Transcript: Wednesday, April 30 at 11 a.m. ET

Grad Guide 2008

Anne Brown and Beth Zefo
Authors of "Grad to Great"
Wednesday, April 30, 2008; 11:00 AM

Graduation season is here, and it's a time for new beginnings. Get advice on how to prepare for the real world in our Grad Guide 2008.

College is over and it's time for new grads to enter the working world. Anne Brown and Beth Zego, authors of "Grad to Great" (Dalidaze Press), help transform that nagging job search frustration into simple first-day-at-work butterflies.

Brown began her career as a television news writer for an NBC affiliate in Lansing, Mich., but transitioned into marketing and technology focused roles after graduate school. She is currently a senior web producer at Sender, a Chicago-based digital brand consultant firm.

Zefo works for General Motors, where she leads the labor relations and hourly employment team, in Atlanta. Over the past 10 years, she has held various positions throughout the auto industry including supply chain management, supplier quality engineering, new product launch, corporate communications and personnel.

The transcript follows below.

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Beth Zefo: Good morning! Thank you for inviting us here today. Both Anne and I are really excited to chat and answer questions. Let's get started.

Anne Brown: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us for this chat. We are excited to answer your questions.

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Evanston, Ill.: When is a good time to approach your boss asking for more responsibility? Is it ever okay to ask for certain assignments to be passed along to someone else? How do you ask for these things?

Beth Zefo: Tell your boss you would like some time to talk one on one about your job performance and more responsibility. Once you have set the time for the meeting really think about what you are going to ask for. If you are going to ask for more responsibility be specific on what you are looking for. Most likely your boss will be happy to give you more work. Be sure you can handle it. As for getting rid of some tasks, do you want to get rid of them because you just don't like doing them or would they really be a good fit in another job. Be careful when you ask for certain elements to be eliminated, unless you have a strong reason.

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Herndon, Va.: Anne and Beth,

Thanks for answering my question in advance.

I have been an engineer in the Aerospace/Defense industry for 5 years.

Recent grads ask me how to get ahead in the industry. I have told them that they need to change companies every few years to get their salary up. They could stay with a company for a long time until they get promoted, but the pay bump for getting promoted is less than moving between companies, so whats the point?

I am not sure if every industry is like this, but this has been the case with the aerospace/defense industry in the Washington Metro Area. Your thoughts?

Anne Brown: I have to agree with you. Not only is changing companies often an effective way to get a salary increase, but it is also an effective way to obtain a position with more responsibility. Sometimes deserving employees do not get promoted for a variety of reasons within one firm. Many times it is due to company politics. There is nothing wrong with looking for a new position with better pay and more responsibility after 2-5 years with a company. Another approach if you want to stay with your company, but believe you deserve more money or responsibility is to get an offer elsewhere and use it as leverage. In the financial industry it's actually common for employees to use an offer from another company to negotiate a salary increase or promotion within their current company.

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Anonymous: Hi Beth!

(This is from one of your Owen classmates)

My comment/question/discussion point is should graduates look to attend graduate school or should they try to find a job or other experience and then see if graduate school makes sense?

P.S. I did the latter... graduated, worked in three different jobs and then decided an MBA was the way to go (I originally wanted to go to medical school).

Beth Zefo: My personal belief is that it makes more sense to get some real world experience before going back to graduate school. I found my experience at Owen more rewarding after having real life experiences that I could draw on. However, I don't think there a one size fits all answer for this question. Timing is a huge factor that people need to consider when deciding whether or not to go back for an advanced degree.

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Kensington, Md.: Hi Anne and Beth,

I graduated from college in the late '90s and am working on my master's after a few years in the workforce. One of the most difficult adjustments that I had to make was how to be an advocate for myself in the workforce without appearing to be agressive. In college, I was blessed to have teachers who were incredibly supportive, but in the workplace not everyone has your best interests at hand especially when you are the new kid on the block and office politics are in play. My advice is to have a mentor in the workplace. Your thoughts?

Anne Brown: A mentor is a good idea at any point in your career definitely. And, it's smart to have several... sort of like your own advisory board. The advantage to having a mentor in your own company is that they can look out for you in some capacity, and they may help you get promoted even. The downside is when you have a mentor who you may personally admire and get along with, but who may not be that popular with upper management. Having several mentors within your field or industry gives you more of an opportunity to receive more information and advice, and make the best decisions for you.

