For my travel and writing junkies, today is a bit of a change in focus. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to regular blogging programming shortly.
Recently I was honoured with an invitation to be an alumni ambassador at my old university. Hard to believe it’s been a cool three years since the parchment hit my hand (which I’ve since misplaced…), but there you have it. I was invited to speak with students in a 15-minute speed-dating format where students could ask me… anything. As I was preparing for the unknown, I asked myself what I wish I’d known as a university student. Turns out the list is longer than I thought, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it can help even one student on their academic and post-academic journey.
1. Grades are Important, but Only So Important
Truth – I started my university career in a program that was not the right match for me. As a result, my motivation was in the toilet and I ended up on academic probation. Fast forward two years when I found the right program and the right fit, I became obsessed with my GPA. I see so many students who strive for the 4.0, but here’s the thing: your grades only matter so much. Having sat on three hiring committees to date, you often need a certain reasonable GPA to get in the door, and after that we want to know how well-rounded and multi-dimensional you are as opposed to if you got the top grade. If you’re rocking a 3.0 or more, take some time to develop the other aspects of our life.
2. Social Media Lasts Forever
I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before. Whatever you put on the internet lasts forever. Here’s the thing, in one study 43% of employers used social media to check out their job candidates. Social media is a place where many of us are casual, post pictures of parties, etc. Nobody is saying that you can’t have a life, but make sure your profiles are locked down so that casual is between you and your friends, not you and your employer. For your more public social media outlets (in my case Twitter and Instagram), remember that you are your own brand. Conduct yourself as such.
3. Work Experience. Work Experience. Work Experience.
Almost all of us have to work our way through university or college. I get that. I bartended, waited tables and did the retail thing. That said, I always made sure that throughout the year I got some meaningful work experience, whether paid or unpaid. In many cases you can create your own opportunities. Doing a marketing degree? Approach your current employer (even if you’re bussing tables) to see if you can put together a marketing plan for them. An accounting student? Help some people out with their taxes! See if you can shadow the payroll person to learn how it’s done.
4. Don’t Put Your Blinders On
In my final year of university I had two internships back to back. One with an ad agency that I was certain I’d adore, the other was more corporate and I was less enthused. Turns out the ad agency was in no way, shape or form a good fit for me. The corporate job? Well… I still work there, so it must be good. Don’t let your preconceptions guide your career. The only way you’ll know that you will actually enjoy a job is by trying it out. When better to try it out than while you’re still in school.
5. Taking a Break Isn’t the End of the World
Parents are going to hate me, but taking a break from school to travel or work isn’t the end of the world. In many cases, it can save you major dollars by not continuing down a path that isn’t the right choice for you. Travel opens your mind and you can make it affordable. Working while traveling is always an option, and if you have to stay in school, look at an international exchange. I’d recommend an exchange to every student, but particularly to those who want a taste of the bigger picture.
6. Application Is Key
Trends in education are starting to show that students retain very little of the rote-memorization kind of learning. If I look back at my university career, the courses I remember are the ones in which I applied the learning. Do I remember the 4 P’s of marketing? Shamefully… no, but that’s not my style of learning? Do I apply the 4 P’s every day? Ahem – once I went and looked them up again, I can confirm that yes, I do! The textbook is helpful for your exams, but make sure you absorb every second of group projects like a sponge. These are the best examples of real-life application.
7. You May Not Find Your Perfect Job Right Away and That’s Okay
The job market is tough for new grads, no word of a lie. Even if you got the work experience, are well rounded, and had pretty decent grades, there is no guarantee that you’ll get your dream job right away. Get a job. Get in the door and make your job what you want it to be. Say that you can only find a job as an admin assistant (and there ain’t nothing wrong with being an admin), expand your job scope by letting your employer know your interests. Love writing? Ask if you can help out with the internal newsletter, or something similar.
8. Find a Mentor. Find Many Mentors.
My career is thanks to having mentors. There is the saying that you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, push you, encourage you and connect you to others. My mentors are all different ages, in different industries, different roles and have different perspectives on life. They make me stronger every day. Check out your university to see if they offer a mentorship program. Remember, though, be respectful of your mentor’s time, plan for your sessions and do your follow up.
9. Don’t Network. Engage.
Most business students are encouraged to attend networking events. I don’t know about you, but these events made me cringe. Without a focused topic or assisted mixing, I basically felt like an idiot going up to industry professionals and introducing myself. How can you change that? Don’t go to blank networking events. Find conferences, events or Meetups that are topics you’re passionate about and engage with attendees. I say engage, because I think the word ‘network’ makes it sound like you have ulterior motives. By engaging, you’re meeting people at an even level of interest. More often than not, you become memorable, perhaps even employable.
I don’t mean the kind of volunteering where you stuff envelopes, though organizations need that also. If you have a skill (and be realistic about your skill level) are there organizations to which you can add value? Are you a web-design student? Find a local organization whose website needs a little boost and offer your services free of charge. Now you have a portfolio piece, have met some great new people (hopefully!) and are more visible than you were before. Who knows, you and the organization might love each other so much that you get hired on full-time.
A long read, I know, but I couldn’t get this topic off of my mind. I can’t wait to continue engaging with students and helping them work through their concerns.
Have you graduated? What advice would you give to students?
** Please note – there will not be a post on Friday. I’m having my blog design redone, so will be taking some time to get it just right. Fingers crossed, by the time you see Sunday’s post, it will look shiny and new! **