Thursday, May 21, 2009

Five Steps Every College Student Needs to Take Now to Get a Job Later

I've spoken with several campus recruiters lately, and they all say the same thing: You think this job market is tough? Just wait.

Not exactly music to the ears of a college student right now. While they're studying and funneling thousands of dollars into tuition, they're hearing that the next two years may be even rougher as the job market continues to lag behind an improving economy.

Still, I don't think any college student needs to just throw his or her hands up in despair and expect to be unemployed upon graduation. There are several things -- very simple things -- any student can be doing now and in the coming years to help them get a job.

1. Pay attention. Most colleges and universities have gotten very good at freshman orientation. They have students and professors and career counselors and the school mascot telling incoming students that school is hard work. It's like a job. In order to be successful, these incoming freshman are told, they've got to devote regular time and effort to their classes. They're given numerous tips on how to be successful. But it's hard to find an 18-year-old who looks as if they believe a word of it. While their parents diligently take notes and ask questions, the new freshman is usually texting, staring off into space or smiling and nodding, while not taking in a word. It usually takes about a year for a freshman to admit these other people were right -- and that's a year they've lost to those who DID pay attention.

2. Stick out your hand. Learn to introduce yourself to your professors, to your adviser and to the kid who lives next door. Use their names in your greeting so that it becomes a habit for anyone you meet. Shaking hands and introducing yourself needs to become as natural as breathing so that when you start moving into the professional arena and making contacts, it doesn't appear you were raised by wolves.

3. Take an etiquette class. Many universities or even local business groups will offer etiquette classes, which many college kids don't even consider until they're seniors and realize their manners border on the ape-like. Take a class your freshman year and then practice what you've learned for the rest of your college career. Good manners being ingrained will pay off when you won't have to worry about them as you focus on questions during a job interview or when meeting important professionals at a networking event.

4. Sit in the front. Whether you're attending a club event or a class, don't shuffle to the back and then prop your feet on the seat in front and fall asleep. Or work the crossword puzzle. Or text. Speakers, professors and college recruiters notice who sits in front and pays attention. It's a great way to score points with whomever is behind the podium.

5. Ask questions. College is your time to learn, to solve some of life's mysteries and to get your money's worth. You're paying thousands to learn, so you have every right to ask questions! There are no dumb questions in college. That doesn't apply to the workplace. So, figure out what's what, and quiz away. It's much better to ask and learn in college rather than to make some very "freshman" mistakes in a job interview.

What are some other tips for college students to prepare themselves for the job market?


David Benjamin said...

Other suggestions:
- Take internships seriously. They can dramatically impact your marketability.
- Join networking groups. Learning how to network and leverage relationships is a much needed skill in today's climate

Anita said...

I think leveraging relationships and impacting marketability are key. Those concepts may sound foreign to a sophomore, but they need to get a handle on them.
Thanks for those great suggestions.

Donnie said...

Fairly standard suggestions.

1. I agree.

2. Also agree.

3. Why not?

4. "Sit in the front." - Possibly. In my experience, those students who absolutely must sit in the front are extremely anal, and generally do not socialize well. I preferred to sit at the rear, not to do the crossword or to sleep, but so that I could observe every person in the class. Sitting in the front may help you get noticed, but it will not improve your standing unless you are already a standout student.
I think this is a case of correlation =/= causation.

5. "Ask questions." While true, I would add a point to be considerate of other students in the classroom.
I have been in classes with brilliant people, who were extremely curious about the minutiae of the subject (in this case, Organic Chemistry).
The questions that these type of people ask, are generally not going to be in the homework or test material, and they often caused the professor to run out of time, and skip some of the material that he needed to cover.
Unless you need clarification on something relevant to the topic at hand, save it for office hours where you and the professor can have a deep discussion.

Anita said...

I can see that you took the student's perspective in #4 and #5. I recently spent several days with professors, and then interviewed some over the phone. They all said it DID matter to them who sat in the front, that they took it as a sign of a student who gave a sh*t. (Their words, not mine.) I agree you can't be asking minute questions all the time during class, as that really bogs things down. What I was referring to (and didn't make clear, I'm afraid) is that you should ask questions in different settings of your college life. Coffee shops, student government and club meetings...they all provide a great place to think and grow and learn.
You made some great points. Thanks for your ideas...really adds to the discussion.

Rick Saia said...

Hi Anita!

Can't help but agree with much of this post, though sitting in the front of the class should be optional. As long as one can listen effectively, it doesn't matter where one sits.

Which brings me to the point of listening: Of all the suggestions discussed here, I'd place networking at the top of the list. Building relationships today can help you build your career tomorrow. And give more than you receive by listening more than talking.

Also, I can't stress enough the value of internships. Employers want experience, even in new college grads. My daughter, who just completed her freshman year, did an internship between semesters and found the experience very valuable in shaping her future. Fortunately, more colleges see the value of internships today than they did many years ago.

~ Rick

Anita said...

I agree that networking is important, but here's what I've discovered in speaking with college students around the country: They don't really know what that really means. That's why I think they've got to start with the basics: learning how to speak up and speak for themselves. Only when they're comfortable doing that do I suggest they move onto networking. To me, it's critical that they make that great first impression, and that's not going to happen if they can't shake hands and make eye contact.
As for internships, I'm feeling 50/50. I've interviewed many employers (both big and small) in the last nine months, and none of them say that an internship is critical to getting hired. What they tell me is that it's just ONE aspect...they really want to see students who put forth effort into something, whether it's athletics, academics, holding a pizza parlor job or community service. Still, I know that internships definitely help, especially if you want to work for that employer upon graduation.
As always, you make great points and I'm grateful you contributed your expertise.

Shawn said...

Great suggestions. I'm always amazed at how many college students are afraid or unwilling to look to their family members for internship and job leads--especially when their family members offer to help. It's one thing to say "Dad, find me a summer internship" but another to say "Dad, do you know anyone in the marketing department at work that I might be able to connect with?"

Anita said...

I think college students like to believe they're "independent" and don't need the help of their parents, but they should look at their family as an important resource. At the same time, I think we need to do a better job of telling our kids what it is that we do...not just our job title, but what skills we use and who we work with. I remember the day I overheard my son saying that "My mom talks on the phone" for a living. When I told him I was a journalist, he said, "Really???" Then he waited a minute and said, "Does Dad know?"