Also, it never hurts to let your boss know what types of projects and assignments you're working on, and when someting goes really well. Think of it this way, if the people who have the power to promote you don't know what you're doing, they won't have a reason to promote you. Getting along with your co-workers is also key because they will be more likely to tell your boss what an asset you are to the team if they like you.

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Washington, D.C.: I am graduating in May and have been applying to jobs online with little luck. As the clock is ticking, I'm thinking of moving to a new city without having secured a job first. Is this a risky move, or do you think my chances of being asked to interview increase as soon as I'm actually available to work and am in the same location?

Beth Zefo: Great question. First off applying for jobs online can be very frustrating and the majority of folks don't get a job through the internet they get it through a personal connection. Moving to a new city without a job can be risky, but once you are located in a city you want to live and work, many companies will see this as a plus because you have taken the initiative to move to the city on your own, and they won't have to pay to relocate you. You can use that to your advantage as well as a way to negotiate a little more money. Once in the new city start networking. Join a young professionals organization, college alumni groups, etc. The more connections you can make the quicker you'll find a great job. Best of luck to you.

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RE: Moving out to move ahead: But how do you get those jobs with more responsibility and more pay?

I've been out of college for three years and most jobs I see still consider three years experience "entry level" and pay accordingly. I very rarely see jobs that I meet the requirements for that pay more than I currently make or that have more responsibility. And just seeing those jobs certainly doesn't mean I'm getting an interview for them -- it often seems like the people who get interviewed/hired are the people who have more experience than is listed as ideal or required.

So, when you have to apply a step down from your current level in order to be a serious candidate, how can you keep moving forward? Thanks for any tips.

Anne Brown: I would perhaps change your job searching strategy at this point, because you're right. Especially in this economy, employers have the advantage and they can ask for more experience at a lower pay. I had the same situation when I came out of school so I can sympathize. But, here's what you can do. Start networking. You are more likely to get a better job and pay if you have a personal recommendation from someone that knows your work and is in a position to either hire you or recommend you. This may take a little while if you haven't built up a network already, but is so worth it in the long run.

Another thing you can do in the short-term is to revise your resume into sections that highlight your work experience in the past three years in more detail. Highlight any promotions, or new areas of responsibility you were given.

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Washington, D.C.: My supervisor is an absolute monster, something I have learned to cope with through time and losing sensitivity. This summer, s/he will have some interns to torture. I feel pretty bad for them already because s/he will have unrealistic expectations of them and probably be pretty mean to them.

Is there anything I can do to lessen the pain? I will be involved in training the interns and helping them with their assignments but they will not report to me.

Anne Brown: Oh you bet you can do something! You are going to need to be an example to the interns about how to handle someone like this because they are out there in great numbers. Sometimes managers are promoted too quickly without any real training about how not only to be a good manager, but how to be a good leader. Keep a positive attitude and teach the interns how to handle this type of situation without letting it get to them personally. Separate the actions from the person. By that I mean, teach them how to respond to what they actually control, and don't let them dwell on the boss's tone of voice or petty comments, or whatever else it is that the boss does. Teach the interns how to do what you have learned to do. They will love you for it and remember you fondly. You sound like someone with great leadership abilities.

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New York, N.Y.: I found this book very interesting -- even though I am 10 years plus out of college! Have you ever considered expounding upon the ideas of changing careers/getting along with others/moving up in position/promotions/contract negotiation etc., in another book?

Anne Brown: Thank you. I am happy to hear that you found the book helpful. We have considered writing another book in the next two years that focuses more on the topics you mention. For now we are expanding our web site www.GradtoGreat.com to include articles and interviews with successful professionals that will address these topics for people who are several years out of school.

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Washington, D.C.: My early jobs have all been at small companies, and I'm thinking about moving to a large company at some point. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the bigger pond?

Beth Zefo: I can think of many advantages of working for a large company. Large companies offer their employees exposure to many different functional areas, today most have a global presence and that allows for international experience for those interested. Good benefits, and pay packages. An employee coming from small business could feel overwhelmed joining a large company at first but the opportunity at a large company is there for you to take advantage of. Networking within large companies is very important to get a feel for how the company works, and where you want go. Some disadvantages include feeling lost and that you have no direction. The best way to avoid that is to find a mentor at the company who has been there awhile that can help you navigate the corporate politics and provide support. Good luck and great question.

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Chicago: I have read "Grad to Great" and I loved the advice you gave about preparing for my interviews, but I tend to get extremely nervous right before I interview, even for a job that I feel that I am qualified for and sometimes I forget everything I wanted to say. What techniques that you would suggest to help someone in my position feel more comfortable?

