How to Market Yourself as a New Graduate to Employers, with Dr. Ciera Graham

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 341:

How to Market Yourself as a New Graduate to Employers, with Dr. Ciera Graham

Airdate: March 30, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. 

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You’ve just graduated from college. Congratulations! 

As you look for work, one of the first lessons you’ll learn is that credentials alone, including a college degree, can’t get you a job. 

You need to market yourself, too.

Dr. Ciera Graham is here to talk about how to market yourself as a new graduate to employers.

She works as a higher education administrator, writes regularly about career issues, and runs a coaching business for women and millennials. 

She joins us from Tacoma, Washington.  

Well, let’s get started, Dr. Graham. Do students struggle with marketing themselves? Is that common after graduation? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

Yes, it is very common. You know, I’ve been in higher education now for just over thirteen years, and the students that I work with- they’re often very scared and nervous about, you know, job searching, starting their career, feeling a lack of confidence around talking about their accomplishments, and what they bring to the table. And so, I think students often need a lot of coaching and a lot of support and mentorship around how to best sell themselves. 

Mac Prichard:

Why do you think this lack of confidence happens? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

I think there are a few reasons why this happens. I think for a lot of new graduates, they encounter the experience barrier. So, many of them may read job descriptions where they have to have three to five years of industry experience, and some students may be thinking after they have finished a college education, they haven’t had a whole lot of time to get that industry experience or have a job, and so this creates a lot of apprehension around applying. 

And then I think, for a lot of students, there is this debate between whether or not they should further their education or just apply for a job right after college, and so that challenging decision that they have to make, oftentimes, just creates a dilemma between either going to college to gain more education or just choosing to job search. 

Mac Prichard:

What about other factors that might affect a new graduate’s job search? Like having clarity about goals or target companies that they might want to explore. In your experience, are those important and might be contributing to a lack of confidence? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

Yes, absolutely. So for a lot of college students, you know, I’ve worked with many students who often lack a job search strategy, and so they may be entering a profession, you know, like communications that is relatively broad and they haven’t really explored what type of communications they may want to do. Whether that is marketing or public relations, and so I help students really narrow down some of those aspirations or skills that they have so that they can target their job search. 

So yes, that is often a very common problem that I do see.  

Mac Prichard:

And with the students or recent graduates that you might have who are good at marketing themselves to employers, what are they doing differently? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

So, for the students that I work with that are good at marketing themselves, I think what they’re doing is they’re having a lot of interview practice. So, they’re doing mock interviews, and that’s something I do in my career as a higher education professional but also in my consultant business. And so, I think as students continue to build practice around interviewing questions, you know, whether that is behavioral interviewing, situational interviewing, I think it just builds confidence, and they’re able to have answers that resonate with employers. 

Also, I think a lot of students are learning that they really have to sell themselves and their accomplishments, and so, it’s not just, you know, important for you to talk about sort of what you did. You really have to sell yourself and talk about things that really set you apart from the average candidate. And so, I’m finding that students who have had practice and they feel confident with interviewing and they’re choosing to sell their accomplishments those are the students who typically do very well. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to sell yourself to an employer. I know there are a number of steps that you recommend to the students and new grads that you work with. The first is to look at your qualifications and your skillset. What do you have in mind here, Ciera? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

You know, with some of the students that I work with and for a lot of new graduates, they really have not had the opportunity to take an honest look with their skillset. And so, you know, that means really looking at, what are some of the skills that you have gained in the classroom? And so, when you think about some of the projects that you may have done in your classes- I’m thinking about some of the skills that are needed in some of these team-based projects- so, you know, knowing how to delegate, knowing how to resolve conflicts. These are all kind of important skills that you would need to complete a group project.

Or, you know, if you were involved in student government or if you held a student leadership role, you know, skills like knowing how to work with diverse populations, or skills where you had to create a really innovative event, you know, for students on campus. And so, a lot of students, I think, they’re just so busy that they often don’t get the opportunity to really look and assess their skills.

And so what I often do is, I have students just take an honest assessment; if that means just writing out what some of your skills are that you’ve learned in the classroom or in some of your student leadership or involvement opportunities, or maybe in some of your part-time jobs, too. Just writing those kinds of soft skills out, I think, is important, or doing a personality assessment. 

So, I work with students where we’ve done the Myers Briggs or the Strengths Finder, and these are personality assessments that allow students to really just take a look at some of their strengths and gives you, you know, a set of responses and skills that you excel well in. And so, this really helps students as they are trying to sell themselves on the job market or put together a resume or a cover letter. They’re able to pull from these assessments to really market themselves. 

