Archives July 2024

5 Essential Tips for New Graduates Struggling to Land a Job

Once the excitement of graduation fades, the season of new beginnings can become a challenging period for many fresh graduates. While some head off to new jobs or further education, others face uncertainty about their next steps. Should you stay in your college town, move back home, or venture to a city with better job prospects? How should you fill your days now that classes are over? And how do you explain your activities to potential employers?

Even though the class of 2024 avoided the recession some feared, they still face a job market that prioritizes skills over degrees and part-time roles over full-time positions. If you’re among the new graduates still seeking a job, here are five key tips from career experts to help you navigate this transition.

  1. Recognize Your Value Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate for recent graduates was lower than that for the general population. Since 2021, however, new graduates have faced higher unemployment rates.

“I don’t want [the state of the economy] to discourage grads,” said Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live, and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand and CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting. McGovern emphasized that not having a job lined up is neither normal nor abnormal. “It’s just where we are, looking at the greater scheme of the market,” she added.

In other words, the demand for labor is constantly fluctuating and varies between sectors. When the economy is in a lull, the job search can feel discouraging, but ultimately, such factors are out of your control. To stay motivated, it’s helpful to acknowledge this and regularly remind yourself that it’s not a reflection of your individual value or abilities.

Pro tip: If you lack long-term work experience, don’t let it get you down. Everyone starts somewhere, and often, being a “newbie” can have advantages. “I would rather hire somebody young and hungry and full of fire in their belly, than somebody that has 15 years of experience, who’s going to rinse and repeat,” McGovern said. “But sell me on the fact that you’ve got the fire in the belly.” She explained that you can teach someone skills, but you can’t teach them motivation.

  1. Clarify Your Goals Entering the workforce might tempt you to rush into the first job offer you receive or follow friends to major cities where opportunities seem plentiful. While securing a strong role is important, taking the time to reflect on your desires and strengths can be more beneficial, according to Liz Sastre, a professional coach with RKE Partners.

Your first job out of school likely won’t make or break your career, but it can still be a step in the right direction. On average, it takes three to six months to find a job — plenty of time to pause and reflect on what you might want. Try writing down your greatest skills and strengths — as well as how you’d like those to manifest in this role. Think about the type of projects you enjoy most, the tasks that come naturally to you, and any results you’ve generated using those skills (whether that be in class, internships, or past work). This information can give your search a little more direction: What kind of roles and responsibilities best align with what you’ve written down?

In addition, Sastre suggested being “realistic” (financially and otherwise) when considering where and when to move for work. This could mean living at home and saving until you land a stable position, or being open to relocating somewhere unexpected when you find work that feels exciting or meaningful.

Pro tip: As you reflect on your strengths and the quantifiable outcomes they’ve generated, be sure to include those numbers on your résumé (for example: “My actions led to a 25% increase in profit”). If that data isn’t available to you, share examples of your accomplishments and the positive feedback you received from past managers or professors.

  1. Keep Building Your Network For the class of 2024, who started their college experience virtually, the career-building relationships that often naturally form between peers and professors were delayed, Sastre said. That’s why fresh graduates need to make a real effort to grow them.

“You can know 15,000 people on LinkedIn, but how many of them are engaging with you, supporting you, and advocating for you?” McGovern added.

A great way to get started is by contacting employees at companies you’re interested in working for, or who work in industries you’re exploring, and asking for informational interviews. When you reach out, let them know how you found them, who you are (for example, a recent graduate), and why you want to chat. An example of what you can say is:

Hello, my name is [Name] and [Name] referred me to you. I recently graduated from [school] where I studied [major]. While in school, I interned with [former employer/internship] where I [duties and responsibilities]. I’m looking to broaden my expertise and build a career in the field of [industry].

Would you be available for a 30-minute Zoom chat to share your knowledge and experience in your field? [Name] says you are the go-to person to speak with. Please let me know, and thanks so much for your time!

