First Jobs are Cause for Celebration, Not Complacency

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Commencement season is over for Indiana's colleges and universities — caps and gowns have been returned, graduation speeches shared or satirized. On campus, the frenetic pace of spring semester has slowed to the meander of summer classes.

For the Class of 2015, real life has arrived — but data suggests that the transition is easier for this group than their older siblings and other Millennials: With unemployment falling and economic optimism rising, more jobs are available — surveys by the National Association of Colleges and Employers report a double-digit increase in companies intending to hire new graduates this year, with more firms also offering signing bonuses (a sign that the competition for talent is heating up).

The "underemployment" rate has also fallen since last summer, meaning that recent graduates are having an easier time finding jobs that match their educations. (In recent years, upwards of 40 percent of young college-educated workers were in positions that didn’t require a bachelor’s degree.)

This doesn’t mean the transition from college to career isn’t a challenge. At the Kelley School of Business, we coach our students to be aggressive and proactive in their job search. Their efforts pay off in placement rates perennially around 95 percent; we’re already being treated to a steady stream of success stories from 2015 graduates.

As you begin your new professional routines, I offer a few words of advice: Finding a job means trading one challenge for two — proving yourself in the workplace, and continuing to grow your network and explore new opportunities. Here are a few basics as you settle into your new routine:

Trade instant messaging for face time:

Millennials grew up in a wired world, and tech-savvy can be a plus for productivity. But avoid letting e-mail and other digital communications replace face-to-face interaction, even if it allows you to cross items off your “to do” list a little faster. Get up from your desk and talk to your co-workers, tag along to lunch instead of grabbing takeout in front of your computer — you’ll get insights into the office culture and your new colleagues that will help you do your job better.

You’ll also help upper-level executives put a face with your name, and form relationships that will help you learn and advance — it’s hard to be mentored by a screen.

Relationships equal opportunities:

And while making new contacts is a byproduct of starting a job, professional networking should be a focus beyond your daily responsibilities and outside your immediate co-workers. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in a new position, and it is critical to make your mark as a young employee. But don’t limit your horizons to the walls of your cubicle.

Networking takes time, and a willingness to do more than clicking on a profile or ‘liking’ a blog post. Don’t be shy about asking more senior colleagues to lunch or coffee. Get involved in alumni groups and young professionals organizations. An employee with a broad perspective and diverse set of contacts is ultimately a more valuable asset…and you’ll also be positioning yourself for future opportunities.

Expand your mind and your contact list:

Networking doesn’t stop with a job offer, and education doesn’t stop after your last college exam. While you’ll gain an incredible amount of practical knowledge on the job, many companies also offer formal professional development opportunities — hosting ‘lunch-and-learns,’ encouraging employees to get involved in industry associations, or sponsoring attendance at relevant conferences or seminars.

Seize these opportunities to gain knowledge and connections. Attending external events will help you network with others in your field outside your own company. You’ll also likely find that many of your colleagues won’t make time for development activities (or will do the bare minimum if your company or profession requires continuing education) — if you can bring new information and contacts into the organization while managing your own workload, you’ll set yourself apart from the pack.

Younger workers are forging career paths marked by many more twists and turns than their parents and grandparents. The average tenure on the job for workers aged 25-34 is just three years. This doesn’t mean that Millennial workers are inherently “restless” or nomadic — in fact, recent surveys by Pew Research assert that young professionals put a high premium on job security…but that they put a higher value on rewarding, enjoyable work and are willing to change jobs in pursuit of it. Early in a career, changing jobs is also often the best way to achieve significant increases in pay and responsibilities.

With this in mind, it’s important that recent graduates see landing their first job as a milestone, not a finish line. You have to stay engaged, keep learning, and strive to cast a wide professional net. And remember, business relationships can’t be counted like Twitter followers, and your reputation isn’t measured by LinkedIn endorsements: You’ll get noticed by doing exceptional work, and you’ll cultivate new contacts with time, effort and a personal touch — it will pay off in continued career growth and new professional opportunities.

A version of this commentary originally appeared on Inside Indiana Business — visit www.InsideIndianaBusiness.com for more news and perspectives.