Anne Brown: Something that has helped me over the years is to write down several bullet points that I want to address in the interview the night before. These could be accomplishments, qualifications, successful projects you've managed or difficult situations that you have handled well. Look over these bullet points before you go to the interview and keep them with you during the interview (but, out of site, either in a purse or wallet.) Next, on the way to the interview just try to relax and stay calm by reminding yourself that you are qualified for the position and you've gotten this far by getting an interview. Employers like to see a quiet confidence in their job applicants. You can demonstrate this quality in the interview by taking a few seconds to think about your answer to a question before you start speaking. Sometimes job applicants feel the need to start talking right away and this can be a mistake if you're nervous. You might forget what you wanted to say halfway through, and that makes you look like you don't know what you're talking about. If you are asked a question that you don't quite understand, ask them to clarify. Also, keep in mind that the interviewer may be as nervous as you are. This could be their first time interviewing someone... you never know. Try to be friendly, and just pretend you're talking to someone you've known a long time. Don't try to guess what they're thinking the whole time either. Just be yourself and you'll do great.

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Olney, Md.: I have worked at a restaurant while in school and it pays very well. I recently graduated in December and found a job that I just started. I have a friend at work that graduated in the spring with a good resume and has gotten some offers but taken none. My question is: particularly in this economy would you advise being picky with getting a job starting out or just jumping on a decent offer? At what point does waiting to get a job after you graduate look bad to would-be employers?

Anne Brown: This is such a great one, and perhaps one of the hardest to answer because it really depends on the situation. For example, if your friend is not going to be able to pay rent without a job, accepting a decent offer may be a good idea. Especially, if by decent you mean that the salary is ok and your friend would enjoy the job. I would question why no offers have been accepted yet. Perhaps there is some fear about taking the wrong job and being stuck. That's a common concern to have, but unless you're doing something, no one has the opportunity to see what you're capable of and offer you an even better job.

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Re: switching jobs: A word of caution about that. Job-hopping is almost a pastime for 20-somethings in this area, but weight the pros/cons carefully before jumping ship for a higher salary. There are intangibles in a workplace that can make you really regret moving. A bad boss or an uncomfortable work environment oftentimes isn't worth the higher pay.

Anne Brown: This is very true. I would always ask someone making this type of decision to first consider what they could do to make their current situation more enjoyable. You can never control someone else's behavior or change the culture of a corporation overnight, but you can control your reaction to people and situations. Sometimes just doing this is enough to create a whole new outlook on your job. Very good point!

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McLean, Va.: What do you think is the biggest mistake graduates make in transitioning from college to the workforce? My company hires a lot of new grads each summer, and every year, there's someone who doesn't last a month because they can't make it in on time, come to work hung over, make an inappropriate comment, or blow off assignments as if it's just another term paper. And when they're told they're being let go, they're absolutely shocked.

Beth Zefo: One of the biggest mistakes new college graduates can make is not taking their job/work seriously. It is one thing to miss a deadline for a school project, but if you do that while you are working it can have serious consequences such as being fired. New grads must embrace their position and take it seriously. Although most won't stay at their first company for more than three years, their reputation will follow them.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: What was it about your personal experiences right out of college that led you to write the book?

Anne Brown: I worked for several different industries and was lucky enough to meet several very successful people through positions I had. I noticed a difference between the people who were very successful, and the ones who were almost there. Teh marginally successful people felt entitled and felt the need to always tell people how they should be doing something differently. These people might reach executive level, but they never had the same clout as the really successful ones who lifted other people up. I learned early on that in order to be truly successful, you have to stay true to who you are, but realize that not everything is about you. What I hope comes through in our book is that you can be successful, and have the career and life you want if you look for ways to contribute to your own success without expecting it.

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Arlington, Va.: Just a word of advice from a potential employer:

Please do not have your parents contact us on your behalf. I cannot tell you the number of times we have had parents call/e-mail to negotiate leave/salary/start date/benefits for their children. You are an adult. The job is your responsiblity. not to get the job.

Thank you.

Beth Zefo: Great advice. I cannot agree with this more. You are the future employee not your parents. Please be independent and make contact with future employers on your own. Use you parents for a sounding board and advice but not to contact employers on your behalf!!

