My Two Best Bits of Advice for College Freshman
Lately, I’ve been working a lot with college students who are graduating and preparing to enter the workforce. For all of them, I think they feel like they just finished high school, being asked a million times “What are you going to do with your life? What’s your major?” Now 4+ years later they are being asked the same questions but the answers are harder than ever before. It’s game time and man is the field big.
As I work with high school students, there’s a part of the assessment process for many who are identified as not knowing the difference between “networking” and “socializing” where I stop to talk about the major differences. I know their eyes roll or there’s a glassed over look as they think “Really? I haven’t even FINISHED high school, WHY is this woman talking to me about NETWORKING for a job that is 5 years away?” Well, I’m going to tell you why!
As I work with my college graduate students, they are primed and ready to go but haven’t done two critical things during their entire time in college. These two things are critical to how easily they are going to transition into the job market, period!
The first is, they haven’t been strategic about activities they have been involved with relating to their degrees. Some haven’t been involved in campus life at all. They haven’t volunteered, they haven’t joined a club, held a leadership position...nothing. When it comes time to create THE most important document in their lives to this point, their resume, they have very little to work with. Often, their degree has absolutely nothing to do with their work experience, making the ability to draw a correlation almost impossible. Additionally, they haven’t kept track of a single accomplishment on paper so now they are trying to remember all of the things they have done.
I find it so fascinating that “most” of my young adults spend their entire energy in high school preparing for THE perfect college application but it’s almost like they get to college and finally take a breath from all the stress. Now, this is a generalization, but I talk all the time about “Stories of Seriousness” and will continue until I feel it’s resonated. College students have 4+ years to create their future selves, broaden their worldview and push themselves out of their comfort zone, really digging into what makes them tick. And, by the way, it’s got to be strategic with their majors or it’s going to be tough to bridge into professional life because they are competing against hundreds of other young adults who have planned their resume story or have experience.
The second, and almost more important is, building connections. I’m so passionate about this my young adults who I work with finally get it after non-stop preaching. Every single college freshman should be on LinkedIn the moment they step foot on campus. Okay, they can wait until after the first week but not much longer. Here’s why. They are never going to be around more people to connect with who are like them in their lives. They should connect with professors, administrative staff, other students, and professionals they come into contact with during their years at university. They need to keep track on LinkedIn of all of their volunteering, awards, clubs, jobs, etc. They should follow thought leaders from their field of study. They should connect with companies they admire and want to consider. 90% of jobs are obtained through someone you know. Say it with me!
The number of young people who have said to me, “Well, I don’t want to get my job through my father/mother/uncle/grandparents/etc!” almost defiantly, I say to them “Well, everyone else is, so if you want a job you, better jump on the bandwagon, or else you will not get a job!”
Funny enough, I had a man call me to learn about my services and as we talked he said something that made me chuckle. He said, “So, getting a job is really a popularity contest?” angry at the idea I would say how hard it is to get a job based on your professional standings. My response was “You can, but it’s going to be the most difficult thing you have ever done in your professional life because everyone else is working to connect authentically with individuals to at least get their foot in the door with an interview. From there, it’s up to you.”
When my daughter worked at a Marriott in Nashville she came into contact with interesting people all the time. Some famous, and she has no idea who they are until after she’s had a 30-minute conversation. Others, who work in various fields of business she hadn’t even considered as an International Business major. From interactions with these professionals, she had COUNTLESS people ask for her business card for future job considerations after seeing her in action and talking with her. They say, “You probably aren’t on LinkedIn” to which she responds, “Yes, I actually am” and they are shocked! And like that, they connect. The bottom line is, you never know where a conversation will lead…internships, summer jobs, or full-time first-time professional jobs.
I want my young adults to be successful, not only in learning who they are through personality assessments or what they love through interest assessments. I want them to know what they are great at through aptitude testing so they truly know their gifts. But I don’t want them to stop there with my advice. I want them to know the road is long, but if they are strategic, planning their work and working their plan, they CAN walk out of college with a job they love. But it takes work and being mindful that college isn’t just to get a degree, it’s to get a career. It is important to remember that, just as hard as they worked in high school to create the perfect college application, they must work twice as hard to create the perfect resume. And that starts on day one when their feet hit that beautiful green grass because I sincerely want them to "Proceed with Confidence!"