Today’s Courier Herald Column:
One of the benefits of working around politics is that you get the opportunity to work around a lot of bright and promising younger folks. First time visitors to Washington are often surprised to find that the city and more specifically Congress appear to be run by twenty-somethings. For those of us that are “a bit older” it can be at times disconcerting. Getting to know the folks, working with them, and helping them along in their careers is one of the interesting parts of this industry, however.
There is much consternation among this age group, however, because they are taking much of the burden of the continued stagnation in our economy. Among recent college graduates, roughly one out of two cannot find work. They are graduating from colleges with record amounts of student loan debt and unlimited optimism only to find the “real world” to include a harsh slap of reality.
For those still in college, however, there is still time to make adjustments. As one of my managers used to tell us when I worked in banking (and where we were graded, promoted, and retained based on our performance versus our peers), we needed to think of ourselves as if we were a gazelle. Gazelles are constantly being chased by lions. To survive, you didn’t need to be the fastest gazelle. You just needed to make sure you weren’t the slowest.
There are many ways a current college student can ensure they are not the slowest gazelle. It does require students to make accurate assessments of themselves, as well as take some proactive measures while they are in school. The earlier they start the more successful in finding quality post-college employment they are likely to be.
Every student on a college campus needs to be familiar with their career placement office. This is not a place you should visit the first time during the semester you plan to graduate. Frankly, it should be done during your first semester on campus, before you register for your second semester. These are the folks who see employers on a regular basis. They know who is hiring, and what skills, classes, and other qualities that these employers want to see from prospective applicants.
Knowing what your resume needs to look like three or four years in advance makes it much easier to decide what major, which classes, and what other activities a student should take to maximize their potential for post college employment. Frankly, a student also needs to ask what GPA’s are usually considered from certain industries and employers. No one requires a 4.0, but some won’t consider anything below a 3.0.
With that in mind, students should also actually consider attending class regularly. Sounds strange, but many think non-test days are optional. Showing up regularly and pretending to be interested is part of the corporate world, and students may as well learn how to do this early. In addition, professors tend to grade more favorably those with whom they are familiar. This is something I was able to benefit from significantly as an undergrad, and is not something I’ve forgotten on the occasion when I’ve been on the other side of the lectern.
The other benefit of visiting the career placement office early is to research internships and summer jobs. Some companies still offer co-op positions, which offer students the opportunity for full time employment during alternating semesters. It’s a great way to get real world experience, a paycheck, and an understanding of the real world that awaits post-graduation.
Many college students won’t care much for this advice, and that’s fine. There’s plenty of room for folks who will spend their college years racking up debt while simply trying to “find themselves”.
For those who are willing to invest the time and invoke some sense of self-discipline, they are much more likely to find themselves gainfully employed in the field of their choice upon graduation. For those who do not, they are much more likely to find themselves among the herd of slow moving gazelles.