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: I've noticed that lately, many recent grads are often too casual in their dealings with co-workers and supervisors. I'm not talking dress code, I'm speaking of referring to a prospective employer by their first name on first reference, poor communication skills, nonchalant attitude... of course I'm not speaking about ALL recent grads -- I've met some real superstars -- but I've also noticed a change in the past few years, and I've been working for 16. Have you noticed this?

Anne Brown: I think this happens because as students, graduates are not taught about inter-office politics or business etiquette. For the ones who do know how to handle communications properly, whether in person, on the phone, or via email, they get promoted a lot faster.

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Arlington, Va.: Before the whiners chime in about recent grads being slovenly and disrespectful and not hard workers, let me say that I work with a bunch of recent grads (and am one myself) who are driven, motivated, and yes, sometimes wear flip-flops in the office. Please realize that you may have come across a bad seed, but that we are not all like that, and it is unfair to the serious young members of the workforce to be treated as if we are all spoiled brats who cannot work collaboratively and respect their peers and supervisors.

Remember the golden rule of treat others as you wish to be treated and do not make assumptions about your new-grad staff!

Anne Brown: This is a good point and for all of the recent graduates who come into the workforce highly motivated and ready to work, (which is proving to be a great portion of Gen Y) just know that you will get noticed. It may not always seem like that, but the superstars really do stand out and the money will come.

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Alexandria, Va.: My former supervisor (just retired) indicated before she left that she wanted to promote me, but dropped the ball on the paperwork before she left. A new supervisor (first-time manager) came in just over a month ago, and I brought her in the loop regarding my promotion. I have been following up with her once a week, and there has been no progress on getting the paperwork forward. I understand my new supervisor is busy learning how to do her new job, but I'm getting frustrated. How do I continue to push my new supervisor on the paperwork without coming across as too agressive?

Beth Zefo: This can be a very frustrating situation. Did your previous supervisor let anyone else know about wanting to promote you? I would suggest that she contact the new supervisor in writing and explain the situation. Ask her to provide you a copy of this and also request a copy be given to human resources and made part of your personnel file. This situation really can go either way. Ask for a meeting with your new supervisor to discuss the subject. You need to know if she supports the promotion. Good luck. Remember you control your career and you must look out for yourself!!

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Bethesda: This isn't so much a question, but more of an observation. I am in charge of hiring new interns in our department. When I put an ad out for interns, I am often appalled by the resumes I receive. It's not a lack of experience, but just a general lack of attention to detail. Please, grads, have someone proofread your cover letter and resume before sending it out. It's easy to overlook simple mistakes like "there" vs. "their" when you are trying to get a resume out quickly. If you are just out of college, your resume really shouldn't be more than a page, and certainly shouldn't be 7 pages long. I got several resumes from students still in college that were at least that long. I don't care that you won your dorm's beauty pageant last month. I care about what you can bring to our company and what you hope to learn from an internship with us. Finally, seek out help from your college career center. It's very obvious when a student has had help. Clean resumes and well written cover letters not only make my job easier, they often land much closer to the top of my "call back" pile. Thanks!

Beth Zefo: Good advice!! Everyone must pay attention to detail. Your resume is your impression.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm not a new graduate but a manager of several. I absolutely love my employees they are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, creative people I work with. As with any new hire though I have a couple suggestions I'd like to make to them when they start their new jobs.

1. Never, ever, ever go into your boss's office without a pen and notebook or stenopad or whatever to write things down. You may think that you'll be able to remember everything but inevitably you won't. And you may learn new assignments or information randomly when you pop into your boss's office. And it makes life SO much easier on you and your boss when you can go through your tasks one by one and they are all in one place. Not so much when you are taking notes on a post-it note.

2. Learn the hierarchy of your company and your department and how it is handled. I've worked for groups where it is absolutely prohibited for you to go above your boss's head when you have a question, even a benign one. And of course there are other groups that have a much more open style of communication. It's just better to be safe than sorry.

Of course I have many other suggestions but I think these are two huge ones that new grads tend to overlook.

Anne Brown: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: I have to second the comment about intangibles. I left a job at a workplace I loved to take a job that was directly related to my graduate degree. It was ok, but the workplace was awful with a toxic director. I was lucky enough that the much-loved workplace took me back after almost five years away, in a different position. And although it was a pay cut, it led to a promotion and an commensurate pay increase. I am very happy now, even though my job isn't necessarily related to my graduate degree. And happiness is worth a lot!

Anne Brown: Great comment. Thank you.

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Anne Brown: Thanks so much for all of the great questions. Please visit www.GradtoGreat.com for more info on these topics!

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