Thursday, August 03, 2006

Career advice for college students

Me, Myself, & I
Wow, this feels so weirdly familiar. Didn't I just do this two years ago?

I start my new job as an assistant at an advertising agency on Monday morning in Nashville. 8 a.m. sharp. Please, oh, please, don't let there be any wrecks on 24 or 65!

Two years ago, I was as green and fresh-faced out of college as they get. I had full faith that graduating magna cum laude was a good sign I'd succeed. Today, I'm older (sshhh!) and wiser (hah!) and a wee bit more cynical (how could you tell?), but I am still experiencing those pre-first-day jitters.

I really think I should remind myself that I am an old pro at starting new jobs by now. After all, I've done that four times in the past year-and-a-half alone! I didn't die of misery or mortification then, and I won't now. I even made it through my 1040 without a hitch, thanks to the folks at H&R Block online--despite my 4 W-2's and unemployment benefits.

So, anyways, about that advice ...

College + Good Resume = Job? Sorry, No.
For the record, college is a mere stepping stone in the path to a good career. Actually, it's more like a pebble. The employers of today want you to have a degree--that's a no-brainer--but they don't necessarily care if you were a great student. The question they have is "are you a great worker?". In other words, will you be an asset or a liability? They don't want to train you. Nobody has the time in today's corporate world, so you'd better be sure you learn fast. Your salary is meant to get them the best cubicle-dweller for their big-money buck; benefits are the bait that trick unsuspecting little college graduates into getting hooked into workaholism, unproductive activity, and stressful lifestyles. They need you to slave away so they can enjoy the profits, and you need their money to enjoy a semblance of a life. It's called co-dependency, folks.

Welcome to the Real World (No, I don't mean MTV!)
So what do you need to succeed?

The Basics
- Determination
- Thick skin
- Organization (see below)

The Good
- Ability to follow-through on ALL commitments
- A great professional phone voice
- A phone-call log
- A well-kept Rolodex (hint: this isn't a fancy watch).

The Better
- A "tickler" file
- A planner/PalmPilot/Blackberry - whatever.
- Common sense. Lots and lots and LOTS of common sense.

The Best
- Ability to multi-task (while doing the seemingly impossible of FOCUSING on one at a time despite being required to do at least 5 unrelated tasks simultaneously).
- Interpersonal skills
- Communication skills
- LISTENING skills
- Impeccable customer service

The Personal
- Good health/exercise habits (this includes a well-balanced diet. No. French frys are not a vegetable!)
- A sense of humor
- A good memory (remembering somebody's name, favorite sports teams, and birthday are all great ways to make friends).
- A sense of style. Have you ever noticed how people tend to compartmentalize people and label them? It might feel like high school, but that's how it works. Be remembered for something good and only (maybe) slightly controversial. At least they'll know who you are and it's a great conversation starter. "Have you met Sara Beth? She's our resident Cubs fan/art collector/Scrabble champion/gourmet chef."

The Best Resource
People. It's not what you know, it's who you know and where you knew them. The best part of a college education is maintaining good relationships with professors, mentors, advisors, and fellow students. You never know who might know the CEO of that dream company.

This is not to say you should abuse your friendships by using them to get to someone else, but it is never a bad thing to have a network of friends, family, and acquaintances that has a favorable opinion of you and your abilities.

Which brings up an excellent point ...

The Second Best Thing
The second best thing is to use your free time wisely. Choose activities not only for entertainment or financial benefit, but also for their ability to provide invaluable hands-on experience or educational opportunities directly related to helping you develop good job skills.

Great extra-curricular activities include:
- internships at noteworthy institutions
- joining an industry organization
- attending industry-specific classes or events
- volunteering

Finally, Take a Test Drive
Take a PART TIME job either on or off campus that will give you the opportunity to learn from trial and error doing the small things that you will then have perfected by the time you land your first big professional job. If you get the foundations down before hand, you can spend your time and energy learning the bigger, more important aspects of your new job from day one, instead of day 91 (like I did, unfortunately). This cuts down on a significant amount of unnecessary stress. Trust me.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Regarding this subject you can find a few good tips here:
http://www.cvtips.com/advice_graduate_students.html

Mike said...

Or take a look:
http://www.cvtips.com/career_development_office.html