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For some students—especially those studying things like pre-med or engineering—a career path typically has very logical next steps after graduating college.
But for others, the job search requires a little more legwork to translate that degree, whether it’s a master’s or undergraduate, into employment that leads to a fulfilling career.
“What you learn in school is rarely what you do in work. You don’t really become a philosopher if you studied philosophy,” says Kristen Hamilton, CEO of Koru, a platform that combines job-training technology with real-life boot camps for college students and recent graduates.
She says the gap between education and employment is widening in today’s job market as employers are searching for innovators, rather than simply workers.
The good news is that many college graduates have all the skills they need to be successful — but the trick is packaging them in the right way to potential employers.
We wanted to know more about how to translate college smarts into ‘innovator’ smarts to land a great job after graduation. We asked Kristen to share some of the insights from Koru’s training program.
Demonstrate Your Skill Set to Future Employers
Perhaps the most important thing job seekers can do to translate school life into workplace vocabulary. That means if you were a captain of a team sport you need to package that experience into workplace skills that mean something in the workplace. Show, for example, how you engaged your team around a rule change or another challenge.
“It’s not useful to just show that you were captain of the lacrosse team,” says Kristen. “Show how you were able to engage different parties, collaborate, be part of the team, have ownership, or use data to make a decision.”
“From the employer point of view, you need to perform from day one,” she says.
What Career is Right for Me? You Don’t Have to Know Yet
Kristen says for recent college graduates, the very first step of the job-seeking process has nothing to do with sending resumes. It’s all about discovery. That means researching different fields and asking questions like “What’s a day in the life like on the job?” “What are the important job skills for this position/company?” Then, once you have answered some of those questions, commit to a direction.
“Just get to 51% certain you want to pursue a path,” she says. Why? The goal is to start working in a position that helps get on you on a career path, which you can always change.
She notes that more than half of new college grads are under- or unemployed, which not only delays getting into a career–it also means extending student loans or not being able to refinance at a lower rate.
“It’s really expensive to go to school and not earn enough to pay back that debt.”
“It’s really expensive to go to school and not earn enough to pay back that debt,” she says. “That’s the job-seeker challenge.”
What is the Return on Investment of a Graduate Degree?
Graduate school can be a great idea — if you know why you are going. Kristen says undergraduates too often say “I am going to go to grad school” as a fallback plan because they don’t know what their other choices are.
However, she offers a reality check on graduate school and how that degree enhances job and earnings prospects.
“Unless you’re going to a top business school, it’s hard to differentiate [yourself] if you get an MBA,” she says. “You’re still not getting real-life experience in an applied context. That’s one of the challenges with grad school.”
If you are considering graduate school, make sure you research whether or not you really need to go. Sometimes, the return on investment (ROI) of graduate school doesn’t financially justify the decision.
If you decide that earning a graduate degree is a path you want to pursue, be strategic about your decision. Choose a school with a reputable program and research the cost of attendance. Research ways to make graduate school affordable with scholarships, grant programs and borrow student loans that offer greater repayment flexibility.
Does Your College Major Matter? Not Really
While looking for your first job, take a quick look through titles and you’ll see that very few have ones that correlate with the name of a college major or concentration.
A sticking point for recent graduates, Kristen says, is staying overly focused on what they have studied for their degree. For example, just because you studied psychology doesn’t mean you’ll work in psychology.
“Again, that’s a challenge with graduate school. A lot of master’s degrees are not connected directly to your work,” Kristen says.
Want to Find a Job After College? Start Networking
If you have had the experience of sending off a resume — maybe dozens of resumes — and then not getting a job interview, here’s some reassurance: It’s probably not you. Automated job boards are an abyss.
“There is no shortage of candidates,” says Kristen, “but there is a resume black hole. Employers get so many applications and they don’t have a signal for quality. They can’t really draw out the best candidates and they all start looking the same.”
For job seekers, that means finding new ways to make contact — whether that’s through networking events or job-placement services, find more sophisticated ways to showcase the skills you learned in school.
“It’s actually not companies who give people jobs, it’s people, networks, and connections,” says Kristen.