By and large, our society (our parents, school system, teachers, and politicians), will tell you ‘You need to go to college to be successful’. This is what I internalized growing up, and I worked like crazy to get into college. It wasn’t about what I would study or the job I would get after, I just needed to get in and the rest was supposed to take care of itself.
Unfortunately, there’s a nasty little secret that society doesn’t tell you: College is just one (of hundreds) of paths to a happy, healthy, and stable career (and by the way - one that pays you a s*&! Load of money as well). The real things I learned from college weren’t from a textbook, or from frat parties, or from science labs.
More than anything, in college I learned how to learn, and how to interact with professionals. Those are the things I use on a daily basis. Were those things worth $100K? Maybe. But fortunately for you, I’ve distilled these down into the key things I learned, so you can save the cash.
- Set up a professional email account, and don’t use it for spam type things (like retail store accounts, facebook, discounts, or secret underground raves).
This will pay dividends for you. No one wants an email from ‘BeerPongKing2004@aol.com’. Use your first name, last name, middle initial (if you need to), and I recommend sticking with gmail. It’s free to set up an account, and you can keep this same account for life. Only use this email for professional communication or emails that are the most important to you - so it doesn’t get spammed up and impossible to use with thousands of nonsense advertisements. The reality of today’s world is that a ton of people communicate via email - so create an account that you are comfortable to use when applying to jobs or interacting with professional people, keep your inbox clear, and remember your password. Sounds simple, but this will go a long way.
- Make sure you are comfortable using video calls and your calendar
Having a personal calendar to keep yourself organized is another huge benefit of the email account you’ll set up. Another reality of the times (even COVID aside)... you are going to need to get comfortable with using video calls. I’m not talking about FaceTime. Job interviews and formal meetings don’t happen over FaceTime unfortunately. Make sure you know your way around using Zoom and Google Hangouts (in my experience, this will cover 95% of video calls you’ll ever have to do). Make sure you know how to send and accept a calendar invite with video calls. Before joining a call, make sure your background is appropriate, you have good lighting, and that your microphone is working. If you can join a video call and look/act professional, that’s half the battle.
- Set up a bank account
For my first 3 years of summer jobs, I walked my paycheck into whichever bank was closest, accepted the $5 fee (or whatever it was to cash it), and walked out with cash in hand. While this may seem basic, you are going to need a bank account to use so many of the services and tools available to you as you are looking for a job. Find a bank where you can start a free checking account, and if you can, get in the habit of throwing a few bucks from every check into savings. Even $1 from each check is a good place to start. You’ll get into the habit and start to build a rainy day fund.
- Make a resumé as you go
It was very daunting to me to think about sitting down to write a resumé. I had no idea what all my jobs were, what I did on a daily basis, and didn’t remember my supervisor’s names. To save yourself time, just write down (anywhere, use the notes on your phone) the places you’ve worked, your job title, and your supervisor’s name and number. This will make it 10 times easier to convert into a resumé when the time comes. Even if you feel like you haven’t worked at jobs worth bragging about, you are learning responsibility, basic skills, and how different businesses work. No such thing as wasted experience.
- When in doubt, google it
There is so much to learn. Don’t ever be too proud to just find a computer, and google when you need answers. Even the most seasoned professionals still google things they are supposed to know every single day. There is only so much one brain can hold. Use the resources around you to learn when you have questions. More than anything, you are learning how to problem solve and how to find answers for yourself.
- Ask for what you want.
When you are looking for a job, be bold. Walk into your dream job, strike up a conversation with the front desk, and ask them what it takes to work there. You might get rejected, you might fail spectacularly, but so what? You’ll never see that front desk person ever again, and you’ve already taken a step that most people never take. When it comes to choosing your career path, oftentimes the best place to start is finding what you want and just asking for it. You’ll be shocked at how effective being friendly and direct will get you.
- Try to do your research up front.
Ties to tip #5 (google it), but always try to know a little bit about the company, person, or situation you are about to be exposed to. Think about some questions you’d like to know the answers to, some things you may have in common, or even jot down things you don’t understand. You will show whoever you are talking to that you are interested in what they do/what they have to say, and that you cared enough to spend time looking it up.
Is this all I learned in college?
No. At some point, I’m sure I learned some numbers, read some books, and wrote a few papers. However, these were far from the most valuable skills I learned. Invest time into learning how to deal with people, how to carry yourself, and how to go after what you want. Pick up some basic tools along the way. As I mentioned, college is one way to grow yourself (professionally and personally). Some of the smartest and most successful people I know never even graduated high school, and some people with a lot of shiny college degrees struggle to pay their bills every month.
Don’t be fooled by the hype - learning how to learn is what’s important. Not where you do it.