Read profiles of some of Northeast Georgia's top graduates in today's print-only special section, A Turn of the Tassel. The Times is available at retail outlets and news racks throughout Northeast Georgia. Subscribe online to have The Times delivered to your home, or call 770-532-2222.
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In the days to come, high school and college graduates of the Class of 2012 will grip their diplomas with pride and flip their tassels, leaving the life they’ve known behind for uncertain waters. Then they will hear speeches warning them of the hard road ahead of them.
They don’t know the half of it.
Even in good times, the challenges of work, military or higher education are always daunting. But the reality lurking beyond the graduation night parties is harsher than ever.
As the economy slowly crawls out of its four-year funk, finding good jobs beyond high school or college has never been harder. Many businesses were forced to run leaner during the recession, and most of those jobs aren’t coming back.
In this new stark environment, only the best prepared, most resilient, most resourceful grads will prevail. Those who can’t play at this higher level will spend a lot of time sending resumes, working temp jobs and eating out of their parents’ refrigerators.
So pardon us this year if we skip the dreamy-eyed talk of new horizons and bright futures. Today’s graduates will need to balance optimism with realistic goals and make the right choices if they want to come out on top.
It starts with high school graduates headed to college in the fall. Know that the days of endless parties, undeclared majors and high-paying jobs right out of the starting gate are long gone. You now need more than a pulse and a diploma.
Today’s collegians need a laser-like focus on fields of study that will guide them toward their careers. If you plan to spend thousands of dollars and incur years of debt on a degree that doesn’t get you there, you might want to think twice.
What you get out of college is up to you, not your instructors or administrators. No one will hold your hand. If you spend four years cruising through easy classes, going to football games and whining to your professors, don’t be surprised to find yourself struggling to fill out a resume.
And though getting good grades is important, prospective employers won’t care one whit about your GPA. It’s not about what you know but what you can do. That’s why you need real, marketable skills. If you spend four years in lecture halls and labs but don’t get practical experience, you’ll have little to offer. Internships and part-time jobs will give you a leg up against rivals for the same position.
To those looking for work, remember that it’s not about you. The person doing the hiring wants to know what you bring to the job. Sell yourself as someone who can make a difference. Don’t make the interview about what your needs are. No one cares about those but you. Focus on the work and leave questions about benefits, vacations and time off for later.
Here are a few more tips that many job hunters, believe it or not, choose to ignore: Dress appropriately; even if the job doesn’t require business attire, look professional. Leave the flip-flops and collarless T-shirts at home.
Don’t chew gum. Don’t check your smartphone for emails during the interview. And this may also seem obvious but bears repeating: If you have something goofy or embarrassing on your Facebook page, get rid of it now. That spring break picture or profane post won’t make a good impression. Employers will find it. Social media can be a double-edged sword and work against you.
Have an updated, easy-to-read resume that focuses on the work you’ve done and skills you possess. Your class projects and hobbies don’t make the cut.
Be personable, but be serious. Make sure the interviewer knows you want this job and that you’ll work your tail off if you get it. And don’t expect to make a lot of money to start; there are few entry-level jobs these days, only entry-level pay.
Be persistent. Don’t let rejections deter you; the perfect job may be elusive, but you’ll never find it you stop looking.
The bottom line is that it’s time to grow up. Times are tough and the few jobs available will go to those with the most brains, talent and grit who manage to outhustle their peers. There no longer is an easy road to take, so you best learn how to travel the hard one.
And parents, a message for you as well: Now that your darling angels are leaving the nest, they need to stand on their own. If they haven’t learned self-reliance from you by now, it’s probably too late. Parents who have spent too many years wiping their children’s ... ahem, noses ....will find it hard to cut the cord now.
Sure, your kids still will come home with a Hefty bag full of dirty laundry. And they’ll need a few bucks now and then. Help them out, lend them an ear, and advice if they seek it, but let them make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes.
We wish the message we could offer was all bluebirds, rainbows and sunshine. But the Class of 2012 won’t have it easy; that’s a given. It’s a different world, and only those determined enough to navigate its many obstacles will succeed.
The first step in that journey is simple: Be one of those people.