Top Ten Holiday Gifts for 2010: student edition

This year, I had the opportunity to spend some time with seniors at St. Mary’s College, the public honors college in Maryland.  To me, they are dream students: articulate, accomplished in their major fields, already drawing on their liberal arts orientation to discuss their lives across academic disciplines. They are tuned in to their options, open about acknowledging their apprehension about life after graduation, and willing to take in new information about what can help.

They also shared what they need to make the transition from student in a very casual, small-town environment to successful jobhunter in (for many) a major metropolitan area.  I am indebted to them for the following list, some of which they specifically suggested, some of which I perceived:

  1. A briefcase.  Because college students are vastly more eco-aware than their elders, be careful about the material.  In addition to leather, there are classy-looking briefcases in hemp, canvas, and other acceptable materials.  It’s all a step up from manila folders or (worse) a sheaf of papers fluttering around.
  2. Business cards.  Does everyone know about Vistaprint.com?  I don’t usually give a plug to commercial businesses, but I happen to love this company. For the price of shipping, you can custom-order 500 free cards.  It’s a really grown-up thing to do.  Plus, you’ll be able to buy an impressive card holder.  The internet has not done away with the need for cards.
  3. An outfit for interviews or that first job.  If you don’t know the person’s precise size and taste, a gift certificate to a shop known for professional attire will be appreciated.
  4. Understanding and patience.  They haven’t even graduated, and already they are sick of the “So, what are you going to do next?” stuff.  If they had an answer, they’d tell you.  It’s embarrassing.  It feels like a failure.  So cool it.  If you are a person who has paid for this education, you are understandably nervous about this question, but – believe me – wait a bit.  The students tell me they would love to be met with a show of confidence that it’s all going to work out.  They particularly do not want to hear about the sure-fire careers they could have gone into like their cousin.
  5. A gadget for their gadgets.  It embarrasses me to admit that I can’t be very specific here. You can research this matter on a blog about blogs about electronic stuff.  Plan to spend some time at  Twelve great gadget blogs for the smart holiday shopper.
  6. Credit for their Skype account – yes, there are some employers who are doing screening interviews in this way.  If they are like me, they will also appreciate a copy of Skype for Dummies, which has lots of tips. On second thought, if they are skyping, they probably don’t need the book.
  7. A gym membership.  Be tactful here. No comments about weight.  Remember that productive conversations can take place in this environment, and your young friend needs a new set of friends, the kind with jobs.
  8. A career consultation.  I’m talking about a coach or a counselor, someone with experience with the new graduate population.  I hope that your young person had access to (and made good use of) a college career center, but that was then and this is now.  If you decide to go this route, ask the career specialist for a reference or two by a client in a similar situation.  I am constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t ask me for references.  There is the problem of confidentiality, but most of us have many clients, satisfied with their work with us, who would be happy to give out a first name and a phone number.
  9. A consultation with a specialist to evaluate and enhance your online reputation.  This is one of the Top Ten suggestions for anyone of any age who is in the process of entering the job market, but it is of the utmost importance for this age group.  If you are worried about your relative/friend’s silly, juvenile, formerly-hilarious online photos and postings,  you can offer to fund a consultation with someone who can find those unprofessional references and remove or minimize them.  There is a special skill in cleaning up one’s social profile, enhancing work experience on LinkedIn, posting a book or product review, or using a website as a display of one’s accomplishments. We all want to be seen as serious candidates, right? You might want to check out a very interesting story on the blog of my British friend Chris Hall.  Hall’s blog was just picked up by the London Times which narrated the story about a new college graduate who posted his credentials online and attracted all kinds of job offers.
  10. A book.  See the previous blog postings for a lengthier recommendation of appropriate books.  These three works are written for young people:
  • Graham, Shawn, Courting your Career (Jist, 2008).  This is a fun and creative book that develops the similarities between establishing a romantic relationship and finding a job.  It’s clever and filled with truth.
  • Pink, Daniel, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko (Riverhead Books, 2008).  For the techie or anime lover in your life.  Reads like a comic book, filled with basic career wisdom.  My teen-aged grandson has no idea he is reading something useful.  He just likes the book.
  • Reeves,Ellen Gordon, Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? (Workman, 2009). This book covers basics for the new graduate, such as what to put on the resume, how to dress, what to expect in interviews, how to talk about salaries.  The format is very clearly divided into sections, which will appeal to those who don’t sit down and read a book from start to finish.

For three years, I have published a Top Ten gift list for the unemployed.  The previous posting has this year’s list, my antidote to Black Friday’s commercial offerings.  I hope you will also read that list and find just the right gift for your relative or friend who is trading up from education to employment.  Wrap the gift with patience, love, and empathy, for we all need that during transition times.  Happy Shopping!

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