How to Succeed in Business: Really Trying

New graduates should be ready to offer more than just a degree

05/10/2013 4:44 PM

05/10/2013 4:45 PM

At 8:30 Saturday morning, just under 1,000 new graduates of Coastal Carolina University will march across the stage in Brooks Stadium and turn their tassels from right to left. On Monday evening, hundreds more from Horry-Georgetown Technical College will follow suit at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

Many of those graduates will be hoping to head into the workforce, looking to land their first professional job in the post-college adult world. And many of them may be in for a rude awakening.

While the economy has picked up somewhat – at least compared with the depths of the recessionary doldrums we had reached – it’s still a tough job market out there.

“There are more jobs, but it remains very competitive, and employers’ expectations are that graduates are job-ready,” Tom Halasz, director of the University of South Carolina Career Center, told The Sun News’ Vicki Grooms.

And “job-ready” means much more than just passing classes. Students picking up their diplomas today and taking cheerful photos of themselves grinning in mortarboards should be thinking about what it takes to succeed in the workplace beyond a good GPA and some initials behind their name. Just a little preparation or forethought could do a lot to set them apart from their peers.

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College in Pennsylvania has compiled a national survey of human resources managers for a few years now, asking them their thoughts about recent college graduates. Their impressions aren’t great.

In 2013, 49 percent reported that less than half of new hires exhibited professionalism – showing up on time, dressing appropriately, being honest – in their first year. More than half said that new college graduates were exhibiting a growing sense of entitlement. And 45 percent reported a worsening of basic work ethic among recent graduates, including problems with “too casual of an attitude towards work” and simply “not understanding what hard work is.”

It’s certainly not just college graduates with these issues. A 2011 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found that 40 percent of employers blamed “inadequate basic employability skills” as the reason they struggled to hire and retain workers.

But talk to local professionals helping college graduates in their job hunts and you’ll hear similar thoughts.

“They may have great potential and academic knowledge, but if students don’t understand the etiquette and the level of professionalism the employer is looking for, they’re certainly missing the boat,” said April Garner, HGTC’s director of career resources. “We’ve had some of the brightest students totally bomb because they were not presentable or didn’t know how to market themselves.”

At USC, the career center teaches some of these basic employability skills, such as dining etiquette and presentation standards. Other colleges would do well to emulate such programs.

But in the end, success comes down to basic lessons we learned as children (or should have): Show up on time, don’t be rude, work hard, respect your elders. Graduates who want to land a job – and keep it – would do well to take such lessons to heart.

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