You aren’t sure what you want to do and you don’t really know where you would best fit in; what the best role for you would be? It’s tough. New grads don’t really have a reference point for gauging what jobs they would be good at or would even enjoy doing. On top of that, a lot of entry level positions don’t sound very interesting. So where are you supposed to start in your job search? What should you be looking for?
As a new grad looking for your first job, I believe, you should be looking for a job that enables you to try many different things. You don’t want to focus yourself too much at first…unless you are absolutely dead set on a certain job or career from the get go. I personally believe that diversifying yourself at first will serve you far better than trying to specialize too early. You have your whole career to find your niche!
The best advice I have for new grads, especially for you careerists out there reading this, is to apply to leadership programs; they come in a variety of flavors but the most common are Management Leadership Programs (MLP) and Engineering Leadership Programs (ELP). The difference between the two is that an MLP generally refers to a non-technical role or industry, while an ELP is more technical in nature and geared toward engineers. However, this isn’t a regulated program so it remains at the employer’s discretion what they decide to name it.
What Is a Leadership Program?
A leadership program, with any prefix, is essentially a training program where candidates complete multiple rotations through various business units within their organization; these rotations are of a fixed duration and have defined objectives that the candidate must achieve. A leadership program is typically regarded as a fast-track path for high potential employees/candidates. Throughout the training program, the candidate is assigned a mentor to guide them throughout the process and to provide a constant feedback loop in an informal setting. The main objective of a leadership program is to quickly develop strong candidates into stronger leaders that will quickly ascend the ranks of the organization.
Who Should Apply?
Anyone with a strong desire to learn and who is looking for a challenging experience. These jobs are perfect for careerists who want to set themselves apart from the competition and get ahead with a solid footing in business operations.
The best part is that not all leadership programs are exclusive to new graduates. You can find a large number of programs out there that cater to the professional with a few years experience. Leadership programs are also excellent for those of you that wish to change careers. It’s a great way to try on a job in any industry.
What Can You Gain from a Leadership Program?
- The learning curve is very steep. You will learn new things every day. Rotating through different business departments you will work on a wide range of projects and assume many different roles. While you may not be exceptional at everything, you will learn a lot.
- Through exposure to different business functions, you become a well-rounded professional early on in your career. Completing rotations in different business units within the organization allows you the opportunity to wear different hats and learn the dynamics that exist between all organizational departments. As you rotate through the organization, you learn to see the business from different vantage points. And let me tell you…the business looks very different from the sales and finance departments than it does from engineering or quality! The ability to see an individual business unit’s role in relation to the whole is called Big Picture Thinking. And Big Picture Thinking is in high demand. The earlier on in your career that you can establish yourself as a well-rounded professional through actual experience, the better you will have set yourself up for bigger and more challenging opportunities.
- Develop strong team building and communication skills. As you rotate through different business functions, you experience first-hand the challenges that exist in creating effective cross-functional teams. Working through those challenges lends you the experience you need to develop your team building and communication skills very quickly. You will learn how to motivate different people and different teams to meet global business objectives. The ability to motivate groups and individuals is essential to building a successful business.
- Your very own professional mentor. Normally, those selected to participate in a leadership program are assigned a senior level executive as a mentor. (My mentor was the GM at one of our facilities.) This person is there to guide you through the early stages of your career by introducing you to the corporate culture and answering questions you may have on how to handle certain situations. Through periodic dialogue and candid advice, you mentor will also help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses – giving you some pointers on areas you need to improve on and areas you can further develop. While the advice may seem specific to your role within the company, the information is undeniably transferable. Knowing and understanding your strengths and weaknesses will enable you to gain a clearer perspective of what you want to do in your career.
- Exposure = networking = contacts = opportunities. As you rotate through the entire company you have the opportunity to meet many different people. You gain exposure through the projects you work on and the results you achieve. The more people know your name and associate it with good work, the more you will be rewarded and the higher your career prospects will be within the organization. In addition, the high visibility you garnered within your company will have spilled over to the connections of those you have worked with – creating opportunities for employment once you leave.
- Increase your personal versatility. Your exposure and experience rotating through the different business functions of your organization makes it easier for you to adapt to new roles, projects and circumstances. You are more open to change and with change comes opportunity. Also, with your diverse experience, you become more versatile in what you can do; you are not limited to certain roles or functions because you have done a wide variety of things. You have a very large advantage compared to others that have narrowed their scope.
- Learn who you are and what you are good at. Building on point #4, it’s evident that in working on a wide range of projects and in a number of roles with varying levels of responsibility you’ll experience many different obstacles, challenges and successes. With each experience comes an opportunity to learn; learn who you are, what you are good at and what you like. Your mettle is tested both as an employee and as a person. Some experiences will be great and others not-so-great, but you will learn nonetheless. And what is life if not a learning experience?
How do you find a Leadership Program?
Go to a career/job search tool, such as Monster and type in “Leadership Program” in the Job Title Field. The sky is the limit!
For those of you that decide to pursue a leadership program, I commend you and hope you have as great a time as I had!
How many of you have completed, or are participating in, a leadership program? What is/was your experience? Share your experiences, thoughts, concerns and advice with other readers!