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Advice for Students: Start Planning Now for Life After College

Advice for Students: Start Planning Now for Life After College

College Graduate

    At the end of every school year, the media is stuffed with advice for soon-to-be graduates looking forward with excitement — and not a little fear – to setting out on their careers. I’ve althinways felt that this was just a little bit too late – by the time June rolls around, you’re competing with literally millions of recent grads, all frantic to find some kind of handhold in this thing called “real life”.

    No, the time to start thinking about life after graduation is now – no matter where you are in your education process. The earlier you stop thinking about college as a break from “real life” and start thinking about it as a stage of real life, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to start sending out resumes the first day of your freshman year, but rather that you should always be thinking about the arc you’re following in college and where it’s likely to take you – and how you can shape it to take you where you’ll be happiest.

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    Lindsey Pollak, the author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World, offers a ton of advice for job-seeking grads – and future job-seeking grades – on her blog. Some of the more important tips she offers include:

    1. Network.

    College students, in my experience, suffer from an inferiority complex. They assume that nobody on “the real world” would be interested in their thoughts, talents, or problems, one consequence of which is that they do very little to reach out to people in fields they’re interested in until they’re “finished”, which usually means when they’re actively looking for work – and by then, it’s too late.

    Start making connections as early as you can. Email people in fields you’re interested in, even if only to say “I read your book and it really had an impact on me” or “I really like what your company is doing with X”. Join professional organizations – most offer low-priced student memberships – and attend conferences. Join or create groups on campus devoted to topics that interest you.

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    In most cases, you’ll find that people are more than willing to lend a hand to a bright student. It’s flattering to be recognized for what you’re accomplishing, no matter what the source, and it feels good to know you’re helping someone set out on the right path. There are exceptions, of course, but few enough that you can always move on to the next person.

    2. Do your research.

    Visit and use the career services office on your campus.Virtually nobody else does, so you’ll be received with open arms. Keep an eye out for unusual job titles, and research them – maybe Corporate Happiness Officer (a real job title!) is something you’d be good at? How about Vice President of Environmental Sustainability?

    Look up companies that interest you and see where you might fit – there are thousands of tasks that have to get done in a typical company regardless of whether they make tractor parts or iPod accessories. Pay attention to media stories about new fields opening up, or about skills that are experiencing a growing demand – these are the career paths of tomorrow.

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    3. Use your summers wisely.

    A great internship or summer job can be a huge help, but there are other things you can do in the summer, too. Start your own business, or create a website. Temp to get experience working in a wide range of companies. Take summer courses through your school’s adult extension, or at a local community college, to build up non-academic skills like bookkeeping, business networking, leadership, or computer programming. Read widely and wisely – forego your usual beach reading for recent publications in fields that interest you. If you can afford it, travel – learn to adapt readily to strange and unusual circumstances.

    4. Craft your online persona.

    In today’s world, one of the worst ways students damage their future careers is by sharing too much of the wrong kind of information online. Assume that everything you post online is going to be available to prospective employers, clients, or investors, all of whom increasingly turn to the Internet to research potential employees or partners. Keep the drunken stories either anonymous/pseudonymous, or marked as “private”, and be sure to build out public-ready profiles, under your own name if at all possible.

    5. Look at small companies.

    Although going from college to Google might seem like a real coup, a small company offers a lot of benefits early on in your career. At Google (or another mega-company) you’ll be an insignificant fish in a huge sea, whereas small companies may well give you the chance to shine. According to Pollak, small companies allow students:

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    • Opportunities to take on responsibility beyond your job description.
    • Less strict policies about working hours and days off.
    • The possibility of making a real difference in the company’s success.
    • The ability to work closely with high-level people.

    6. Pay attention!

    Whether you end up at a big company or a little company, consider your summer jobs and first jobs out of college as a training ground – an extension of your education. Listen more than you talk, and learn as much as you can from the “old hands” – and from their critics. “Give colleagues and clients the opportunity to share their advice, guidance and tricks of the trade,” Pollak writes. Stay on the lookout for opportunities to grow your skills, by taking on new responsibilities, joining projects, or getting yourself attached to the teams of company visionaries.

    7. Become a great writer.

    No matter what field you hope to go into, and no matter what job you hope to have in that field, writing skills will get you further than almost any other competency. “Written communication skills are ESSENTIAL for most careers today,” writes Pollak. Look at every written assignment as a chance to develop better writing and editing skills. Ask for feedback from your professors. Take writing classes, either for credit or through adult extension. Join a writing group, or form one. Read writing books (Stephen King’s On Writing is a great one and highly readable). In short, do whatever you can to become a better writer – you’ll be putting yourself two or three steps ahead of the rest of your graduating class.

    None of these things should be the only thing you do in college. Go to classes, of course, but have fun, take adequate time to relax and blow off steam, take a risk or two, and make friends. But make sure you spend at least a little bit of time – an hour every week or so is plenty – to think about what you want to do when college is over. If you’re anything like I was, and like most of my students are, you honestly have no idea what you want to do when you graduate – so take some time now, with graduation still over the horizon, to get some ideas and lay some groundwork, so you don’t join the ranks of terrified recent grads groping blindly around the job market and grasping at the first thing that comes along.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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