Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important
thing is to not stop questioning. — Albert Einstein
In order to achieve success when you graduate, you need to start college off on the right foot. For those of you who hope to graduate in four years and have a degree that will matter in today’s economy, it will be well worth your time to consider the following advice: Employment statistics show a difficult but improving job market. Even though the employment picture is improving slightly, many new graduates are still moving back home after college at unprecedented levels. The new grads find themselves in debt and unable to use their hard-earned degrees. The jobs most commonly available (for those lacking sufficient hard skills) are waiting tables at local restaurants, working as an administrative assistant and in retail sales. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these jobs, graduates often feel frustrated when their work is completely disconnected from their education: Underemployment has become the norm for graduates and the vague aspirations for greatness (and independence) they had when they started college have now been washed away as they were forced to move back in with their parents: Many college graduates today express disdain for their new post college role spending their free-time emptying their parents’ dishwasher and reporting to them about their daily affairs.
Reality sets in fairly quickly for those who have no technical skills that the cool job at the tech start-ups in your area or anywhere are not within reach! So the question remains, how can those of you who are starting college avoid falling into this scenario now that you see others ahead of you who somehow missed the boat in college. In today’s challenging economy there are two critical things you need to know (the sooner the better in your academic career) in order to set yourself apart from your competition and reach your goals when you graduate from college. Identify a person who holds the job/career you esteem and become an expert on how they got there! Find out the academic prerequisites (the hard skills) as well as the soft skills (character traits) that you’ll need to become an ideal candidate for this position.
Here’s the scoop: If you are one of those people who already knows what your passion is (dance, medicine, theatre, computer programming) then your job is obviously a bit easier as you can interview someone in the field who you identify with and learn the criteria you’ll need to reach that position. For the rest of us who don’t know our passion yet, relax…you’re in the majority! Your challenge is to identify a growing industry that you find interesting, then seek out a person who models the kind of life you perceive having and request an informational interview. Learn about the area and think…could I be happy doing this job 80% of the time?
Informational interviews vs. advice appointments
Most people will be glad to give you 10 minutes of their time to talk about themselves so don’t be intimidated to ask them for an informational interview. Once you learn about their career path (including the skills needed to accomplish their job and the pros and cons of their position) see if you can envision yourself in that role and living their life. If you can imagine yourself in their shoes, you’re now in a better position to prepare a plan for your academic pursuits. Once you know you’re interested in a particular job/career then ask for an advice appointment. An advice appointment will allow you to ask the person more targeted questions that could help you get your foot in the door for an interview. You could ask what associations they would recommend you join and what the ideal character traits are for someone seeking a career in that field.
If you change your mind sophomore year…don’t worry. You don’t need to stick to this plan but at least you’re beginning to have an awareness for what the end will look like when you’re in the starting line! There will come a time when school will be over and you will be either in a strong position to market yourself for a job (because you have acquired some practical skills needed in the workforce) or you will be sorely disappointed that your degree is merely good for your psychic income and will not help you gain entry to a field that interests you. Why not start thinking now so you get your wheels spinning. No one expects you to figure this out your freshmen year so by merely projecting forward you’re already on the right track. Your antennas will be up through out college and consequently you’ll be more likely to meet people who steer you in the direction you want to go.
Just remember 3 things
1. Learn a skill that will allow you to add value when you graduate!
2. Get some real world experience that shows you have the ability to apply these skills to benefit someone else
3.Get great recommendations!
You might as well accept this fact now: You’ll need to acquire some hard skill to fill any job that will be rewarding, so you might as well accept that reality as a freshman so you avoid going through a competitive program, stressing yourself out with a full course load of intellectually stimulating material only to find out when you graduate that it would have been wise to have taken a fraction of those courses and combined them with skill based courses so you would have some practical knowledge when you graduate. Internships, volunteer work and community activity can also afford you the opportunity to acquire a hard skill. Those who have all three (skills acquired from real world experience and from their academics combined with great recommendations).
Learning to code is one example of a skill based course that every college student should have. No matter what job you’re in, it will be beneficial to have some working knowledge of a few widely used programming languages. Speaking a foreign language such as spanish, arabic, russian or chinese is another practical skill that could add value to your resume when you graduate. The more technically based course you can take the better. Don’t shy away from them because you don’t have a strong background in math or science either. You don’t have to become a programmer…but you could make yourself more useful if you understand how to build a website and how to use social media for promotional purposes. Keep your mind open to possibilities with some focus on being able to make a contribution somewhere using your skills when you graduate. The answer will come to you, you have four years to explore, ask questions, experiment, take risks and finally challenge yourself to balance your curriculum with courses that broaden your mind and sharpen your skill sets for getting hired after you graduate.
For those of you who bothered to read this entire article, I’ll give you a simple tip that works and will make your life a lot easier. Start pretending your looking for a job now. Research jobs that intrigue you and find job descriptions for your 10 favorites. See what the requirements are to fill that job and decide if that’s really something that’s realistic and exciting for you. If your answer is YES then you can start planning your coursework with more focus and you will have more clarity going to your career service counselors for support.
Beth is Founder and President of Get Hired, LLC. She advises students on how to bridge the gap from school to career. Beth is the co-author of From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career. Her coaching assists students and career changers to successfully match their needs, interests, passions, skills, and personal goals with the needs of a sustainable industry in a sustainable location. She is a resource for print and online media and offers workshops for University Career Service Departments, Executive Recruiters, Outplacement Services, College Guidance Counselors and College Alumni Associations. See website for more details about Beth’s services www.fromdiploma2dreamjob.com. Beth’s Webinar was sponsored by George Washington University’s Career Services Dept. for their worldwide alumni association: Leverage Your College Diploma. You can follow Beth on twitter @BethKuhel