college, or just to expand her skills. A web design course at our community college is first on the agenda, but there is also a long list of online seminars and training packages she is planning to do.

She can’t do this full time or forever, of course. So if you’re hiring she will be fully healed and available in October.

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Rhonda Wenner is a Very Old Advertising Person who has been there, done that, and seen quite a bit.
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