Careers: Advice for Recent Grads

What’s an ambitious young woman to do? A freshly minted degree, loads of ambition, and a tight job market . . .

Bachelors Degree Online asked my advice for first-time job seekers this week. Here’s what I contributed to its “Ask the Career Expert” column:

Question: What unique challenges do young women (recent college graduates) face in the workplace?

Ann Daly: First, in our culture, the “young woman” is perceived as more sexual than professional. It’s a minefield that ambitious young women need to be aware of, and to carefully negotiate. Be aware of and intentional about how verbal, visual, and physical cues are perceived by a male-dominated culture. And second, all women are devalued in the workplace. Hence, the “gender wage gap.” A woman graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 earned a median starting salary of $36,451. For a man, it was $44,159. That’s a 17% gender gap when all job candidates have pretty much the same qualifications and experience.

Question: When college graduates have little to no professional experience, how should young women approach salary negotiations?

Ann Daly: They should approach salary negotiations the same as anyone:

  • Research the industry salary range
  • Articulate your value-added
  • Connect your value-added directly to the needs of the employer
  • Ask for what you’re worth.

If you do NOT negotiate, you tell your employer you’re a pushover who won’t be expecting the raise, the promotion, the stretch assignment. Is that the message you really want to send?

Question: What is the most common mistake you see recent college grads make in their job search, in interviews, and on the job?

Ann Daly: Don’t make the mistake of assuming that everyone else communicates with the same informality and in the same channels that you do. Take your cue from the other person: Do they open their emails with “Dear” or “Hey”? Do they prefer a live conversation, phone, email, or text? Act accordingly. This demonstrates a form of respect that will quickly establish your maturity and professionalism.

Question: What is your best piece of advice to young women searching for their first post-college job?

Ann Daly: Buy the best professional suit/ensemble that you can afford. Focus on fit and quality–not style. What you wear is only a frame for the value and professionalism that is the main picture you want to communicate. You don’t want the interviewer to remember what you wore. You want her to remember what you said.

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