Don’t use these conversations to ask for a job. Rather, think of them as learning opportunities. Sastre recommended conducting these conversations before applying for jobs. That way, if during your job search, an opportunity opens at a company where one of these connections works, you already have a relationship to tap into.

Pro tip: Today, when everyone can create a clean and thorough résumé using AI, your network is how you can stand out. “Applying randomly is kind of like throwing your résumé outside and hoping that someone gets hit by it and knocks on your door,” Sastre said. “Intentionality is so important.”

  1. Embrace Resume Gaps When you have a gap between your education and employment due to an unlucky job hunt, common interview questions may include “What did you do in the last year to improve your knowledge?” and “From your résumé, it seems you took a gap year. Would you like to tell us why that was?” Answering them can be intimidating.

The good news is, these gaps are not as uncommon or stigmatized as they used to be. It’s important to frame them as purposeful — whether it be for family, for the sake of self-growth, or for the sake of finding an opportunity that truly fits your skills — and share what you learned during that time. “The key is to show that this was not a gap in the progression of your personal development, but rather, a pause on the professional track,” McGovern said.

Pro tip: Use the time to gain new skills, volunteer, or take on freelance projects. These activities can fill the gap on your résumé and demonstrate your initiative and commitment to continuous learning.

  1. Leverage Online Learning The digital age has made it easier than ever to acquire new skills and knowledge from the comfort of your home. Platforms like Coursera, edX, and LinkedIn Learning offer courses across a wide range of subjects, often taught by industry experts from leading universities and companies. By taking these courses, you can enhance your qualifications, stay current with industry trends, and make your résumé more appealing to potential employers.

Pro tip: Choose courses that align with your career goals and add the certifications to your LinkedIn profile and résumé. This not only shows that you are proactive about your professional development but also helps you stand out in a competitive job market.

How Family Drives People to Excel at Work

Tennis legend Serena Williams recently revealed her new venture, Wyn Beauty, after stepping away from the sport. Williams’ decision to retire from tennis to prioritize her family extends to her focus on beauty, which is also a family-driven choice. As Williams expressed, “Motherhood has given me a new perspective on beauty through my daughter, Olympia’s eyes. We love experimenting with makeup together, and I think about how these moments will shape both of our beauty journeys… I hope my daughters see my varied passions — from tennis to beauty — and learn they can pursue dynamic careers and diverse interests.”

Williams’ daughter, Olympia, has been a source of motivation for her mother since before her birth. Williams was two months pregnant when she won the Australian Open. In a public letter to her newborn daughter, Williams highlighted how much she anticipated her daughter watching her from the stands, saying that “you gave me the strength I didn’t know I had.”

In the same year Serena found strength from her daughter on the tennis courts, we published our study on family motivation, examining how family inspires individuals to excel at work. In a very different setting — the arid desert of northern Mexico near the U.S. border — we observed 97 employees working in a low-cost factory processing coupons. Through conversations with these workers and systematic surveys, an interesting trend emerged: those who excelled did so not for personal gain, but for their family’s benefit.

Family is a cornerstone in most people’s lives, transcending cultures and geographies. However, the notion that family can motivate work performance has been largely ignored. Historically, family has been viewed as competing with work for an individual’s limited resources, such as time and energy. A significant body of research on work-family conflict has supported this notion, illustrating how work and family demands can clash and interfere with each other.

Our research, and the experiences of the workers in Mexico we studied, suggest otherwise. Contrary to the belief that family primarily drains energy from work, we discovered that family can energize one’s work. These findings prompt a reevaluation of family as a crucial source of motivation in the workplace.

Since our initial publication in 2017, subsequent studies have supported and extended our findings. We now understand how family influences work motivation and how managers can implement these insights within their organizations.

Family as a Work Motivator Research on motivation has shown that people work harder if their job provides financial rewards and status (extrinsic motivation), joy and fulfillment (intrinsic motivation), and a sense of contributing to others (prosocial motivation). However, one often overlooked reason for working is family. Many individuals are driven to work each day out of a desire to support their family and because their family benefits from their employment. This family motivation can enhance work performance, inspiring individuals to put forth their best effort.

The low-wage employees we studied spend their workdays scanning discount coupons sent to Mexico from U.S. retailers. This tedious, manual task involves removing each coupon from its container, scanning the barcode, and ensuring the system processes it correctly. We found that those motivated by their family had more energy for their work. This increased energy, in turn, helped them achieve their daily work targets. Further studies among both low-income and high-income employees in China also found that family motivation boosted work effort, leading to higher productivity.

Family motivates work effort for various reasons. The most straightforward is the desire to ensure financial stability for the family. However, family motivation extends beyond finances. Parents often strive to excel in their jobs to serve as role models, demonstrating a strong work ethic and teaching their children positive career strategies — much like Serena Williams’ wish to show her daughters the value of pursuing multiple interests. These dynamics were evident in qualitative interviews conducted in South Asia. One employee stated, “My kids mean everything to me. I want to give them the best and be a role model. I want to teach them to honor their responsibilities and earn a respectable living.”

Work can also be a source of pride, as employees share their achievements to make their family proud. As another South Asian employee noted, “My family takes pride in my work, my earning capabilities, and my career growth. Their encouragement and support motivate me to grow.” Just as Serena Williams cherished the thought of her daughter watching her work, these employees found joy in seeing their family’s pride in their accomplishments.

Family can also provide a broader perspective that helps employees navigate work challenges. Mark Buckingham, a physiotherapist who worked with athletes who became new parents, observed: “Babies put a bad day or poor training session into perspective. They make athletes better at time management. People don’t overtrain as much because they lack the time. Athletes often improve after having babies because they gain a better sense of balance.”

These focus and time management skills also translate to the workplace. Ironically, mothers are often advised not to mention their children during job interviews to avoid being perceived as less committed to their careers. Yet this traditional thinking contradicts research findings: family can enhance work focus and absorption. Employees with family responsibilities anticipate after-work duties that will consume their time, leading to greater focus and commitment during work hours. Far from being a distraction, research shows that employees with family obligations report higher work absorption compared to single, childless employees.

A fulfilling family life can enhance work performance in various ways. For instance, family motivation boosts employees’ self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to accomplish tasks at work. Positive family events also strengthen a leader’s prosocial motivation, promoting effective leadership behaviors such as approachability and inspiration.

How Employers Can Leverage Family Motivation Given that family motivates work, organizations can benefit from integrating family into the workplace. This could involve allowing children into the office through events like “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” which provides children with career insights and fosters pride in their parents’ work, or offering on-site childcare. Employees can also personalize their workspaces with family-related items like photos, children’s drawings, or letters. Having family memorabilia at work can also reduce unethical behavior, such as inflating expense reports.

Mitigating the Risks of Family Motivation While family motivation can drive work performance, it can also lead to potential challenges. For instance, employees may stay in unfulfilling jobs to avoid disrupting their family’s stability, which can hinder personal and professional growth. Additionally, employees with high family motivation may experience increased stress and burnout. Our study in the Mexican factory found that employees with higher family motivation reported higher stress levels at work. Similarly, a study on Chinese employees noted that family motivation led to increased work pressure and reduced creativity.

Organizations must be cautious not to exploit family motivation, as it can lead to employees enduring poor working conditions or overworking. Employers have a responsibility to support employees with caregiving duties by offering stable pay, predictable schedules, and resources for mental health and well-being. Policies such as parental leave, flexible work arrangements, and designated “family and loved ones days off” can signal an employer’s support for employees’ personal relationships, leading to increased motivation and gratitude.

Employers should ensure family-motivated employees feel secure and supported. Offering benefits like savings programs, mortgage assistance, and student loan payments can alleviate financial pressures. Creating a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks without fearing job loss can also encourage innovation and engagement.

In conclusion, family can be a powerful motivator for work, driving individuals to excel for the benefit of their loved ones. By recognizing and supporting this motivation, employers can foster a more engaged, productive, and satisfied workforce.