Colleges have a tendency to harp on about the world of work and the basics we absolutely-positively-no-excuses-allowed must learn. But they did get some things right. Operative word: some.
What college teaches:
1. How to use the alumni network. I went to Davidson College, a liberal arts school in the South with about 1,600 students, meaning Davidson grads bond together like a cult. Ex: my parents were on vacation in Canada, ran into a woman wearing a Davidson sweatshirt and became fast friends. That being said, alums from universities around the country form a bond and, coupled with the fact that people love to mentor, means you can use and abuse the network like a cheap whore.
2. Job Fairs. The one time I did go to one of these events I made a great connection and a wonderful friend. These events are so effective because you’re put in touch with HR people at companies where you may want to work, which is uncommon outside the bubble of college. Graduated? Call your alma mater and ask for their contacts then shoot the reps an email saying you went to College X and you’d love to ask them a few questions.
3. Concentration. Despite the fact that many of us had classes only a few hours a day, we had a lot of work outside of class. I spent the last 4 months at Davidson sitting at a desk writing my thesis, meaning a 9 to 5 was starting to look pretty sweet. The enormous pile of work, along with balancing a social life, extracurriculars and copious amounts of alcohol, teaches students time management, organization and how to work for ourselves. Regardless of the irrelevance of most of my classes, it was learning how to learn that was as useful as any job.
4. The basics. Regardless of the extra steps we take to land work, it’s always important to dress appropriately for an interview, have a good working resume, know how to write a cover letter and understand the necessity for a timely thank-you note.
5. Follow the rules. Both campus career centers and day-to-day classes give us strict guidelines that dictate assignments. When you’re a student, this is great and in the real world this comes in handy as candidates who try and bypass the system are seen as annoying and “above it all”. Regardless of what additional steps you take to land a job, it’s always a good – and polite – idea to do the bare minimum first. It’s what comes later that gets us stuck…
What college doesn’t teach:
1. Personal branding. Career centers are old pros at giving workshops on everything from interview attire to appropriate resume layout. While these workshops are helpful, they really only provide you with a foundation. What they don’t teach is how to stand out from the crowd. What if you don’t have a ton of experience? This is where social media and networking really come in handy.
2. Build an effective network. True, many schools have great alumni networks, but that’s not the only way to make friends in your field. Notice I said “friends” and not “contacts”. A friend/contact of mine gave me some kick ass advice about how to meet and really connect with people professionally – find out what you can do for them rather than how they can boost your career. I’m going to post later on the best ways to build your network. For now though, keep in mind that universities generally suck at this.
3. You don’t have to take a real job. Seriously. If it’s one thing that pissed me off about Davidson, it’s that we were all expected to take Big Important Jobs in finance or law or medicine. Maybe it’ was the plethora of rich white kids, but there was little to no variation in the school’s expectations. Many kids had consulting or banking jobs before graduation but honestly, the thought of taking something like that make me want to light myself on fire. I can only speak from the perspective of a Davidson grad, and there might be plenty of other schools with more creative opportunities, but just keep your eyes peeled for those not-so-cubicle opportunities.
4. GPA doesn’t matter. I was NEVER – not once – asked for my grades when looking for work. Want to know why? Because no one gives a crap. Your abilities to write a philosophy paper have zero bearing on your ability to rock your job. Unless you’re a doctor/lawyer/financial consultant, big companies don’t ask. So stop stressing.
5. Don’t always follow the rules. Send your thank you notes. Firmly shake hands. Wear a tie. But the bare minimum will usually cost you the job. Go the extra mile and don’t just network, make friends. Make your resume snazzy (not pink or scented, mind you). I use quotes on mine – the idea came from Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters and they have great resume resources online. I also suggest getting business cards.