Feb 20, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

You’ve heard it before: college grads lack the skills to enter the workforce. There’s some truth to it.

While many are about to enter a fantastic job market this spring, just a few years ago, many employers complained that recent graduates were over-confident in their skills—and under-prepared for the job market.

A 2016 survey by PayScale revealed that only half of hiring managers thought that their recent graduate hires were ready for the working world. Compare that to the 90 percent of graduates who considered themselves “ready,” if not overqualified.

The biggest skills employers want? Technology and financial skills top the list in addition to software development, management, and basic computing skills.How can you ensure that you’re ready to hit the ground running after graduation? Let’s take a closer look at six strategies:

1.    Find a mentor

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: having a mentor on whom you can rely will only help you—professionally and personally.

While parents, family, and friends can serve as mentors, you should get creative and expand your social networks, too. Unless your parents, family, and friends are in a career that you also want to pursue, then it’s in your best interest to find someone whom you trust, and who’s slightly outside your inner circle.

Start with your professors and work outward. If your parents have friends in the field that interests you, ask them to scour their LinkedIn accounts and connect you with someone they know and trust, too.

2.    Get at least one internship

This is critical. Why? Internships let you dip your toe into the real world. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

The best internships place you in companies or organizations related to the field that interests you—and that have wide brand recognition.

Even if you do very little of the work you actually want to do, having an internship with a well-known, well-respected company or organization broadly in the field you want goes a long way towards preparing you for your future career.

3.    Treat college as a job

Why? Making a professional impression on your professors can help you find a mentor (see #1) and potentially help you find an internship (see#2). Dress neatly, use positive body language, and introduce yourself. It goes without saying that you should attend class regularly, be punctual, turn in your assignments, and participate.

When it comes time to ask for that recommendation, you’ll have it.

4.   Use assignments as skills practice for work

Practice active listening during lectures—this means listening, taking notes, and asking relevant questions.

During group projects, practice being a good leader—and a good follower. Both skills are important in the world of work.

Work on your time- and project management skills with assignments, too. Use a weekly planner to sketch out when you should work on assignments when you should meet with study groups, and how often and when you should study.

When it comes to succeeding at work, you’ll need to manage your own workflow—no time like the present to start!

5.    Join an industry-related group

Join campus chapters of groups that interest you. Accounting clubs, marketing associations, writing organizations—most campuses have campus-chapters of national groups, in addition to clubs.

Expand that network (see #1) and participate in groups that have meaning for you.

6.   Keep a positive outlook

Working is hard. Balancing a job and daily living is hard after college—you no longer have that network of friends right at your fingertips.

Keep your chin up. If your first job isn’t your dream job, it’s ok. Keep at it until you feel ready to make a switch—and try to maintain a positive relationship with your supervisors.

Ready? Good. You can do it. Show those employers you’re ready to work.

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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