Mac Prichard:

How do you help these students and new grads that you work with figure out which of the skills identified in their self-assessment are gonna be most important to the employers they want to work with? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

So, what I do is I have them look at job descriptions that they really like, and so, what I will tell students, you know after we’ve done the Strengths Finder or the Myers Briggs, I will have them bring in a sample job description, and so, if that job description, for an example, is social media, you know, coordinator where the primary role is, you know, managing social media for a particular company or organization. And so, what I’ll have them do is look at, you know, Strengths Finder or the Myers Briggs and if some skills are coming out that hint at creativity, innovation, your ability to manage multiple competing demands- I’m thinking about social media managers who really have to, you know, be very agile and flexible. 

And so, it’s really connecting what is on the job description to what some of their skills are, and so, I think that’s a really great activity that I often do with students. 

Mac Prichard:

And when you help students and new grads make that connection between the skills they’ve identified and the skills that employers are looking for, what changes do you see in people’s behavior and in their confidence in their job search? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

What I see is, oftentimes, a light bulb goes off for a lot of students. Because I don’t really think they’ve made that connection between what they do on a day-to-day basis in college and the skills that are needed in their respective professions. I think a lot of students often tend to have this tunnel vision where, you know, they participate in these activities, or they do group projects in a classroom, or, you know, maybe they’re working part-time at a local restaurant, and they’re really just not understanding how they’re building skills for the future. 

And so, it’s really a light bulb that goes off, and I think by connecting the skills that are on the job description to the skills that they actually possess really gives them just a new sense of awareness of who they are, and I think just the constant practicing of being able to talk about your skills in an interview and give concrete examples, you know, based on some of your experiences that you’ve had in college, it just really helps motivate them. They’re just more confident, and I would also argue that they’re more likely to have a more successful job search, too. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. We’re gonna take a break. When we come back, Dr. Ciera Graham will continue to share her advice on how to market yourself as a new graduate to employers. Stay with us. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Dr. Ciera Graham.

She works as a higher education administrator, writes regularly about career issues, and runs a coaching business for women and millennials. 

She joins us from Tacoma, Washington.  

Now, Dr. Graham, before the break, we were talking about how to market yourself as a new graduate to employers, and you talked about what a difference mock interviews can make in the confidence of the students and recent graduates that you work with, and also what happens when students identify their skills and make that connection with job postings and what employers are actually asking for. 

Another step I know you recommend new graduates can take to market themselves to employers is to identify your major accomplishments, and talk about what you mean by accomplishments and how they differ from skills. And what’s the best way to get clear about those accomplishments? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

Accomplishments are really your successes, whether they are large or small. After you have completed a particular activity or job, it’s important to highlight these accomplishments to a future employer because it really helps set you apart, and it shows the employer that you are very results-oriented. That differs a bit from skills. So, for example, a skill would be your ability to relate to diverse audiences. An accomplishment, on the other hand, would really focus on, you know, how you have met or exceeded goals or just taken on more responsibility. And so, I always tell people with accomplishments- you’re really looking at how you can quantify your accomplishments or how you helped institute a new process or procedure within a respective workplace. 

Mac Prichard:

Why is it important to quantify your accomplishments or talk about changes and processes in places where you worked? What difference does that make to an employer who’s considering hiring a new graduate? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

So, I’m gonna go back to my social media coordinator example. For a social media coordinator- they have the responsibility of managing social media, creating posts, you know, for a public audience. But someone who does this job and talks about their accomplishments they would focus on really how they helped meet or exceed goals. 

So, for example, if you created a social media post on Instagram and that led to an increase of ten percent in followers for a respective organization, that is really an accomplishment focus because it leads to a direct result that has benefits for the company. And so, with accomplishments, you really want to focus on how you are meeting or exceeding goals because that is something that an employer really wants to see. They want to hire employees that are able to not just do the job but also work beyond the job description essentially. 

Mac Prichard:

In your work with students or new graduates, do you find that often they might think they don’t have any major accomplishments? Is that something you hear commonly when you talk to them about this?  

Dr. Ciera Graham:

I do. You know, I think a lot of new graduates often feel because they haven’t had a lot of work experience or a lot of opportunities where they have had to lead in a very direct way, that they feel that a lot of their work is not accomplishment-oriented. So, they often do struggle when it comes to identifying these major accomplishments, and, you know, what I tell students is to really look at your entire college career. 

Don’t just focus on work experience. Look at classroom experience, look at student leadership and involvement, and, you know, things like organizing activities or events. If there was a particular event that you organized, and you were able to get more than, I don’t know, seventy or eighty percent of the students attending, I mean, that is a huge accomplishment.

So, I think it’s really yes. Students do struggle with this. But it’s really making students understand that it’s just not work-focused. You can also look at academics and leadership and involvement opportunities, too. 

