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SMALL BUSINESS Starting point Next Great Step aims to teach college graduates how to properly market themselves to get their first real job

From left are Beth Hendler-Grunt, founder and president; and Lauren Aaron, vice president of Next Great Step, in Hendler-Grunt’s home office.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

At the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Livingston is a home where Beth Hendler-Grunt and her husband are raising two teenage boys. It’s also where she has been growing her own company over the last 12 months.

The company, Next Great Step, is focused on helping college students find employment after graduation.

“We provide advising services to college students and recent graduates on how to achieve career success,” she said. “Our tagline is, ‘We bridge the gap from college to the real world.’”

It’s a fertile market, according to Hendler-Grunt, because the odds are stacked against the students.

“So many students, I think the statistics are 1.8 million, are going to graduate this year and only 17 percent are going to have a real job,” she said. “Our approach is to not only help them get a job, but many students don’t understand how to take what they learned in school and apply that.”

Hendler-Grunt has found that, beyond creating a résumé, students need help figuring out a few key things: a strategy, knowing what skills they have in the market and who they bring them to and how to generate a follow-up interview.

But it was the confluence of experiences Hendler-Grunt had between her work at Wayne-based Kappa East Management Consultants — with clients including General Electric, Yahoo! and AT&T — and time as a mother that highlighted a gap between students and potential employers.

“A lot of the executives, as we would talk, would say, ‘I’d really love to bring in young, vibrant, energetic college graduates, but they just don’t get it and they’re not ready to think about us and the problems they can solve,’” she said. “Likewise, I’ve had friends, colleagues and all these students saying, ‘I can’t get a job and I went to a really good school and I got really good grades and I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.’ ”

To bridge that gap, she takes the same principles she used to advise executives and teaches them to her students.

“My background is advising Fortune 500 companies and executives and helping them with strategic planning and sales performances, (and) part of the way we would advise companies would be to help them focus, compete and stick with a strategy,” she said. “So, the concept is, actually, the same techniques that we’ve used in my consulting experience to teach executives, we use to teach students in a really simple way.”

Biz in brief
COMPANY: Next Great Step
FOUNDER: Beth Hendler-Grunt
FOUNDED: 2015
HEADQUARTERS: Livingston
ONE MORE THING: Hendler-Grunt’s first job out of college was for AT&T in Edison, where she worked before getting her master’s in marketing from Seton Hall University.

Before fully committing to this idea, Hendler-Grunt tried to establish a proof of concept.

“We started testing this out to see if it would work the same way it works for executives; we did some focus groups and a lot of students would say, ‘This is great and we’re not learning this in school,’ ” she said. “It’s not that career services isn’t helpful, but they’re either overwhelmed and can’t give them the correct attention or (the students) don’t go until it’s way too late.”

Often times, a student will just receive help in constructing a résumé, but Hendler-Grunt said her advising services are more “business-minded” than the simple template or cover letter.

“I like to use the phrase, ‘We’re way beyond the résumé,’ ” she said. “The overall concept is bringing this structured thinking process to the whole approach of figuring out what you want to do, narrow down what you’re really good at and execute when you show up.”

But working from her home has presented its own set of problems. Namely, where to meet.

“A lot of the advising I do is video conferencing because, even if I have a local parent who wants me to work with their child, (the student) might not be living in this specific area,” she said. “There are a number of students that I meet in person, but a lot we do using Google Hangouts or Skype.”

It allows her to work with the off-kilter schedules of the college student, but also that of the working mom.

“Their hours are all different and I’ve done calls at 9 or 10 o’clock at night if that works for their schedule,” she said. “Candidly, that works for me, too. Everyone’s fed, the kids are in bed and I have time. The flexibility is nice.”

If she does meet in person, Hendler-Grunt has relied on the popular standby of the ubiquitous local Starbucks. But she’s also found another option that’s slightly left-of-center.

“The Livingston Public Library has conference rooms that you can use for free,” she said. “I do that a lot.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

Andrew Sheldon
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