UMW Commencement

Members of the Class of 2019 turn their tassels to the left, signifying they are officially graduates during commencement at The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 11, 2019.

I was a panelist with two other business professionals at a local high school. The topic was Workforce Readiness 101.

As students are graduating from high school and college about this time of year, I’m sharing some of the thoughts we imparted to the students.

Prepare for the job interview by dressing appropriately and knowing a bit about the organization. Additionally, one panelist said she can tell within 30 seconds or so of meeting a candidate whether she will hire them. You should have seen the raised eyebrows when she said that. She is looking for confidence, which is shown by how a person walks in and greets her. Does the candidate make eye contact?

We discussed doing more than is expected. When a task is done, instead of getting the phone out to text or surf the web, why not ask the boss or a colleague if you can do more? We all agreed that spending a lot of the workday on your phone is a negative.

Also, college is not for everyone. Some students should pursue vocational training, some should join the military, while others should head straight to work. We encouraged the students to learn about what they are good at and what they like to do and then figure out how that translates into life after high school. We did, of course, stress that they must complete high school.

Realize that what you think you want to do at 16 or 18 or 22 will probably change over time. One of the panelists was an accountant for 40 years before becoming an entrepreneur. He said he realized that he probably should never have been an accountant, but that he finally figured out what made him happy. Another panelist had three very different majors in college before entering the workforce as a statistician. Now she’s in the tech world and is changing jobs shortly, going from the public sector to the private sector. There is no one "right way" to have a career.

Networking is extremely important. We realize many people are uncomfortable networking, so I framed it as making new friends. And who can ever have too many friends? The people in your network are there to give you occasional advice, to introduce you to potential jobs, and perhaps to serve as long-term mentors. None of the students had a LinkedIn profile, but we encouraged them to create one after high school.

Speaking of social media, we counseled them to be careful with their own social media accounts. As one panelists said, “We do check them. And we have not hired candidates because of what we found.” Because many times the person posting something may think it’s perfectly appropriate, we encouraged them to ask an adult to look at their accounts with a critical eye. The adults are doing the hiring, not the student’s friends. Asking a peer to review an Instagram account may not be the best decision.

Many people would say what we shared is plain common sense, and maybe it is. But given the reaction to our comments and the questions we received, much of this information was obviously not common sense to the students, nor is it to some college students I work with. So we repeat it, say it a different way, and repeat it again.

I recently read an article by a hiring manager. She said that she never hires a candidate who doesn’t send a thank-you note or email. So that’s another thing to think about.

While it might seem a candidate would have to be perfect to be hired, that’s not at all the case. But a person can take several steps to enhance the possibility of successfully navigating the job search process. He just has to attend to the details.

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.