This is a guest post by Ryan Hickey, Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge
To many, college can be a kind of Shangri-La where a student gets to learn in a safe environment. Classes, particularly in some smaller liberal arts colleges, create a well-rounded student who has esoteric and theoretical knowledge regarding the application of their studies toward a career. But does that actually prepare them for a professional life?
The answer may surprise you. The truth is, it may not be what you learn but the way you learn that prepares you for a career, and it is the related skills that you need to impress upon hiring managers in resumes and interviews.
There are many important lessons being taught in college that you have to consider. These are outside of the content of your class readings on “The History of Europe from 1000-1500,” for example (that’s a fascinating class by the way, but not much use when trying to get a job outside of academia).
So, in addition to getting good grades, it’s imperative that you cultivate certain attributes that will make you stand out to a potential employer. These include:
Hiring managers are looking for this skill most of all. How can you hone this in class? For one, be instrumental in group projects, helping delegate tasks and always doing your work competently. Try to propose extra research projects or work with faculty on important elements of class that may lead to practical applications of your skills. Also, you can demonstrate leadership by working on extracurricular projects. But be careful—you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Instead of trying everything on campus, join one group or club and pour your energy into it. Become a chairperson, organize events, lead the way. This will be more impressive than if you were working on a marginal level at 17 different things.
Excellent communication skills are also highly prized in the professional world. You need to prove that you can interact clearly and easily with others so as to create a stress-free workplace. Train yourself by participating in classes—add proposed “in-class questions” to every assignment and then follow up with these when you are in attendance. Go to office hours and interact with faculty. Networking with faculty is a great way to position yourself for an impressive summer internship, or at least a solid recommendation. Working on oral presentations is another great way to demonstrate your communication skills. If you had a particularly effective oral presentation, it might not be a bad idea to reference it in interview. Comfort speaking in front of others is always impressive.
Good time management is essential to your career, no matter what you decide to do. That means the ability to multitask and effectively get assignments finished on deadline is key. Diligently and economically juggling several deadlines simultaneously is a good way to train yourself for the rigors of the job market. Again, just a word of warning, when discussing this in an interview, try not to focus on the idea that you had a tough time or a difficult schedule. No one is going to feel bad for you, particularly if they have an insane work life too. Just present this as a positive part of your college experience—that you were glad to learn how to work well under pressure and in many directions. This is a no whining zone.
The importance of networking cannot be understated. Your college peers will be both your support network and your competitors after graduation. Make friends and don’t burn bridges. You never know who will lead to whom. The old adage “it’s not what you know, but WHO you know” is very much the case in the professional world. Nearly everyone you ask will tell you that they got the job they hold today because they knew someone and got a good reference. Be nice.
Remain ahead of the curve on innovations in your field. One thing that academia is particularly good for is to introduce cutting-edge concepts. Faculty members are usually at the forefront of research and innovations in a particular field. It’s their job to be there. Make sure you engage with this and get as much of the information on new approaches to your area of study as you can. Without practical experience, it can be difficult to land a position, but if you can prove you have new and useful knowledge that someone in the current job market may not have learned, that can go a long way toward getting you hired.
What I want to impress upon you most of all here is that these are skills that are not learned in your textbooks. Instead, these are the lessons that academia means to instill in you by requiring you to work so diligently for your grades.
Learn your lessons well, but particularly consider the larger level of education that is all around your specific coursework. Use this understanding to your advantage and don’t just get good grades—learn good habits, too. It will be these attributes that give you a leg up when applying for your dream job.
About the Author
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.