I’ve made tons of mistakes (and hit just as many obstacles) in the process of getting from high school to where I’m at now. Granted, I only graduated high school eight years ago, but it was a long and difficult journey. Fortunately, I jumped right into it with a thick skin, a chip on my shoulder, and the mindset that anything worthwhile I try to do was going to be a major pain in my ass – boy, was I right! You can probably see, now, why I like to write about my experiences here, why I do the work that I do, and where I get all this snark from.
Students and graduates are having a rough time right now when it comes to finding employment in their fields of interest, and sometimes I feel that it’s because they go about “doing college” completely wrong. The reason why I bring this all up is because a student recently asked me if I had any advice for them in terms of making sure they make the most of their undergraduate years here. The following are a few important points that I discuss whenever I’m asked this question.
Think outside the classroom.
This means self-study, creating your own projects, and collaboration with other students or mentors. Don’t expect these things to fall on your lap, you need to work for it. And never stop reading and creating. That goes for after graduation as well.
Graduate with more than a degree.
Besides a Bachelors and/or Masters degree, you need to leave school with a solid resume and portfolio. Degrees don’t hold water on its own; you need to plug the holes with applications you’ve built, projects in and out of the classroom that you’ve worked on, and relevant employment. You can pay your way through school, but what you’ve done during that time is what separates you from the others during the big interview.
Have relevant work experience.
Any school that says they’ll guarantee employment is lying to you. Relevant employment is hard as hell to find when you’re still an undergrad, so start early. Try to find an internship or take advantage of any coop programs your school may have. If you can’t find work experience, do what I did: create your own. I started a web design and development business right out of high school, and it’s the main reason why I’ve been successful since graduation.
Network, network, network.
Networking is so important to college students, and joining various associations can help you in the process. If you’re in Computer Science or IT, look into associations like ACM or IEEE. Student memberships are usually dirt cheap and carry incredible perks, like free software licenses and e-book library access. And if there are conferences nearby, or your school gives you the opportunity to travel to one, go!
BE F’ING NICE!
I can’t stress this enough. Entitlement and jerkitude™ is a major turn-off for me, your peers, and potential employers. Just because you have a technical degree or know more about computers than the guy next to you on the bus, it does not mean you won’t have to start from the bottom of the totem pole. Do coffee runs and shred documents with a smile on your face, and prove your worth. The person you’re giving attitude to today may be interviewing you tomorrow.
That’s all I’ve got for now.
An important thing to remember is that it’s never too late, even if you’ve graduated, to start improving your “game.” You just need to work extra harder to make up for lost time. And don’t be intimidated by people much younger than you being more successful than you – you have more wisdom, experience, and common sense to create your own path to success…I hope.
Do you have any horror stories that have changed the way you thought about college and finding employment? Is my advice unbelievably awful? Do you have any tidbits of wisdom to pass on to students? Let me know in the comments.