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6 Things College Won’t Teach You That Make or Break Your Career

6 Things College Won’t Teach You That Make or Break Your Career

You’ve spent the last four (or more) years in college, taking class after class, final after final, preparing yourself for your first real job in the professional field you wish to pursue as a career. You even managed, despite the still fledgling economy, to snag a job. Great! Good for you. But… what now?

You want to impress your employers and sail through to your first promotion.

Follow these tips to not get in your own way of that happening. These are crucial things you need to apply in your new professional setting that you didn’t learn in college. Your first boss may not even teach you these things, but they will make or break your career. I guarantee it!

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    1. Put your phone away

    Put your phone away when working. Seriously. Just put it away. This means in meetings, at lunches or dinners, at your desk, at any work event or during your work time. Keep your phone on silent and only check it when you take a break.

    Nothing will erode trust in your productivity and professionalism faster than co-workers (or worse, your boss) seeing you constantly on your phone. At work lunches, dinners or social functions your job is to socially engage with your clients or co-workers, not to text your partner or post to Instagram how delish the pricey expense account dinner looks.

    2. Become an expert at conversation with anyone

    You will be put in many different situations in your first real job. You will be exposed to people who have started their own companies, climbed Mount Everest, or graduated from an Ivy League school. You will also be exposed to people who grew up in a trailer park, worked three jobs to pay for college, and scrimped and saved every cent to make it to where they are. Your wildest imagination can’t possibly guess the backgrounds of all the different types of people you will come into contact with.

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    So where do you come in here? Learn how to talk to any and all of them. Make them feel comfortable with you, and like their life story is the most fascinating one you’ve ever heard.

    Be curious. Be open. Ask thoughtful questions focused on them.

    Even if you have nothing in common with them, draw some commonality from books or other conversations you have encountered. For example, I’ve never set foot on an Ivy League campus, but I just read about a research project on Ivy League campuses regarding introverts that I could bring up to tie into their unique background.


    3. Limit Your Drinking at work functions

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      Work functions are not the place to engage in excessive drinking.

      Some work functions include open bars or at least an expectation that you walk around with a drink in your hand. So if you do drink, apply a maximum two drink limit at all work functions. The holiday party, client dinners, networking receptions, any of it. Anything to do with work, follow a two drink maximum.

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      There is nothing impressive about slurring words. The last thing you want to do the next morning is wonder how bad you really were. Just avoid it altogether by being strict in this area.

      There is a time and place to cut loose and let it all hang out. A work function is not the place.

      4. Create connections with a purpose

      Be purposeful and diligent in creating connections with other people, whether they are clients, co-workers or networking contacts.

      Remembering personal facts about anyone is a gold rule in creating trust and openness that leads to connection.

      Did your client mention to you an upcoming vacation cruise? Write it down as a note in their contact information where you keep their phone number. This note will trigger you to recall that tiny tidbit the next time you reach out to call them.

      How good do you think it feels to be remembered for something you just said in passing? Amazing. Your new contact will feel that too when you ask about that cruise they were going on. You just told them without a doubt that they matter to you by this one simple little effort.

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      5. Watch first, commit later

      When you are the newbie, it feels good to get included in social events. Although you may have a tendency to form friendships quickly and jump at the chance to join a social group at work, it’s usually best to take a “wait and see” approach.

      I am not saying decline all invitations, but be careful of forming alliances too soon.

      A work setting is like a family. The dynamics of the group have been formed over a long period of time and many interactions. You just set foot in this unknown environment. You don’t know yet who is loyal and who could be a back stabber, who is a team player and who sloughs the work off on others. Take your time to use your intuition and gauge the situation before you align yourself with anyone in a more permanent way.


      6. Get a jump start on your own life experiences

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        You are just starting out in life and don’t exactly have the funds to travel the world. How can you possibly hold conversations of interest with business contacts that have 20 to 40 years of career and world experience?

        Read.

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        That’s it. Read, read, and read some more. Books can take you anywhere, teach you anything and give you an unending bank of conversational topics to draw from. Maybe you haven’t traveled to Romania, but you’ve read all about the castles there. Maybe you don’t have 20 years of business experience, but you did read the bestselling business book that came out last year.

        Reading will always give you a big advantage in life. Yes, I know when you left college you never wanted to look at another book again. But at least now you get to pick what you read. What if you pick up a book, give it a decent chance and hate it? Never pick it up again. Pick another one. Read only what you love.

        **

        Best of luck submersing yourself in your new and wonderful career! It is a huge transition to change your social sphere from a college crowd of 20-somethings to a group varied and age ranged professionals. Approach each encounter as an opportunity to learn from those with more experience. Show your own special personality. Teach them a thing or two about your generation. You will meet contacts that you want as mentors because you value their leadership greatly. And you will recognize those people that are showing you exactly what not to do for your future.

        Be observant, be yourself, be conscientious and you will go as far as your dreams can imagine!

        More by this author

        Dawn Hafner

        Dawn is a Practical Life Coach who offers concrete tools to help people implement life changes.

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        Published on September 16, 2020

        12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

        12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

        Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

        Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

        Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

        Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

        Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

        Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

        1. Organization

        When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

        When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

        Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

        To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

        To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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        2. Flexibility

        You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

        Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

        For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

        To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

        To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

        3. Collaboration

        As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

        Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

        To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

        To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

        4. Poise

        Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

        When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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        What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

        To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

        To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

        5. Communication

        Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

        When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

        To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

        To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

        6. Good Computer Hygiene

        Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

        Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

        To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

        To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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        7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

        Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

        Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

        To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

        To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

        8. Respecting Feedback

        In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

        Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

        To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

        To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

        9. Project Management

        Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

        To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

        To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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        10. Staying up to Speed

        Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

        To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

        To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

        11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

        “Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

        To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

        To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

        12. Teamwork

        Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

        Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

        To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

        To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

        Final Thoughts

        Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

        More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

        Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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