Graduating Into Service: A Guide to Help Recent Graduates Transition into the Working World

Dan Farkas, Strategic Communication Educator, Speaker, & Consultant

“But you’re going to have to serve somebody.”

Journalism faculty cringe at the notion of beginning any story with a quote, but I also teach students to know the rules so they know when it’s OK to break them. This is one of those occasions.

I recently learned there are computers that aggregate every college commencement speech to try and identify key themes from the recently completed 2019 graduation season. As the memories of caps, gowns, and graduation speeches dim under the summer sun, this seems to suffice as an easy and important reminder of those speeches from a few months ago.

“But you’re going to have to serve somebody.”

Bob Dylan said it. Mike Sweeney said it better at Ohio University’s Graduate Commencement, even if the Dylan impersonation could have been a bit more nasally.

Sweeney Clip

https://www.ohio.edu/student-affairs/commencement?fbclid=IwAR3G2kV_OFOMokFlsWlS7XiD4V9LNZ4R-Q92L0_W9HeL6wjVCKJDOeD4P6M 

You can forgive Dr. Sweeney for this. Cancer is a terrible thing, and when you give what faculty call “The Last Lecture,” it’s fair to have your mind in other places.

As millions of graduates from thousands of schools enter the workforce, executives and hiring managers face the challenge of helping students transition into professionals. As someone who advises a student run PR firm and works with soon to be graduates, I believe Dr. Sweeney’s quote serves as a backbone for executives looking to ease that transition.

Graduates Aren’t Finished Products

It’s foolish to think otherwise. I was recently told PR students needed to know media relations, internal communication, SEO, coding, CMS management, social media ad buys, and inbound marketing as an entry level candidate. Let’s assume Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 theory that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become great in any field was overblown and is only 5,000 hours. That’s 35,000 hours.

There are 35,040 total hours in four years. If you want college students to have a mere 40 hours of free time left for sleep, relaxation, eating, family time, and exercise over four entire years, you will get that candidate. Good luck.

The choices are two-fold: accept the need to invest more in technical training (in-house or online) or throw kids in the deep end, watch them get frustrated and leave, and spend the money trying to onboard all over again. The choice seems clear.

“But you’re going to have to serve somebody.” 

Graduates Are Lost. Help Them Find Their Way

Faith matters. Edelman’s Trust Barometer and countless other studies show young people have lost faith in religion, government, my field of higher education, and other bedrock institutions.

As a dear colleague of mine said, “Students aren’t fully cooked when they get out of the oven.”

The 15 minute-mark of Dr. Sweeney’s speech gives great perspective on this journey and what lies ahead. Your entry-level talent will go through this experience. Employers must help guide that process, and it’s easy to do.

  • Paid time off for public service
  • Professional development funds
  • Association memberships
  • Peer mentoring

When younger employees find faith in you, they become better people. They also stay longer. Everyone wins. Say it with me in that nasally tone….

“But you’re going to have to serve somebody.” 

Be Proud of Your Purpose 

Depending on what study you prefer, students have $1.5 trillion in student debt. Half of Americans spend most of their salary on food, rent, and healthcare. Discretionary income is a precious commodity easily taken one venti at a time.

New graduates want to give. They often can’t give treasure because they don’t have any. They often don’t have time because they’re trying to impress their new boss.

Talent. These graduates do have talent and are incredibly gifted at finding brands that help make the world a better place. Spending 10 bucks more on a brand that donates to the fight against human trafficking is their way of giving back. It’s their connection to this new generation of faith. 

“But you’re going to have to serve somebody.” 

Why are we doing what we are doing? I ask this of my students all the time. Every brand and every person must answer that question and proudly showcase it in B2B, B2C, and H2H (human to human) situations.

I’m forever thankful Mike Sweeney did and continues to do this in his teaching, life, and lectures. I’m forever hopeful leaders and brands will consider the same path. As Dr. Sweeney said (and it’s OK in journalism to end stories with a quote), “Find a way to make your life count for others, and it will count for you.”


Dan FarkasAbout the Author: I’m a storyteller. Everybody has a story. Many struggle to tell them, especially in the digital age. I take pride in working with people and brands to identify and develop creative content. Then, I help identify the proper audience and the best way to reach that audience. It’s strategic storytelling for a rapidly changing world.  Over the last 20 years, I’ve earned more than two dozen awards for my work in PR, video, broadcast journalism and the web. Let’s use communication to solve problems and create solutions.

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