Mac Prichard:

Is there a process that you recommend to students or new graduates that will help them identify and quantify their accomplishments? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

So, what I typically have students do is identify what particular project or leadership opportunity they’re involved in, and then I have them write down all of the responsibilities associated with that leadership opportunity. So, for instance, you know, if we’re talking about a student who was a president with student government, you know, one of their responsibilities is they’re leading meetings, you are overseeing or supervising, you know, other student leaders. You’re also planning events.

 And so, I have them list out all of the roles and responsibilities, and students are normally able to do that very quickly and with ease. I think where the struggle is, is having them take those responsibilities and then look at them as accomplishments, and so, what I do is I ask students questions. 

So, within this respective leadership opportunity, have you had a chance to institute a new process? Or did you do a really creative event that’s never been done before? Did you manage more students or student leaders than the previous year? And so, it’s really getting them to think differently about what they’re doing. I also ask them, did you receive a reward for your leadership? 

You know, those are things that you can include in your accomplishments. 

Mac Prichard:

Now, another strategy that you encourage the students and new graduates you work with that is an effective way to market themselves to employers is to talk about soft skills. What kind of soft skills matter most to employers, particularly with new graduates? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

You know, I think with the ongoing COVID pandemic, soft skills are becoming even more critical. So, having employees who can manage time well, having employees who can adapt to new situations, so being flexible and agile, working well under pressure, working well under multiple competing deadlines. I think these are all soft skills that are very important to employers but also very significant to the time that we’re in right now. 

Mac Prichard:

And how do you help people identify the skills that matter most to employers and then take what they learn and talk about that either in interviews or in application material? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

What I do is I often have students go back to the job description, and so, you know, they bring a job description to the appointment and it’s typically a job that they are looking to apply to, and I have them identify all of the soft skills that are noted in the job description. So, if that is leadership skills, teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving skills, I have them identify the skills first, so they know exactly what is being expected by the employer.

And then what I do is under each of those skills that is being requested by the employer, I have them give examples of a time during their college career where they’ve had to show or demonstrate these particular skills. So, for instance, with problem-solving skills, you know, for a lot of engineering students or science students, they may have participated in a project where they have had to solve a social problem or dilemma, and so, I make sure that students are able to connect what they’re doing to the skills that are requested by an employer.  

Mac Prichard:

I want to go back to the point you made in the first segment where you say you often meet graduates who aren’t sure how to start a job search and are considering instead going to graduate school. What would you say to somebody who is in that situation now, and what advice would you have for them? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

What I would suggest is really taking an honest look and assessment of your career goals. You know, for some positions, getting that extra certification or a master’s degree is going to be useful, and it’s going to lead to higher pay, maybe greater job flexibility, and so, you know, getting a degree right after college may be a decision that you need to make. For anyone, you know, who’s looking to be a project manager, there’s particular certifications that you will need before you can enter the respective field. 

And so, I think it’s important to maybe talk to other professionals that are within a given career and understanding what type of moves or decisions they made once they graduated college and seeing if pursuing a degree is actually something that you should pursue. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation. Now, tell us what’s next for you, Dr. Graham? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

So, I do have my own consulting business, Dr. C. Graham Consulting, where I provide millennials, new graduates, women, and people of color career coaching. And so, I am always willing and ready to help anyone who needs help with their job search or resume or cover letter, or any and all career development needs. So, I’m looking to grow my consulting practice and continue to help new people. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know listeners can learn more about you and your services by visiting your website, cieragraham.com and that you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I hope that they’ll mention they heard you on the show. 

Ciera, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to market yourself as a new graduate to an employer? 

Dr. Ciera Graham:

I think the one thing that I would want people to remember is to be confident, but also be willing to take an honest look at your skills and your accomplishments, and do not be afraid to sell yourself and sell your accomplishments. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Jonaed Iqbal. 

He’s the founder of NoDegree.com. It’s a career website for those without college degrees. 

Jonaed also hosts The NoDegree Podcast. 

You see a job posting that interests you. But you only have some of the qualifications. Should you send in your resume?

Join us next Wednesday when Jonaed Iqbal and I talk about if you should apply for the job if you’re not the perfect candidate. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Jeni Wren Stottrup. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

Are you a recent college graduate who’s ready to enter the job market? If so, it is essential that you learn to market yourself and your skills to potential employers. The best way to begin, according to Find Your Dream Job guest Dr. Ciera Graham, is practicing for interviews. Take the time to rehearse answers to common interview questions to build your confidence. Dr. Graham also recommends doing an honest assessment of your skills and sharing with prospective employers some of your previous accomplishments. 

About Our Guest:

Dr. Ciera Graham, a higher education administrator, writes regularly about career issues, and runs a coaching business for women and millennials.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re a female or a millennial ready for your next career step, find out more about how Dr. Graham can help you. Visit her website at cieragraham.com.
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers.