Tips for college grads: things to do for your career while you are still in the university.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
January 8, 2021.
If someone asked me to summarize advice for all university students out there this is what I would say.
The world is not what they teach in school.
In the real world of work, you get paid for your value. Your value is directly proportionate to the scale of the problems that you are able to solve. Hence always strive to enhance your problem-solving ability.
People get hired for:
- Brain 🧠 General cognitive ability. Take care of your body, take care of your brain, exercise, eat healthily, develop a growth mindset, be a life learner.
Work on your learnability. Everyone will claim that he’s a fast learner. The most talented candidates are those who can actually prove what they claim. The best talent can absorb and process large amounts of information in a short time and introduce adjustments to their behavior accordingly. Stay foolish, stay hungry, and learn something new every day.
- Heart ❤️ Be a good person. And by that, I mean to develop your personal values. Zig Ziglar once said:
“If people like you, they will listen to you. But if people trust you, they will do business with you.”
- The earlier you understand this, the more effective you will be. We trust those who are warm, competent, professional, and can deliver results.
- Toolbox 🧰 This is your skillset. If you’re a good person (honest, conscientious, diligent, and possess an intense work ethic) and if you have a good brain (you learn fast, move quick, implement feedback, adapt, and educate yourself), your skillset will never be a problem for the employer. They will know that you’re coachable and that they can mold you into a valuable and efficient worker.
Understand that life is a competition. Somewhere out there there is a college grad who is working twice as hard as you for the same things you want in life.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be hard on yourself. What it means is that you have to have a vision, be strategic, devise a plan, and execute patiently.
Ask any hiring manager and they will tell you that all companies are in the war for talent. If your objective is building a successful career, then your job is to become that talent that everyone wants.
I’ve summarized some tips for you that you can start using today.
These are the 5 pillars that will become a foundation for your future career:
- Future Outlook
Build a vision of your future self.
Self-management starts with self-awareness.
Accept the fact that your understanding of yourself will be evolving and changing over time. You will be discovering new things, understanding how the world works, having your personal realizations, and insights, and that’s ok. That is the natural process of growth.
It is okay to be confused and not have all the answers. Operate from the level of consciousness that you currently possess.
You have some understanding of what you like, and what you don’t like, and that’s already a great place to start. Put it all down on the paper, jot down everything that you think is true about you. Get a habit of writing a daily journal. This practice will be life-changing. That I can promise you.
MBTI test. A good test to start with. Check what kind of careers are suggested for your personality type. Keep taking this test from time to time. Most likely your personality will be changing over the course of your life.
Check out this PDF document available online. You will find some other options for personality tests.
Every person has their natural strengths and natural weaknesses. The truth is that we can discover our inclinations quite early in life.
Develop your strengths, these will be the traits you will be capitalizing on in your career. In the meantime think about how you can mitigate or compensate for your weaknesses.
“You’re network is your net worth.”
~ Julian Placino
You will learn how to appreciate this insight once you start looking for jobs. If you have social capital is strong, job hunting will be much MUCH easier.
Start a LinkedIn profile.
If you never heard of LinkedIn before, LinkedIn is sort of like a Facebook for professionals.
It is no longer a place where you keep your digital resume. Your LinkedIn presence is your digital reputation.
On this platform, you can build your personal brand, network with professionals, and learn from them, market the skills that you have, and build relationships with potential employers.
Follow thought leaders. If you have a rough idea of which direction you want to take, follow accomplished professionals who are already made their name by being great at what they do and sharing their knowledge for free.
You can learn firsthand how the best minds of this world think. That is the beauty of LinkedIn.
Learn how to get informational interviews.
One of the best ways to learn about a particular career path is to learn from someone who has already progressed on it.
The concept of an informational interview is very simple.
You cold-connect with a person on LinkedIn, and you ask for career advice.
Don’t forget to add a personal note — say something along these lines:
I am a 3rd-year student at York University.
I noticed that you are a Sr. Manager at KPMG.
I was hoping you’d be open to give me some career advice over a short 15 min phone call.
Thank you and hope to talk soon.”
Write something along these lines. You get the point 😉.
To increase your chances of getting a positive response make your message highly personalized. Insert a sincere compliment, emphasize something impressive you have noticed about their LinkedIn profile, comment on the content that they create, acknowledge their work.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Be short, be sweet, and be done.
Don’t be afraid. Most established professionals love helping students. They remember their own humble beginnings and how hard it was to build their network from zero.
Also, we all love our youth. You are the future of this world as you will be the ones to deal with the mess that generations before you have created 😅.
Try to create content.
First, begin with observing what other people do on LinkedIn.
Then start to create something yourself.
- Post a quote or share other people’s content with your thoughts on it.
- Create an infographic with tips using Canva.com
- Write a short article about your learnings. It can be as simple as the “What I learned” series of articles.
- Start a podcast or a series of interviews.
Be creative, but most importantly be consistent. Rome wasn’t built in one day.
Find career advisors.
Every university has a Career department that offers Career Services.
- Employment Counseling. Helping you with your strategy and career pathway.
- Job development. Assisting you in your job/internship search activities.
- Psychology and Coaching services. They will help you to gain a deeper insight into who you are.
See if you can find a local Employment Services center. Even if you are not eligible for their services, build personal connections with the employees there, and you will find guidance. People who have chosen social work as a career did so for a reason. They have good hearts.
Find some mentoring associations. Ask your parents if they have any friends who are accomplished in business and life. Look for people online who serve as conduits of knowledge.
Approach successful people and offer your time and energy for free.
Does someone have an event? Reach out and volunteer to facilitate the organization of the event and market it on social media.
Create websites, make posters, initiate social media campaigns.
“Teach me what you know, and I’ll work for you for free”.
This should be your mental attitude whenever you approach a potential mentor.
Remember what Buddha said:
“When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”
Seek and you shall find.
Get a coach.
There are plenty of career coaches who advertise their services on LinkedIn.
Some are frauds, but some are true gems who can deliver transformational coaching.
Explore your options and see if you can find someone who will be good for you.
The more you experience powerful coaching, the more you’ll understand why you should never be stingy when it comes to investing in your professional development.
Understand the concept of identity sculpting.
You saw the quote at the beginning of this article. That is the attitude that you should embrace in life.
Your mind is a mighty tool, and if you learn how to discipline it, it will become your best ally. Abandon your attempts to tame it, and it will control you instead.
Understand what career experiences you want to have through informational interviews, your own research, literature, and personal development, and then go be that person.
The younger you are, the easier it is for you to shape yourself into anything you want to become. In a sense of professional identity sculpting, it means to acquire so-called Resume Skills — skills that increase your value on the job market.
Do not obsess about the job titles. They only exist for organizational purposes, they do not define who you are.
You are not your job title.
However, every job title has a scope of a particular set of skills and that’s what you should be focusing on.
And stop calling those skills “soft”. They are foundational.
Get a big picture.
Understand how businesses work — non-profits, for-profits, large corporations, startups, family businesses, solopreneurship, gig economies.
Study the structure and organizational development of a business.
Study the departments: finances, accounting, sales, marketing, supply chain, HR, etc. Check what kind of roles exist within those departments.
Check Jobhero.com to understand what duties and responsibilities exactly does each role imply.
See if you are naturally gravitating to a certain type of role.
Learn the business foundations:
- Check this book — How Business Works.
- There is a course on LinkedIn Learning — Understanding Business.
Take online courses
Udemy, Coursera, eDX, LinkedIn Learning.
There’s plenty of information online. The challenge is to choose what to study but if you have a strategy that is no longer a problem. Get the big picture first, you can always narrow down your focus.
Most of the problems that exist in this world are systemic. They require complex thinking, strong analytical skills, and an ability to see both the big picture and the devil in detail.
The ability to think in systems will be your competitive edge.
- “Deep Work” by Cal Newport.
- “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport.
- “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
4. Future outlook.
Do your research.
Thousands of students around the world are completing degrees that will be absolutely irrelevant in 10 years. It is your job to prepare yourself for the future that is coming.
Do your research on how automation is changing the world.
AI, robotics, everything it has to do with data (talent acquisition, hr, business analytics, data analytics, digital marketing) — these things will be hot for quite some time.
Focus on developing people skills that robots cannot easily replicate — jobs that require empathy, in-person education, care, and creativity.
Growth mindset and learnability.
The best talent out there is the ones who remain lifelong learners.
Engrave it in your mind, that in order to stay relevant you have to be constantly upskilling yourself.
Start some projects.
Find people to collaborate with or begin some solo projects.
The future of work is project-based.
Many companies already changing their internal structure. They keep a small core of permanent workers who get the central work done, and the rest of the work is outsourced to contractors in the form of projects.
The pandemic has accelerated this transition. The world is adapting not only to the remote work but also to the fact that you can hire people anywhere in the world, which in certain geographies implies massive savings on wages.
Lastly, keep in mind two things.
Life is not a draft, it’s a fair copy.
Whatever you are doing in life is contributing to what you will become in the future. The present moment is the only point in time where the process of self-creation takes place. The time is now.
Failure doesn’t exist.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are only your personal interpretation of the life events that have taken place. In the words of Guy Gavriel Kay [Tigana]:
“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
It is never too late to start fresh. You can start a second career, a third career, a side gig, a startup. It is never too late to pivot.
Remember, life is too short to waste it on doing things that are not important, fulfilling, or meaningful for you.
5. Study jobs.
Identify the top three industries that look the most interesting for you.
Within those industries, identify the top 10 companies.
Look at their mission and Ask yourself— which companies I’d kill to work for?
Go to LinkedIn and find people who work there. Proceed with the informational interviews we discussed and ask them how they progressed in their careers. Ask them how did they get “from here to there”.
Lastly, do not be intimidated by the amount of work ahead of you.
How do we eat an elephant? One piece at a time.
You’re young, you’re hungry, you’re full of energy.
Most importantly, you have time. Use it wisely.
And keep in mind,
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Good luck to you. And feel free to drop me a message on LinkedIn if you have some questions.